Contemporary Projects

The most striking building that we visited during our Icelandic road trip was the Harpa center in downtown Reykjavik.  The project is a concert hall and a conference center as well as a cultural center whose public spaces are open to the public daily.  The idea of combining a concert hall and a conference center is quite brilliant, really, given that concert halls are generally only used during evenings and weekends while conference facilities are generally only used during office hours.  By combining the uses, the spaces must be quite well used.

Even more brilliant than the idea of combining the programs is the architecture itself.  Actually, I don’t love the project from a distance, 
but it gets more interesting once you get closer and can notice the details.  
Like  Guðjón Samúelsson, probably Iceland’s most well-known architect, the Danish firm Henning Larsson Architects decided to utilize Iceland’s characteristic hexagonal basalt columns as the building’s symbolic identity.

Out in nature, the basalt columns are often stair-stepped, and the hexagonal form is consistently apparent.  Sometimes the basalt columns are quite large in scale, sometimes the hexagons are fist-sized.  
Svartifoss is probably Iceland’s most famous example of basalt columns, 
and the myth goes that Samúelsson based his Hallgrims Church on Svartifoss.

Instead of using the basalt column as a heavy, solid element, Harpa transforms the stone into an element of light.  Instead of concrete, Harpa’s basalt columns are prisms of glass.  While it was strange that Akureyri Cultural Center’s heavy concrete basalt columns don’t meet the ground, it felt natural that Harpa’s glass basalt columns float in the air and above the water.  
Standing under them, you can see that the prisms do not rise straight to the sky.  Complex geometry!

Harpa becomes more intriguing as you get closer to it and can see the hexagonal prisms, but the real surprise occurs once you step into the space.  I don’t know if I have ever been in a more dynamic space.  The hexagonal prisms, a few of which are colored, great the most fantastical play of shadows in the atrium space.  

The main atrium is triangular in shape with a monumental stair against the prism facade.  The monumental stair is subdivided into flat sitting platforms which are perfect for an intermission glass of champagne or a rainy day picnic (this is what we did!).  

Even the solid, dark, concert hall wall was dynamic with concrete forms that jut inward and outward.
And then, as if the wild play of light and the prism facade and the triangular atrium with monumental stair wasn’t dynamic enough, the entire ceiling consists of mirrored prisms.  The ceiling is really over-the-top and actually, I’m surprised that it works, but it does.  Somehow, it fits into the scheme and keeps the shimmering light alive.

From certain angles, it is difficult to discern where the glass facade and the mirrored ceiling begin and end.

The mirrored prism ceiling is actually quite utilitarian as well.  The mirrors and the prisms almost completely distract from vents, lights, speakers, and various functional things that usually just distract from a space.  Instead of allowing vents and speakers to distract from the space, the prismatic ceiling distracts your attention away from the utilitarian objects and diverts your attention to the play of light and shadow instead. 

Only the main facades are prisms; other facades are also a bit honeycomb in nature but are two-dimensional, allowing a more direct view out to the water.

We didn’t go into the concert hall, but it looks pretty wild in of itself.  Quite different in feel than the atrium.  (Photo from Henning Larsson Architects’ webpage.)

What an amazing and daring project!

TUESDAY, JULY 01, 2014
Johan & Nyström: Europe's Next Best Café
Today I had a lot of reading work to do, so instead of sitting at my desk and reading, I decided to take advantage of my computer-less day and go read in a trendy café.   Although Johan & Nyström is basically around the corner from my office and has recently been voted Stockholm’s best café, I had never been there before.  While I was sitting there, sipping my latte and reading rapports, I wondered what makes Johan & Nyström so special and so trendy and so cool?  What is the anatomy of a trendy café?

I’m sure that the location helps.  The café is in one of Stockholm’s trendiest neighborhoods and on one of Stockholm’s prettiest streets.  There is a large population in the area that can afford the trendy nearby apartments and the café’s expensive lattes, while mysteriously still having the time to hang out in hip cafés in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The pre-existing architecture doesn’t hurt, either.  It’s hard to go wrong with such huge, beautiful arched windows.  Perfect for people-watching, both from the inside and from the outside.  The tall ceilings let in lots of light, yet the interior design provides an intimate atmosphere.
For such a trendy spot, there really isn’t much seating.  A few bar stools at the counter.  A few window seats with so-cute tray-tables.  A small mezzanine with seating for maximum eight people.  About three larger tables in the back.  A bench along both facades (no smoking despite the outside location).  The scarcity of seating makes you feel special and cool for finding a spot.  The diversity of seating allows for different types of groups as well as individuals.
While much of the interior isn’t toooo unusual, a few custom-designed details really spices things up.  I love love love the small, round tray-tables that are fixed to the benches.  Dark wood doesn’t get used very often in Scandinavian design, but here it is the perfect touch and is the perfect compliment to the “industrial” lighting fixtures and the exposed ventilation ducts.  The benches themselves are quite beautiful and are custom designed to allow air to circulate through the hidden radiators. 

The other perfect touch is a series of built-in shelves painted in strong contrast colors and with plentiful, glowing lighting.

