Tag Archives: Sweden


The history of Malmö can be traced back through the centuries to its humble beginnings as a flourishing herring marketplace but the forward-looking city is setting ambitious goals for itself: to be climate neutral by 2020 and to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Sweden’s third most populous city has undergone a major transformation with significant architectural developments, growing biotech and IT companies, and a new university, due in large part to the construction of the Öresund Bridge crossing the strait to Copenhagen.

Malmö is focused on becoming a global role model for urban environmental sustainability, and has gained recognition for large-scale developments such as the Western Harbour, Västra Hamnen. The first stage of its renewal began in 2001 with the Housing Fair Bo01, or the City of Tomorrow, a post-industrial district built in the former shipyard. The pilot project’s 500 homes, commercial and community facilities are constructed to standards enforcing a strong ecological approach as set out in the ‘Quality Programme.’ A ‘wall’ of tall mixed-use buildings fronting the sea acts as a wind shelter around a densely built interior of small-scale housing blocks separated by green space and alleyways. A few dozen architectural firms had a hand in the design, including Ralph Erskine, Mario Campi and Gert Wingårdh, lending variation to the energy-efficient dwellings. Unfortunately, for all its success, the heavily publicized, visionary branding project was criticized for being an exclusive, secluded urban residential neighbourhood and for sky-high costs.

The Västra Hamnen and Hyllie neighbourhoods continue to be active areas of growth, with broad initiatives taken to integrate environment and energy in their urban planning. As a leading city, Malmö is hosting the upcoming International Conference on Sustainability Certification of Urban Areas on September 16.

On an entirely different scale, the nearby 54-storey (190m) Turning Torso by Santiago Calatrava is Scandinavia’s tallest skyscraper. Completed in 2005, the tower’s twisting form, composed of nine segments of pentagonal floors wound a total of 90° from the structure’s base to the top, has become a symbol for the city of blue collar roots.

The design dialogue continues with an exhibition this summer entitled Ah Vådda-då? Malmö!’ at the Form/Design Centre, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting good design. An eclectic mix of objects, architectural projects and ideas were laid out, per the curators, “like a visionary medieval feast.” Examples addressed issues from climate concerns to multiculturalism, and included interactive city guides and bicycle campaigns, furniture made from ‘green’ materials, and a model of Malmö’s new World Village of Women’s Sports by the Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) due to be completed in 2014. Also on display: a video of invited architects and planners discussing what the “capital” of the Skåne province will look like in the future.

Stockholm’s outer archipelago

Stockholmers by and large spend their holidays in the Stockholm Archipelago or Stockholms skärgård, which, with over 30,000 islands and islets, make it the largest of Sweden. There are some 50,000 cottages but it’s pricey to have a summer residence along that particular stretch of the Baltic nearest the city so they are mainly owned by the wealthy or inherited. (However, even the not so well-to-do in Sweden have access to summer homes – that’s the Swedish social welfare system for you). An excursion from the capital to the outer reaches of the archipelago through the Strömma Kanal requires a boat that can navigate its shallowness and the passages densely bordered by tall grasses that can narrow considerably at points. Cruising between the small islands reveals lovely archipelago-style houses with elaborate woodwork and beautiful gardens, oftentimes dotted with matching secondary and tertiary structures like guesthouses, boathouses, and sheds, all ever-so-tastefully done.

The island of Sandhamn, a natural harbour in the outer archipelago, has historically been a meeting place for international sailors and a key piloting station. Now it’s a popular vacation spot with a vibrant summer party scene. Though it has only 100 permanent inhabitants, 3,000 avid yachters and holiday-goers take up residence each summer and thousands of visitors flock to the island to experience its maritime terrain, its taverns and B&Bs, and to see and be seen at the marina and the prestigious Royal Swedish Yacht Club. Even from the innermost parts of the village can you find picturesque views to the sea, along characteristic gravel alleys framed by picket fences and native flowers. It’s the Martha’s Vineyard of Sweden, folks! (Even Mikael Blomkvist, a central character in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, is known to have a cabin there that he uses as a place to relax and write.)

The clichéd deep red is in full force here. Known for its use on wooden cottages and barns, the traditional Falu red paint, which dates back to the 17th century, is still widely used in the Swedish countryside. 


Gamla Stan (Old Town)

More Stockholm …

Stockholm Waterfront, the new Congress Centre by White arkitekter

Small town Sweden

After dodging Dublin’s scores of city buses and swarms of tourists making the pilgrimage to view the Book of Kells – fast-forward – I find myself in the south-eastern Swedish countryside. It’s a complete change in tempo and my very first introduction to Sweden.

Staying with friends who reside on a lovely piece of farmland in Gamleby is a unique opportunity to see something other than the urban, and while Chanterelle mushroom picking deep in the forest, we couldn’t be further from it. Covered head to toe, we scour large areas, lifting tree branches or shrouds of moss, exuberant to find the small, bright orange tufts. Nubs at first, as you dig into the moist earth, large canopies reveal themselves. Uncovering one leads to others close by, that is, if the overly populous wild boars didn’t get to them first. Afterwards comes the prep: cleaning, drying, and cooking: frying in butter or adding to gravy. [Even more fun: picking berries. Wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. Berries galore!]

The nearby summer town of Västervik experiences an annual revival every July. Popular with yacht people, campers, and returning former residents, and with the beautiful archipelago for a backdrop, it’s a stage for all sorts of events. It hosts its 3-day annual song festival at the ruins of the Stegeholm Castle and we make the honorary romp into town to check out the ballads, promenade along the lake, and score some traditional fare. Spearheaded by the boys of Abba in 1966, Vis Festival used to attract big names in Swedish music, from folk to pop/rock bands, but the years have seen a dwindling in turnout.

Vendors in the city centre display their seasonal market of goods: old style food and preserves (reindeer meat, rabbit fur, forest berry jams); traditional folk clothing; and even antique steam engines. (I really liked the smoked reindeer mousse. Is that wrong?)

If candles are your thing, you’ll appreciate a stop at Gränsö Slotts Ljusstöperi, a workshop/gallery/store/café in one. The candlestick makers create handmade, classic branch candles with historic Nordic shapes. Using traditional techniques, the thin wicks are tied to sticks, dipped in stearin and formed individually to the right shape, and then dipped again. The smooth, white, tapered candle is organic, non-drip, clean burning, long-lasting and can be custom ordered for all occasions – delicately decorated with coloured beeswax.