We went to Stockholm for a long weekend, and ran into the biggest snowstorm they have experienced in quite some time! Our train was delayed a bit around Linköping because of the snow, but it was really awesome to see the snowflakes come down as we progressed across the countryside.
On Friday we went around the Gamla Stan (old town) and walked by the Royal Palace.
In the afternoon, we met Susanna from Urbio in Södermalm. The office celebrated its 5th anniversary last year, and has been starting to grow the scope of their projects as they are now being considered for larger public projects. Susanna took us around some of her favorite projects in the Hammarby Sjöstad area. It was difficult to see some of them because they were covered in snow, but it was fun for me to see this neighborhood which I have always seen in the middle of the summer, under snow!
Hammarby Sjöstad is a housing development in the southeast part of Stockholm that was originally intended to be part of the Olympic Village in Stockholm’s 2004 Olympic bid. The award of course, went to Athens, but the development was built as a closed-loop system and is constantly being evaluated and tweaked to increase its environmental sustainability. More information about Hammarby is in this PDF. Richard Haag notably catalyzed the reclamation of industrial sites in the US in the 1970s; but the reclamation of industrial waterfronts for dense housing in a contemporary Western context began in Northern Europe. Stockholm’s housing plan has been aggressive, with more than ten sites around the city slated for development over the next 20 years. Hammarby was the first of such developments, and the Royal Seaport which is currently under construction is Europe’s largest housing endeavor. The roots of Hammarby’s development was started more than 20 years ago, and it is really incredible to see how the concept, architecture and planning have been copied in the US in different ways.
First on our tour was Anders Franzens Park, which is a really creative playground that provides a ‘soft’ edge to the Hammarby neighborhood. A pint-sized replica of a ‘working town’ is built in one corner of the playground, complete with some bolted-down machinery! I think this is such a great way for kids to feel connected to a craft or ‘blue-collar’ work, which is something we do not always encourage in children.
We continued walking through the neighborhood, and though it is not completely apparent because the vegetation is under snow, these little squares create a sense of ownership and privacy.
Along the Sickla Udde, is a wonderful landscape artwork by Gunilla Olin called “The Observatory” It is beautiful any time of year and really allows for a lot of people to enjoy the scenery and sunshine. You can also hop down in the middle and swim!
After three hours of traipsing around in the snow, we stopped for a fika with Susanna (third from the right), and said our goodbyes. She gave us a lovely tour and was very knowledgeable about Stockholm’s development and design culture! I hope we cross paths again soon.
After dinner, we went back to Gamla Stan and went to have some drinks at one of the delightfully gimmicky places in Stockholm — Aifur, a Viking-themed restaurant. I heard about it when I was watching a Vice documentary about Sweden’s food culture, and it seemed interesting. The attention to detail in the decor is amazing — everything is handmade: hand-carved wood, hand-wrought metal, hand-blown glass, hand-thrown pottery. The servers all wear these ridiculous outfits of linen and leather, and the light is very dim (because there was no electricity!). The restaurant was founded in 2012 by Swedish electronic sensation Martin E-Type Erikson, apparently he’s a big deal. Most interestingly, there are NO POTATOES on the menu at Aifur, because potatoes were not introduced to Sweden until the 18th century, after being brought over from South America by Portuguese explorers/colonists.
One of the most awesome things about the Aifur experience is that every time a new party arrives, the host stops the music and announces the new guests to the entire dining room. When a couple from Gothenburg arrived he cheekily quipped, “Please welcome Jonas and Klara from Sweden’s backside, Gothenburg!”, there is apparently a big rivalry between the two towns.
On our second day I took the group out to Skogskyrkogården, The Woodland Cemetery, which I have written about before. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, and was still gorgeous and captivating under the snow.
The drama of the nature around the grave sites provides an ornament of its own, there isn’t a lot of need for flowers here, the forest provides a sacred and special feeling on its own. The tall trees looming and protecting the grave sites draw attention to how small we as humans are, and how in death we return to nature as it has borne us before, and throughout our lives.