I also love the café’s false modesty.  On the window, there is the name of the café, and then “Europe’s next best café.”

So, if Johan & Nyström is any indicator, what is the anatomy of a trendy café?  Good location.  Good architectural bones.  A variety of seating, but not too much seating.  An intimate yet cool atmosphere.  A few striking, memorable details.

A somewhat extensive Google search didn’t reveal who the architect was on the project. 

SUNDAY, JUNE 23, 2014
Not-so-Successful Waterfront Redevelopment in Västerås: Lillåudden
The closure of many industries in Västerås during the last half century has left a large swath of underutilized waterfront property in its wake.  Not only is the real estate on the water, but it is directly connected to the main train and bus station and it is very close to the city’s downtown.  During the last five years or so, Västerås has started to redevelop this prime real estate.  While we were in Västerås for a long weekend, (see “Long Weekend in Västerås”) we checked out one of the new developments.

I definitely have to give the idea of redeveloping this in-town, waterfront area an A+.  However, the execution unfortunately definitely falls way short of the A+ mark.  First of all, the architecture is standard and uninspiring, sometimes downright unwelcoming.
The planning is worse.  Towers and long buildings (instead of city-block buildings) give the development a suburban feel, and that suburban feel is strengthened by a large parking lot in the middle of the peninsula.  The tower buildings could have been an advantage, giving interior buildings and public spaces sightlines to the water.  However, extensive ground level parking garages block those views, creating a hostile wall and a pedestrian unfriendly environment. 

The idea of developing the water’s edge into a park accessible by all is definitely a plus, but the landscape design is less than inspiring with standard benches and an uninspired water’s edge of boulders.
A main pedestrian axis through the development and down to the water was a good idea, but again, the absence of a grand finale or destination point by the water makes the axis feel anticlimactic.
There are a couple of restaurants closer to the train station, but out on the peninsula, it is only housing.  No cafes, no  offices, no grocery stores, no dry cleaners.  The nearest grocery store is almost a mile away, quite unusual for an in-town Swedish neighborhood.  The absence of services makes the development feel dead, and while there were a few people strolling along the water’s edge, there was not a soul to be seen on the interior of the development.

Despite the poor planning and unimaginative, dull architecture, the development seems quite popular with no shortage of people willing to buy the expensive apartments.  I suppose that location wins over other considerations in many cases.  However, I can’t help but feel that the Lillåudden development is a lost opportunity for something really exciting and cool.

SUNDAY, APRIL 06, 2014
Marinastaden - The Marina City
Last weekend, Carl and I walked a part of the southern Stockholm shoreline that we had previously only seen from the water.  It is an area of landmark industrial buildings that, with their surroundings, are in the process of being converted into housing and offices (LOTS of construction is happening as I write this).  I will eventually cover all of these projects, but the project that I was most struck by was Marinastaden (Marina City) in Svindersvik. 
My father-in-law actually took me by the project in his sailboat a few weeks after we moved to Stockholm, but last weekend was the first time I was close enough to really see it.
A zoomed in shot of the development permit plan.  Lots of floating houses!

I love the concept of Marinastaden—an entire development of modern, architect-designed houseboats.  Living on the water, with my kayak tied up to my back porch.  A quiet bay (Svindersvik) just off the main water approach to Stockholm.  Minutes from the city yet in the midst of a beautiful natural area.  The planning documents with all of the various renderings and ideas are also compelling.  However, the reality of the project doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and it looks like the project might turn out to be a huge flop.
The full development as it was envisioned.

First of all, as my father-in-law pointed out on that first sailboat trip, the development is on the south side of the bay next to a high, steep hill.  During the winter months, the sun never gets high enough to shine over the hill into the bay, so the houseboats receive no direct sunlight for months on end.  Understandably, given the dark winters, sunlight penetration into the home is very important to most Swedes, and in comparison to Americans, Swedes are acutely aware of direction and sunlight.  I wouldn’t be surprised if many decided not to buy in to the development due to the lack of sunlight.
Two more of the built houseboat models.  The one on the right is a duplex houseboat.

The houseboats are expensive, although given their size, location, good design, and “differentness,” they are actually an extremely good deal compared to other real estate in the area.  One of the houseboats is currently for sale, and it is on the market for $1.2 million.  It will probably sell for a bit more (in Sweden, bidding only goes up from the listing price).  Here are some of the real estate photos:
View of the development from the road, houseboats by evening.
One of the bedrooms, the living room (with a view of the terrible parking lot)
A wood stove in the upstairs hallway/sitting room, a sauna and sitting room in the basement.
Basement with boiler room, storage room, sitting room, sauna, bathroom, and laundry room.  Ground level with kitchen, bathroom, and living room, also with decks surrounding 3 sides of the house.  Second floor with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a sitting room, and a large terrace which faces south but also faces the parking lot.

