How Sweden Harnesses Democratic Architecture and Design For the Common Good

Join Dwell on a journey through Stockholm and Malmö to see how architects and creatives are building a better world through good design.
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What is democratic architecture? In Sweden, architects, designers, and urban planners are launching inspiring projects that seek to do the greatest good for the most people. These projects range from innovative buildings and urban spaces to initiatives that seek to advance equality, accessibility, diversity, and social and environmental sustainability. Join senior editor Mike Chino as he explores the state of democratic architecture in Stockholm and Malmö.


Bank Hotel

Our journey begins at Stockholm's Bank Hotel, which is set in a 1910 building that originally served as the head office of the Södra Sverige Banking company. The hotel's common areas tie it to the city—pictured here is Bonnie's, a ground-floor restaurant with a sumptuous daylit interior that draws travelers and locals alike.

A Walking Tour With Karina Sarkissova

The best way to explore a new city is by foot—and the narrow cobblestone streets of Stockholm's old town are a pedestrian haven lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Choreographer Karina Sarkissova led us on an architectural walking tour that explored the history of Stockholm, the politics of public space, and new ways of interacting with the cityscape—including the "dance of being enough."

Fotografiska is a monumental photography museum housed in an industrial building that dates back to 1906. Stockholm raised 250 million SEK to renovate the space into a world-class cultural hub.

Fotografiska's restaurant serves a plant-based menu in a cozy, industrial-chic setting.

The restaurant is helmed by Paul Svensson—a trailblazing chef who has pioneered a sustainability-focused approach to cooking that maximizes flavor while minimizing waste.

Sweden's National Centre for Architecture and Design—aka ArkDes—charts the history of Swedish architecture, the state of contemporary design, and the future of citizenship and the built environment.  

ArkDes director Kieran Long led us on a tour of the facility—including a newly opened exhibition that explores the role design plays in envisioning the world of tomorrow.

ArkDes hosts an incredible archive of over four million architectural drawings and sketches.

Dansbana! seeks to build community by installing public dance floors in underutilized spaces. Each project incorporates a bluetooth speaker—so anyone with a phone can play music and start an impromptu party.

Designed by Andreas Martin-Löf, Snabba Hus Västberga is a modular, prefabricated apartment complex that provides affordable housing in Stockholm. The entire complex was built in a single year, and the apartments rent for about $535 a month.

Stockholm's metro is a work of art in and of itself! The transit system comprises 100 stations—and over 90 of them are decorated with elaborate murals, sculptures, and tilework.

Stockholm's metro has earned the moniker "the world's longest art museum."

Sustainordic is a groundbreaking project that seeks to catalogue and promote sustainability-focused initiatives in the Nordic countries. One example is Karma—an app that connects restaurants with excess food to hungry customers in a bid to reduce food waste.

Ready for a blast from the past? Vällingby is a planned suburb on the outskirts of Stockholm that was built in the 1950s—and it's been meticulously preserved ever since. It's an "ABC City" designed to offer its residents everything they need within a short distance of home.

Vällingby is home to one of Le Corbusier's favorite churches. The architect said: "If you are going to see beautiful churches in Europe, there are three you should not miss: Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, and Västerort Church in Vällingby."

The city is a celebrated work of midcentury urban planning, and it's still a popular place to live today.

A kind Vällingby resident even invited us inside her home—a midcentury terrace house—to take a peek!

With over 950 employees, White Arkitekter is the largest architecture firm in Scandinavia. They're renowned for designing human-focused projects that prioritize sustainable building strategies. Pictured above is their structuralist Stockholm office, which mitigates heating and cooling costs with a geothermal heat pump.

White Arkitekter is currently working on the Skellefteå Cultural Centre, which will be one of the world's tallest timber high rises when it's completed in 2021.

Stockholm–based Belatchew Architekter specializes in urban planning, housing, offices, and public buildings. Pictured above is Discus—a dynamic new skyscraper planned for Nacka City that will hold 450-500 apartments.



Nola's durable and stylish bike racks, planters, and benches beautify urban environments—and all of their pieces are sustainably manufactured in Sweden.

Malmö Saluhall Food Tour With Matkaravan

Wingårdh Arkitektkontor AB transformed an abandoned 1898 freight depot into Malmö Saluhall—a culinary wonderland filled with regional delicacies.

Matkaravan's food tours highlight the food hall's biggest hits—including traditional fare like gravlax and pickled herring, and more modern dishes like Skåne pizza (which is incredibly delicious).

Skateboarding is huge in Malmö—and Bryggeriets Gymnasium is the world's first high school built around a skate park. The school uses skateboarding as a teaching tool to supplement standard coursework and classes in photography, film, and the fine arts.

Rather than outlawing skateboarding, the city of Malmö actively encourages skate culture. The city hires landscape architects to design temporary and permanent skate parks, and it hosts international competitions.

Malmö's Western Harbor was a thriving shipyard until many of the city's industries collapsed in the 1970s. Today, the area has been reborn as a sustainable "city of the future" filled with architectural marvels. Santiago Calatrava's Turning Torso tower presides over the district.

Malmö's director of city planning Christer Larsson believes that the value of architecture lies in how well it serves the needs of the masses.

Landscape architects Karin Andersson and Johanna Bratel (pictured) founded DIS/ORDER to improve public spaces through good design. In Rosengård, they involved local children in the design process for a new public park.

Biblioteksplatsen introduces color, light, and life to the local library via a sweeping bench, a living wall, tables and seats, and hanging lanterns.

Yalla Trappan is an incredibly inspiring nonprofit that seeks to create jobs for women from a vast variety of different backgrounds who have little or no work experience. As founder Christina Merker-Siesjö explains, the nonprofit has been steadily growing—and they've now partnered with major companies including IKEA and H&M.

Kjellander Sjöberg is an innovative architecture and urban planning firm that strives towards environmental and social sustainability in all of its projects.

Partner Ola Kjellander (right) discusses plans to transform Malmö's Sege Park into a new sustainable district with centralized hubs that share tools and resources for the entire community.

Malmö's Form/Design Center is a nonprofit hub dedicated to architecture, design, and arts and crafts. The center hosts exhibitions, events, and a shop stocked with wonderful work by local designers.

For an exhibition entitled What Matter_s, 10 design studios teamed up with 10 material researchers to create extraordinary new objects. Wang & Söderström worked with Prof. Magnus Borgström and Dr. Vilgailė Dagytė to create an electricity-free "radiator" that uses a phase change material to regulate heat in a room.


So long for now, Scandinavia—we're off to San Francisco filled with design inspiration!

More Journey by Design: Joshua Tree, California  | Richmond, Virginia | Berlin Tempelhof Airport | Amsterdam | Austin, Texas

Travel, meals, and lodging for this trip provided by Visit Sweden.


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