Constructing the future
Swedish architecture and design is about putting people first, says architect Andreas Helgesson Gonzaga
“The growth of major developments in Stockholm is immense. And I don’t just mean central Stockholm, but also just outside the absolute centre,” says Andreas Helgesson Gonzaga, architect and lecturer, and our guide for the journey around Sweden’s largest city in the new Volvo XC60. It’s a statement backed up by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce who, in a 2015 study, predicted that the population of Sweden’s capital will rise 11 per cent by 2020 – quicker than any other city in Europe.
Andreas believes this boom is attributed to a societal change. “At the moment Stockholm is experiencing a situation akin to the housing boom of the 1960s and 1970s when, as part of the Miljonprogrammet [Million Programme], Sweden built a million homes over a period of 10 years. For innovation, it’s key that the construction business can provide enough diversity and competition throughout the whole design process to secure the delivery of high-quality architecture.”
For our journey through modern Stockholm, the new XC60 – the dynamic SUV in the Volvo Cars XC range – proves a valuable partner. Over breakfast, I had sent the locations for the day’s photography to the XC60 from my smartphone so that, as soon as we get in the car, the Sensus Navigation is already programmed. As well as providing excellent navigation, the XC60 proves – like any good guide – to be informative, useful and entertaining. With onboard Wikipedia, we learn more about each location we visit.
Driving around Stockholm in the XC60, Andreas explains that ‘high-quality’ in Swedish architecture and design means putting people first. “It’s user-focused,” he says. “In some ways it’s a development from the functionalism that was prevalent from the 1930s to the 1960s. That heritage is still strong. That sense of putting the user at the centre in architectural development is still there [in Sweden].”
“We have a very long tradition of planning and urban design, which is a positive thing,” continues Andreas. “We don’t only design individual buildings. Our planning ethos is firmly grounded in social values – both public space and urban coherence is very important. In that sense, it’s not only about constructing buildings, but also about constructing society.”
With the head-up display in the XC60, clear turn-by-turn graphics are projected into my sight line, so I never have to take my eyes off the road as I navigate unfamiliar streets. And the car’s 360° Camera means negotiating narrow roads and parking spaces is easy, as it gives me a bird’s-eye view of the car. With its Park and Pay functionality, the XC60 finds an empty parking space quickly – and even pays for it.
On our tour of the city, Andreas points out the way that good Scandinavian design seamlessly blends the old and the new. Parked up outside Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, surrounded by the splendour of the Royal Palace, National Museum and Gamla Stan (old town), it’s easy to feel like you’ve travelled back a couple of centuries. Yet peeking out from behind the more traditional facades are glass and metal structures that hint at a city that dances to a modern beat.
Andreas has created some of them, and now he is helping to shape the next generation. As well as running his own architecture practice, Helgesson Gonzaga Arkitekter [www.helgessongonzaga.se], he’s a lecturer at the renowned KTH [Royal Institute of Technology] school of architecture in Stockholm. He was the project architect of its impressive new building; a curved structure of glass and deep red corten steel that blends beautifully with the traditional red brick of nearby buildings. “Despite being hyper-modern, it establishes a dialogue with its surroundings,” says Andreas.
On the drive back to the hotel that evening, Andreas consults the on-board Yelp app to help with lastminute dinner plans, while the weather app helps us prepare for the following day. It’s only natural that, since Stockholm is home to Spotify, the XC60 has that app, too. It allows a world of music to be played through the car’s premium sound system, developed with renowned audio brand Bowers & Wilkins.
Andreas says that Sweden’s next generation of architects fill him with great hope for the future. “My students are the generation of ‘sharing’,” he observes. “This affects workflow as well as knowledge. They’re keen to establish collaboration across disciplines, develop sustainable building and create a renaissance in public space.”