Ironically, I think that the “cheap” prices are one reason that the development flopped.  The development company couldn’t make ends meet and they went bankrupt last year after just 7 of the proposed 65 homes were built (one of the built homes is actually a duplex houseboat).  I have no insight into the development company’s inner finances, but I can do some guessing as to why the project went bankrupt.  First of all, while the city of Nacka paid for utilities to be extended to the site, the developer was forced to connect the previously isolated property to the top of the ridge and existing roads.  Given the steepness of the hill behind the development, building a road of this sort was definitely outrageously expensive.  At the top of the hill, the development was forced to build a tunnel under the existing highway, also expensive.  After climbing the hill and going under the tunnel, the access road connects to a neighborhood road, so residents of Marinastaden have no easy, direct access to a main road.  
Several five of this model of houseboat has been built.  Sadly, the docks feel a bit empty and abandoned despite the fact that there are people living here.  Perhaps it feels a bit more lively during the summer months?

Being so far off the beaten path and with such a low population, there is no public transportation to Marinastaden.  The nearest bus stop is only about a kilometer away, but it is a serious climb to get up to it, and the intervening highway is a big barrier, even if there is a tunnel underneath.  The nearest grocery store is more than 2 kilometers away, a huge distance compared to just about anywhere else in Stockholm.  In addition to being expensive, the lack of connection probably another reason that too few bought in to the development.
Development permit plan showing the highway at the bottom, the new road winding downhill, and the new floating development Marinastaden.

At the bottom of the new, expensive access road is a vast, unwelcoming parking lot.  According to the building permit plans, parking is supposed to occur in garages under buildings which are supposed to nestle up to the hillside.  These promised buildings have not been built, just as the promised restaurant, museum, café, boutiques, office spaces, and indoor boat storage spaces have not been built.  It’s a bit of a vicious cycle—more residents aren’t likely to buy into the project until the development,  infrastructure, and services are all functionally up and running, but the development and services aren’t likely to develop until there’s a big enough customer base to support them.

Left: A rendering of how the space between the hill and the water's edge is supposed to be filled with lively buildings.  Right: A section showing how the housing, the car garage, and the boat storage is supposed to be stacked up against the steep hill.  Sadly, this area is instead a vast parking lot.

I think the moral of Marinastaden’s story is that a great idea is only viable given the right setting.  If the development were in a place that received a little more sunlight and that was slightly more connected to the city, I am positive that it would have thrived.  In fact, the other side of the same bay is currently under development, and I predict that that development will be a success given its sunny location and the fact that it is slightly more connected to the city.  I will be interested to see what, if anything, happens with Marinastaden over the next few years.         
One of the buildings that has not yet been built: A floating apartment building.  I don't think I've ever seen a floating apartment building, would love to see it one day!
A random detail that I love:
Assuming that they were constructed according to the permit documents, there are large storage areas underneath the docks.  Each houseboat has access to a storage room for storing skis, sleds, paddles, life jackets etc etc etc.

Newspaper article with bankruptcy info:
City of Nacka's planning site with info on Marinastaden:

Green Wall
When Carl and I were wandering around Göteborg, we discovered this amazing green vine wall.  This is the highest dream of many projects I worked on in Texas, though the Texas climate rarely, if ever, allows so much greenery to grow up, especially not so high up.  Texas architects can only dream of something so lush!  (And in San Antonio this beautiful ceiling would certainly be lined with big, powerful fans.)

Apart from the amazing green wall, I also love how overscaled this porch space is.  In many contexts, a so tall and narrow space would feel strange and possibly claustrophobic.  In this project, however, the green wall softens up the space and I find it beautiful.  Next summer I will have to come here to get a drink after work one day!

The building is a restaurant/bar/nightclub called Trädgår'n (“The Garden”) designed by Studio Grön (“Studio Green”).  It opened in 1998 so the vines have had a decade and a half to mature.
Appropriately, the restaurant is in Göteborg's botanical garden.  This is one of the beautiful, huge Victorian greenhouses just across the way from the green wall.

Mirrored Beams
Göteborgs Nordstan shopping mall is not a knock-out example of architecture, but it is interesting from a couple of standpoints.  First, the downtown area near the central train station was a dangerous slum in the 70’s, pre-mall.  The mall was a successful attempt to “take back” the area by enclosing the streets.  The existing 5-6 story office buildings remained, but the streets and sidewalks surrounding them were enclosed.  The lower floors of the office buildings were rented out to the powerhouses of Swedish consumerism, and wa-lah, a successful shopping mall was born.  Some parts of the roof over the streets are glass, and if you look closely, you can see that the buildings above the glass roof are all different.  The overly wide corridors through the mall are the only other clue that the mall wasn’t purpose built.

The other cool detail in Göteborg’s downtown mall are the beams.  The roof over the streets is quite high, maybe 30 feet, and spans the entire sidewalk-street-sidewalk width without intermediate columns.  The resulting beams holding up the roof are in the range of five feet deep.  However, the casual observer would never ever notice how huge the beams are because the vertical surfaces of the beams are clad with mirrors.  The mirrors reflect the incoming light and essentially make the beams disappear.  I probably would have scorned this clever trick if someone had presented it to me in an office design brainstorming session; my gut feeling would have been that mirrors were a cheap and cheesy way to solve the problem of oppressively deep beams.  However, seeing the result in this project, I like it.  It is simple, unobtrusive, effective, and doesn’t feel overly cheesy.  

