[All photos by BUILD LLC]

We recently returned from a design pilgrimage to Scandinavia where we checked in with our favorite cities and visited some new rural terrain. This adventure took us as far north in Sweden as the dramatic ski slopes of Åre and as far south as the pristine farmlands around Malmö. Stockholm and Copenhagen allowed us to refresh on urban Scandinavian culture and provided excellent base camps for our countryside explorations. Having been significantly influenced by Scandinavian design during our architectural studies, we talk quite a bit about these design influences. Today’s post revisits some of our past observations and explores some new thoughts as well.

1. Environments are more pleasant when everything has a place to be stored. Whether we were walking around the bustling cities or driving through the airy countryside, we were struck time and again at how neat and tidy everything was kept. Even the traditional red barns dotting the farmlands were clean and orderly – the piles of junk (old trucks, rusting tractors, 50-gallon oil drums, etc.) and makeshift lean-tos that typically accompany the American barn were consistently nowhere to be found. For the design-minded, this attention to organization is aesthetically gratifying and if we’re speaking your language we recommend a leisurely drive through the farmlands surrounding Östersund.

BUILD LLC red barn

2. New multi-family projects are an opportunity for design experimentation. The variation of new apartment and condominium buildings in Sweden and Denmark is awe-inspiring. Both countries have put forward programs to develop new ideas and aesthetics about how people live together, and it’s paying off. These efforts are producing environments (both inside and out) that are fresh and stimulating. The projects are producing new possibilities in urban dwelling and many have become a focus of architectural studies around the world. Below is the the Västra hamnen development which includes the Turning Torso in Malmö.


3. There’s no such thing as too many playgrounds. We had the unique position of experiencing Scandinavia through the eyes of little ones this time around. The frequency and quality of playgrounds throughout Sweden made it possible to spend the entire day out in the city and it allowed the little tikes to let some energy out. Many of the urban playgrounds include community centers with clean bathrooms, facilities for art, the occasional skate park, and some even provided accommodations for outdoor cooking. Here’s a fantastic guide to playgrounds in Malmö.


4. The bicycle is the transportation of the future. While this isn’t news to anyone that’s traveled through Scandinavia, it’s worth mentioning that the bike population has increased significantly since we were students there in the 90s. While the infrastructure of trains and buses continues to grow and set the international example, bicycles continue to gain popularity as the most flexible means of navigating town. Finding a spot to park your bike has, however, become more challenging.


5. The majority of single family houses are simple rectangular plans. No master bedroom wings, funny jogs, or protruding bays. Whether traditional or modern, by keeping the footprint to a simple shape, the plan remains highly functional while the envelope holds a timeless aesthetic.


6. Build it well and it will last for hundreds of years. We stayed in a farmhouse near Malmö built in 1680. Since the recent remodel (in 1860), it’s been outfitted with plumbing, electricity, new windows and a refresh on some of the surfaces. Other than that, it’s a home from well before the Declaration of Independence, and it was nice and comfortable.


7. People can be happy with the perfectly imperfect. Scandinavians embrace nature and find beauty in the fact that organic materials breathe, move, and change over time. Weathering or the evidence of common use make things more special and allow an object’s character to develop.


8. Nearly everything is 1/3rd smaller in Scandinavia. This includes homes, appliances, cars, and even RVs. When things are smaller, they’re easier to put away (see #1) and there’s more room for things like playgrounds and bike lanes (see #3 & #4).


9. Induction is the cooking of the future. Whether we were in the city or out in the country, we noticed most everyone was cooking with induction (on cooktops that were 1/3rd the size, of course). It’s a nice technology, water boils quickly, it’s easy to clean, and it’s much harder to burn yourself.

10. Don’t fear the modernism. Ski lodges don’t have to be “rustic,” new and old can play well together, and wind turbines look perfectly harmonious in rural settings. Scandinavians take care of the past and embrace the future. Maybe Scandinavians embrace the future because they take care of the past. Whatever the case, the environments we experienced in Sweden and Denmark were beautiful layers of architectures authentic to their own time and place.




Bonus item: Moose is delicious. We recommend it with a wild blueberry sauce and chased with schnapps.


The photos in today’s post were pulled from our Instagram account, if you like what you see, hop on board.

Skål from Team BUILD