Göteborg's Bus Station
I had a little extra time in the Göteborg train station last week on my way home to Stockholm, so I took the opportunity to wander around a bit.  The train station is an interesting but not quite fully integrated or straightforward conglomeration of the original historic building and lots of additions over time.  The directly adjacent modern bus station, however, is extraordinarily well designed and executed.  Given my experiences with Greyhound stations in the US, I don’t tend to think of bus stations as pleasant places to hang out.  The Göteborg station, however, is a comfortable and agreeable place to wait.

One thing that I have noticed in Sweden is the use of wood finishes in public places.  In the US, you’d never use wood in a place like a bus station or an airport, but in Sweden, wood is often used in such locations.  It gives a warm, welcoming contrast to the techy, glassy designs that are so prevalent.  Budgets in the US rarely allow such a fine finish as real, solid wood to be used on floors or as trim.  I’m also pretty sure that even if the budget allowed wood, it would be immediately rejected due to fears of maintenance nightmares.  Sweden either has a much higher maintenance budget or those wood surfaces are actually much more tolerant than American building staffs seem to believe.  The wood floors in the airport are still gorgeous if discernibly used, and they have been in place at least since 2006 when I began visiting Stockholm on a semi-regular basis.
One of many portals between the building and the bus.

Back to Göteborg’s bus station, otherwise known as the Nils Ericson Terminal…  Wood does not cover the floors, but it does surround the portals between building and bus, it forms the benches and the bench surrounds, and it wraps the kiosks.  You would think that the wood would be all banged up by rolling bags and luggage trolleys and such, but 17 years after its 1996 opening, the wood still looks fresh and shipshape.
I love the wood and glass detailing of these kiosks.  American malls could really learn a thing or two!

In addition to the wood details, I appreciate how the lofty waiting hall is a modern and glassier interpretation of the darker historical train station.  The 150 meter long waiting hall directly continues one of the train station’s vaulted spaces, and while the roof forms are not identical, the reference is clear.
the train stations waiting halls
A fully glass roof like this would have been unthinkable in Texas, but in Sweden, the greenhouse effect probably does a lot to minimize heating needs.  Even so, the western side of the roof is shaded to prevent glare.  
the shaded half of the waiting hall
I also appreciate the chunky concrete stanchions which provide a solid juxtaposition to all that glass.  The precisely formed gate numbers on the side of the stanchions are incredible when you think about how oozy concrete is when first poured.  How on earth did the builder achieve such crisp indentations in the concrete? 

I am not the only one who admires this building.  While I was looking up who the architect was (the Norwegian Niels Torp), I found out that the building won the Kasper Salin prize which is Sweden’s highest architectural honor.

Beyond the beautiful architecture, I really appreciate that Göteborg is willing to spend a little extra to create a public space of lasting value and enjoyment.  A bus station is a piece of infrastructure, it is needed more than desired, it is a tool.  But instead of a purely mathematical formula of maximizing savings, Göteborg chose to maximize travelers’ wellbeing.    

MONDAY, MAY 27, 2013
Hotell Scandic Victoria Tower in Kista
Every time I’m on the commuter train between Stockholm and the airport, I am intrigued by this tower that flashes by my window. The T-like configuration is just different enough to be intriguing but not so different as to be perceived as structurally risky or scary. At 34 floors, the only taller structure in Stockholm is a tv tower.

Even though the building is in a huge complex of offices in the suburbs of Stockholm (Eriksson’s headquarters is a block away), this building is not the head office for some giant corporation whose name begins with a “T” as I had thought. Instead, it is a hotel with 299 rooms.

The building was designed by Wingårdh Architects, but like the Friends Arena Hotel in my last post, the company doesn’t have any information about the project on their website.

Given the gold glass panels on the building’s façade, I would have guessed that the building was from the 1980’s.  This is not the case, however; construction was completed in 2011.  I have noticed gold glass on several other new projects in town—I guess that the 80’s are back in more arenas than just clothing?

From the interior, you can see that only about half of the triangular glass panels give views.  For this reason, views from the top floor aren’t as expansive as one might imagine.

Even though the entry continues the triangle theme with a wedge-shaped incision into the building, it is still a bit anticlimactic.  For me, this building is much more powerful from a distance than it is up close.

MONDAY, MARCH 25, 2013
Friends Arena Hotel
the hotel is still under construction as is the entire arena area

I recently wrote in a post that “The goal of Swedish architecture is not to create ‘star’ buildings, but to create harmonious, simple, graceful, and appropriate buildings.” Generally, I’d say that American architects try to create great architecture by creating buildings that are “different” and “cool” and “unique” while Swedish architects aim to create great architecture by creating “harmonious” and “appropriate” buildings.  One exception to this characterization is Stockholm’s Wingårdhs Architects, who design some of the most “different, cool, and unique” buildings in Sweden.

the concrete facade panels have not yet been plastered over
One of Wingårdhs’ newest additions to the Stockholm skyline is the 400-room hotel at the new Friends Arena (soccer, concerts, etc).  Every single one of the hotel’s 1000 windows are differently-sized circles, inspired by soccer balls.  The largest window is 2.5 meters in diameter (over 8’).  The circle/soccer ball theme continues throughout the hotel, inspiring lighting fixtures and furniture in the various bar, restaurant, and meeting spaces.  I couldn’t get close enough to the still-under-construction building to see if the front door is round, too, but I hope it is.  When the hotel opens in August of this year, I’ll find out. 
renderings of a typical hotel room and a meeting room
My information and the renderings came from  I’m not sure why, but the architecture firm does not have any information about this project on their website.
renderings of the sky bar and the lobby bar

NOLLI STHLM is an exhibition by artist Rebecka Bebben Andersson (she also studied architecture before beginning art school…) consisting of 24 prints, a film, and several sculptures, all of which depict the “openness” that Rebecka perceives in Stockholm at different times of the day.  In the middle of the day, just about every public space in Stockholm is open or safe-feeling for Rebecka, and in the middle of the night, just about everywhere in the city feels unsafe or “closed.”  The prints and movie show the progression of how and when various spaces morph from feeling safe to feeling unsafe and back again.

Rebecka started with a Nolli map of the city that depicts all private spaces in black and all publically accessible (and free) spaces in white.  When a public space no longer feels safe, Rebecka filled that space in with black, too.  The red markings on some of the prints show spots where it didn’t feel safe, after all, and that should be blacked out in the movie.  The aqua markings show spots that were unexpectedly safe-feeling upon closer examination.
2 am--almost nowhere feels safe
6 am--nearly the entire city is now open
1 pm--no spaces within the city feel unsafe
10 pm-the city is starting to "close" back up, generally working from the outside in

I am very taken by Rebecka’s idea on many levels.  I do love maps, so I’m always attracted to art that uses maps as a basis.  But on a deeper level, I love how Rebecka took a static object like a map and made it speak and tell a story.  I am also personally interested in the subject matter—perceived personal security and how it varies so much from one individual to another.  As a female and very safety-aware architect, personal security is always at the forefront of my thoughts when designing a space, and this tends to surprise my male colleagues who generally give very little thought to personal security.  In turn, it tends to surprise me that they don't think about such things.

But maybe the thing that I appreciate most about this exhibition is that Rebecka actually went out and tested her theories.  Sometimes I personally judge a space as unsafe based on an actual experience of feeling unsafe there, but usually, I judge a space as unsafe just because it seems like it would be unsafe due to location or time of day or such.  I have surprised myself several times in Stockholm by how my security assumptions are often wrong and harsher than they should be.  Several times I have moved through an untested space with trepidation because I’m expecting it to be dark or deserted or threatening but have then realized that actually, that particular space is teeming with life or light and doesn’t feel threatening in the slightest.  It is an incredibly positive and empowering feeling to realize that a space feels safer than expected.  Each discovery of this nature opens more and more of the city up to me and makes the city feel more and more generally accessible to me.   Rebecka's exhibition encourages me to test more of Stockholm at "fringe" times of day.

More information from the gallery: and an interview with the artist:

From Orchard to Suburbia
Not too long ago I wrote about picking apples (see Foraging: Apples on my Little Life Stories page) in the historical orchard at Ulvsunda Palace (see Two Suburban Palaces on my Architecture Asides page).  I passed by the palace on a bus the other day, and noticed a “coming soon” sign from a construction company.  I looked it up and discovered that the orchard is soon to be a housing development!  I suppose it’s only natural considering how close to town the land is, and the once gigantic estate has already been reduced to a fraction of its size.  Additionally, the palace’s direct access to the bay had already been cut off by a road giving access to an adjacent housing development.  Still, though, I find it sad to that the orchard will disappear, and our reliable source of absolutely delicious, crisp apples with it.

The grounds immediately surrounding the palace will remain as-is, and the thankfully the beautiful allée will remain intact as well.  The new development consists of 64 units including row houses, single family houses, and “atrium” houses (the “atrium” is a greenhouse-like appendage that stretches the use of an outdoor patio in Stockholm by several months).  I did not find a rendering of the single family houses, but the row houses and the atrium houses don’t look overly exciting or overly offensive.  They do seem to do a good job of carving out a relatively private outdoor space for each unit.  
Row house on the left and atrium house on the right.

In addition to the loss of the orchard, I am saddened that the areas adjacent to the main road will now be lined with parking lots.  I suppose it’s natural to try to “buffer” the development from the busy road, but fronting the area with a parking lot only makes the car-centric development even less welcoming to pedestrians.

And now for the real shocker: the cheapest unit in the development is priced at $1.07 million plus a monthly “condo” fee of $785.  Given that the smallest unit is 1,646 square feet with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms and that the development is only half a mile to a subway station (9 stops to the central station), the price is actually reasonable for Stockholm.  Prices for the single family houses are not listed.

Jens Deurell is the architect of the project and the information and drawings came from the contractor’s website:

MOOD Stockholm Treehouse Terrace Cafe
The treehouses from the street below
Not too long ago I posted on some great interior details of the new downtown shopping mall, MOOD Stockholm.  What first drew me to the project were actually two roof-top “treehouses” that are visible from the street below.  From the street, these small structures are playful and drastically domestic with their steeply pitched roofs and wooden shingling which strongly juxtaposes with the surrounding hugely-scaled commercial, flat-roofed office buildings. 

I wandered through the mall until I could find a way out to the rooftop “treehouses.” They are located in a thickly planted roof terrace café.  From the café, the “treehouses” are more closed in nature with only a solid door and no windows facing the café patrons.  Because the structures hover about 15 or 20 feet above the terrace floor, they feel more like sculptural objects rather than integrated objects in the terrace’s landscape.  However, I feel that this was probably intentional due to the “treehouses’” program: they are small, intimate meeting spaces for eight people that a company can rent out for an important corporate meeting or that a group of friends can rent for a celebratory birthday dinner.  While the street façade is open to allow views and ventilation, the café façade is closed to create a sense of heightened privacy inside the structures.

The architect for the project was Koncept Stockholm.  Now that I’ve found their website, it looks like they were the architects for the mall itself in addition to the treehouses.

I really love the playfulness of these “treehouses” and hope that more rooftop surprises pop up around the city.

While my mom was in Stockholm visiting, Carl’s mom took us to Artipelag, a new art exhibition space a bit outside of Stockholm at the edge of the archipelago (Art + Archipelago = Artipelag).  There’s been a buzz about the building since it opened this summer, so it was great to get to see it.  It was funded by the owner of Baby Björn as a way to give back to the community (although at about $17/person and no student or retiree discounts, it’s hardly free).  The architect was Johan Nyrén, and the building was designed to fit into the beautiful landscape as innocuously as possible.

It’s quite a large building at about 100,000 square feet but houses only two exhibition halls.  While these halls are quite large and columnless, only one is usually open at a time.  The exhibits are impermanent contemporary installations, so one hall is open while the other is being changed out.  When we were there, we saw an exhibit of Candida Höfer’s photography which was interesting but not knock-your-socks-off.

The rest of the building is occupied by a small gift shop selling a very limited range of artsy goodies that were custom designed for the museum as well as a whole lot of Baby Björn merchandise, a café restaurant with an amazing but expensive seasonally rotating buffet, a formal restaurant, and whole lot of . . . space.

The building is comfortable, light-filled, but quite neutral.  The most impactful moment in the space is the restroom which is in the basement.  The basement was blasted out of the island’s solid granite, and one wall of exposed, bare granite terminates the rows of toilet rooms.  The toilet rooms have beautiful, light wood doors that juxtapose nicely with the adjacent almost tar-colored wood siding.  (I know that the pine that was cut down on the site was used in the building.  Perhaps it was used in the bathroom?)  But the best part of the bathroom (and most exciting part of the building) were the bathroom sinks.  A gigantic slab of granite (maybe 8 feet x 3 feet and 18 inches deep) sits upon a shiny metal box (hello, Judd).  Six sinks share one shallow basin hewn out of the granite slab.  Brass fixtures complete the bling.  The trip out to the museum is worth it just to see the bathroom sinks.
The impressive bathroom sink and the exposed granite wall beyond; the contrasting wood doors and siding.

 There is also a nice moment in the café where part of the island’s exposed granite bulb pops up into the space.  The entire wall behind the buffet is dedicated to explaining, in large script, that the granite bulb is the museum’s oldest piece of art (the bulb was rounded and polished smooth by glaciers during the last ice age).  The presence of the granite bulb in the café is rather symbolic of how the whole building nestles into its site without changing the surroundings all that much.  Characteristically, the wooden deck providing summer café seating is fragmented in several places to allow pines to soar up through the planks.
The cafe's granite bulb and the deck's intervening pines.
The building’s many roof levels are planted in grasses, mosses, and tundra plants.  I’m guessing that the dirt plays a role in insulating the building, but the dirt was fairly shallow at about four inches, so I wonder how effective it really is?  A large number of north-facing skylights allow light deep into the building’s uppermost level.  A ramp from a highpoint on the neighboring hill takes the visitor up to a roof terrace with great views through the trees to the water.   
Grass roof, skylights, roof drainage.
There’s also a fun sculpture of a jumping figure out on the roof point.

I appreciate that the museum doesn’t sit directly on the water.  I’m sure it was tempting to site the building on the water to gain incredible, open-water views from the dining and rooftop terraces.  However, I think the impact is more successful with the building being sited up the hill and in the trees.  The selective removal of a couple of trees allows quite nice views to the water and the shores beyond, and I personally think it feels rather cozy being in the trees instead of on the exposed shore line.

Outside, the building doesn’t really stand out either as an intrusion into nature or as an amazing piece of architectural art.  You catch glimpses of it through the trees, but the building seems fairly innocuous and blends well into the site.  While architecturally interesting, the building doesn’t seek to steal attention away from the beautiful surroundings.

The visitor catches momentary glimpses of the building through the trees when walking along the one kilometer-long boardwalk which stretches from the parking lot past several grandiose oaks to the water’s edge, along the undulating shoreline, and back up through the woods to the building.  The boardwalk is very well integrated into the site and the beautiful journey vies with the bathroom to be my favorite part of the Artipelag experience.

The boardwalk passes a boat dock.  I love the idea that you could motor or sail to the museum with your own boat, tie up for the day, and enjoy the art.  What a great addition to the building’s program!

The sea is used as a heat-sink which makes the cooling and heating systems quite energy efficient.  I’m sure that other energy saving and environmental measures were taken in the design and construction of the building, but neither Artipelag’s nor the archtiect’s websites give much additional information about the building.

Interior hall photo from the architect’s website:

MOOD Stockholm
I fell in love with this clever "croched" chain link ceiling covering in a downtown mall.  There is nothing hiding all the ducts, lights, sprinklers, and pipes in the ceiling from view except for this transparent chain link "fence."  However, the beautiful "croched" design draws your eye so that you never even notice all of the ugly stuff just beyond.

I also liked these wonky light tubes hanging from the ceiling.  If these had been used all over the corridors, it would have been too much.  But used just at the mall entrances, they're pretty cool and not too flashy.

Opera Cube 
Last season, Carl and I had season tickets to the Royal Ballet, which performs in Stockholm’s Royal Opera House.  When we arrived for our final performance of the season, we noticed that a rooftop structure was being built on the roof.  I assumed that it was going to be a money-making bar for the opera, because not only was the bar on the roof of a beautiful building, but the bar would have an incredible view over the water to Stockholm’s castle, Sweden’s parliament building, GamlaStan, and the rich facades of Blasieholmen.  Depending on the final appearance, I thought the project could be a modern and enriching addition to Stockholm’s architectural scene.

Never did I imagine that the bar would be temporary!  In fact, the Cube will only be open for four months before it is dismantled and moved to another city in Europe.  So far, the Cube has sat upon Milan’s opera house and Brussels’ Parc du Cinquantenaire.  There is a second cube that is currently in London.  Perhaps it is best that the Cube is temporary: Stockholm is so conservative when it comes to architecture that if the Cube were permanent, I am positive it would never have been allowed.  Even though it caused a raucous in Stockholm’s beauty committee (who approves or disapproves every building activity in the centrum), they allowed it to be erected because its interruption of the skyline would be so short-lived.
the Cube in Brussels, Milan, and London

I’m not sure why the Cube is called a “cube.”  Its shape cantilevering over the opera’s façade toward the water reminds me more of a beak, but I really like the structure.  It is quite small, only about 1500 square feet, which is tiny in comparison to the scale of the opera building.  It is a small blip on the skyline, so its impact is not overwhelming, but it is certainly noticeable.  According to an interview with the architect, because Electrolux is a Swedish company, the designers looked to the white and light-colored wood surfaces of Scandinavian design for inspiration.  The exterior is a white, laser-cut aluminium skin, and the interior mainly consists of ice-white Corian and a combination of matt and glossy lacquered wood.
white white white

Unfortunately, Carl and I won’t be able to go up in the Cube and have a drink.  The Cube is not a bar, but is a restaurant that seats only 18 people per meal (obviously reservations are a must).  The set dinner menu costs about $450 per person.  While I like the architecture, I hate the exclusive nature of the project.

Electrolux commissioned the Milanese architecture firm Park Associati to design a structure that could be easily assembled, mounted onto various structures, and dismantled.  In each city, three of the city’s most exclusive chefs create meals under the gaze of the diners.  The meals are designed to showcase the fact that, with Electrolux appliances and tools, anyone can make restaurant-quality meals at home.  This is a strange concept to me.  I’m pretty sure that most of the people paying $450 each for one meal are not the types of people who worry about making delicious feasts for their family every night at home.  I would have thought that the Electrolux’s advertising would reach a wider and possibly more receptive audience if the Cube were a bar open to all.  Sure, the drinks would have been overpriced, but many more people can afford an overpriced drink every now and then, but a $450 dinner is a different matter.

Even though this Cube is too exclusive for my tastes, I do like the idea of it as an object: a small, architectural artwork that easily moves from city to city and perches in prominent, unexpected locations for a short while.  In Stockholm’s case, the Cube seems to be perfectly located on top of the Royal Opera, for not only is it a piece of art, but it is also essentially a traveling show performance.  As it requires only nine days of assembly and five days to disassemble, the Cube quickly appears on a city’s skyline, entertains for a while, and then disappears.
Delivery and egress are on the opposite side of the building from the cube.  A walkway with glass railings connects the Cube to the elevator and stair.
Stockholm night photo:

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012
Moderna Museet
the entrance to the museum is in a courtyard rimmed by historical Skeppsholmen buildings
Ralfeo Moneo’s Moderna Museet opened in 1998, but it had to be closed temporarily in 2002 due to water damage.  While construction teams were fixing the water problems, they also reorganized the building so that it would be easier for visitors to negotiate and created spaces “with a more inviting atmosphere” (quote from Moderna Museet’s website).  None of this speaks well for Moneo’s building, and I have to agree with the general opinion that the building does not work well within its context.  The front entry to the building is nice with its courtyard rimmed by historical buildings, but seen from the east side of the building or from the water, the museum is indescript and bland.  Like just about any daylighting attempt that architects have ever made in a modern museum, the lanterns are mostly closed off from the interior to protect the priceless artworks from damaging UV rays.  Although there are a few fun interior details, the most successful aspect of the building seems to be the large café with its phenomenal views over the water to Djurgården.

First I'll talk about my favorite aspect of the museum's design, which to non-architects, will seem very boring and weird to mention: the HVAC system.  The gallery walls are quite thick and vary from around two to four feet thick.  These openings are cased with wood that is "folded" like an accordion.  These accordions are actually doors which allows maintenance access between the walls.  It is hard to see in these photos, but the HVAC grilles are located along the bottom of every wall.  These metal grilles are only about four or five inches high and they're black, so they look like floor trim, but they are actually serving a much more advanced purpose.  Essentially, the thickened walls are the building's duct system.  Although the Kimbell Museum is a well-known precedent for the thickened-walls-as-HVAC system, it is particularly well executed here by Moneo.

While the lanterns don’t act as intended and many of them are even crudely covered with black plastic, they do bring up an important paradox for architects in the design of a museum.  I understand why Moneo designed the lanterns, and I think there are two main reasons: 1) to provide daylight in the galleries and 2) to spice up the exterior of an otherwise bland, windowless building with large, blank walls.
three of six monitors visible in this image are covered in black plastic

In today’s contemporary architecture, we don’t design with pilasters, crenelation, entablatures, water courses, quoins, bricks, stones, or anything of the historical ornamentation or materials which provide texture, relief, and interest to large building surfaces.  The only elements we have at our disposal are massing, windows, shade structures for those windows, and some sort of texture or pattern inherent in the cladding such as metal panels.  When designing museums, whose collections tend to be sensitive to light, architects cannot use windows to break up a large façade.  And because there are no windows, there are no shade structures.  What is an architect to do?  How can an architect make large, blank surfaces interesting?

In Moneo’s case, he seems to have decided to leave the wall surfaces be as blank plaster surfaces.  The plaster color is differentiated from most of the historical plaster buildings on the island, which are yellow, but the brick/musky pink color does reflect the plaster color on the Amiralitetshuset.  The wall surfaces are very simple, but Moneo did try to enliven them a bit by breaking the gallery spaces apart into separate cubic blocks.  Each of these cubes should read a bit differently due to the play of shadows and light.  And marking each individual cubic mass is a light monitor.
monitors and cubes seen from the back side of the building
So Moneo used two devices to try to make his building interesting: light monitors and differentiated cubic massing.  It is sad that one of the two tools that Moneo had at his disposal to make the building interesting is now basically null and void.  I do understand why architects are always designing daylighting strategies into their galleries—spaces really do feel nicer when they are daylit.  And daylighting, when used correctly, can save energy.  But why, oh why, do architects continue to design daylight into their gallery spaces when the art housed in those galleries cannot withstand the light?  It just forces the curators to take un-architectural (read: utilitarian and ugly) measures to block the sun’s damaging rays from the artwork.  Essentially, architects are forcing curators to damage the architects’ own artwork.  Why do architects continue to do this to themselves?
one of the few galleries with daylight

Some of the best aspects of the museum are architectural art installations outside of the building.  The museum entry is in a courtyard ringed by historical buildings including the Ropewalk and the Jail.  The Ropewalk was once an arsenal and has amazing solid steel shutters.  I really enjoy this art piece which plays on the Ropewalk’s shutters on the Jail building.
the Ropewalk on the left and the Jail on the right
I am also intrigued by this instillation behind the museum which is a small roofless brick maze.  The maze conceals the museums dumpsters and cooling tower.  While such utilitarian elements are a disappointing surprise at the interior of the maze, it is an interesting way to diminish the presence of these undesirable elements.

For more context around the Moderna Museet, read my post on Skeppsholmen.

37 Östgötagatan
I found this project on a walking detour between my language school and the subway station.  I really, really like this project, mostly because it is so different than what you find throughout most of Stockholm.  In a place like Berlin, this project would be the status quo treatment of a renovated penthouse on top of a historical building, but this sort of thing just doesn’t happen in Stockholm very often.  I just love that because the building next door is identical, you know exactly what 37 Östgötagatan used to look like.  But now, instead of sloping ceilings and small views and limited daylight sources through the little dormers, the penthouse apartment is lofty, light filled, and probably has amazing views out over the neighborhood.

A quick search on Google did not reveal the architect or any information about this project.


  1. The crocheted ceiling is gorgeous! And I agree that it's too bad the Cube is so exclusive/pricey.

  2. The Cube is such a lost opportunity!

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