Top 9 Swedish architecture must-sees
Sweden is famous for its contribution to inclusive and accessible fashion, design and architecture. But where would you go as a visitor to experience it up close?
We have gathered some of the country’s must-sees when it comes to architecture, whether it is a spectacular art building in the Stockholm archipelago, an icy hotel in Jukkasjärvi or a hot sauna overlooking the harbour in Gothenburg.
What first strikes you when you get off the ferry at the Artipelag stop on the island of Värmdö in the Stockholm archipelago is the silence.
Just 12 miles from the buzz of central Stockholm, a sanctuary-like landscape unfolds. The rocks, crystal clear sea and pine trees beautifully frame the art gallery that opened in 2012 by the famous “Baby Björn” founder, Björn Jakobson. He decided to use his fortune from the baby design company – and it turned out to be wise.
The museum covers 32,000 square feet and the surroundings 54 acres. The idea was to choose a location close to the city but with the characteristics of the Swedish archipelago. Architect Johan Nyrén got the mission to design an art gallery in harmony with the landscape. The result was a building covered in pitched-pine planks, grey concrete and a Sedum-plant-covered roof that melts into its surroundings. And it doesn’t stop there: in the gallery, nature moves inside – the large windows facing the trees and sea make the most stunning artworks.
Treehotel, Swedish Lapland
Have you ever considered sleeping in a bird’s nest, a UFO or a mirror cube? Probably not, but when it comes to design and architecture in Sweden, everything is possible it seems.
Treehotel all started in 2010 with Britta and Kent Lindvall’s dream to turn a 1930s retirement home into a guesthouse in their home village Harads, roughly 100 kilometres from Luleå airport in Swedish Lapland. The end result was not an ordinary B&B – it turned into a tree hotel complete with eight huts inspired by the film The Tree Lover.
The rooms are suspended 4-6 metres above ground with views of Lule river valley, the tall pine trees and if you’re lucky – the Northern Lights. In order to make each hut unique, various Scandinavian architects, including Norwegian architects Snöhetta (The 7th room), Swedish Tham & Videgård Arkitekter (Mirrorcube), and Finnish-Icelandic-Norwegian studio Rintala Eggertsson Architects (Dragonfly) have put their mark on the design.
Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm
A cemetery might not be on the top of the list when you travel, but The Woodland Cemetery ('Skogskyrkogården') in Stockholm offers a unique architectural experience and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Besides being a large green oasis, buildings such as the Chapel and Crematorium are designed by renowned Swedish architects Gunnar Asplund (1885-1940) and Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975) after winning an architect competition in 1915.
Details such as the pattern in the limestone floor inside the Holy Cross Chapel is for mourners to rest their eyes on during grief, and a glass wall can be lowered into the floor after the funeral so that the congregation can step right into the living landscape after the ceremony. Gunnar Asplund was famous for his typical Nordic Classicism and functionalist style – for other examples visit Stockholm Public Library, which is one of his most famous works.
Icehotel is not only a cool (!) hotel. It is perhaps Sweden’s most unique art gallery, with yearly art exhibitions made of snow and ice.
Sustainability is at the core of this unique hotel located above the Arctic Circle, on the bank of Sweden’s largest river, Torne. Built entirely from ice from the river, this hotel is reshaped each year with new artists designing the rooms. When the temperature rises during spring, it melts and returns to the river.
Since 2016, the hotel features a permanent structure open all year round. This addition, Icehotel 365, has 18 art and deluxe suites designed by selected artists, an ice bar and a gallery, all run on solar power. A visit here is easily combined with activities such as dogsledding and boat trips beneath the Midnight Sun.
Wanås Konst, Skåne
Wanås Konst has a clear vision: contemporary art and culture for all. Everyone regardless of background should be able to access and experience art, and an independent, non-profit foundation runs the space. The setting fits this description perfectly – at Wanås you view contemporary art outdoors in the forest and inside the farm buildings.
The sculpture park's permanent collection, which includes some 70 site-specific artworks by artists such as Djurberg & Berg, Ann Hamilton, Yoko Ono and Ann-Sofi Sidén, is a magical space that opens up thoughts about the Swedish way of life where 'allemansrätten' – the right of public access – has formed parts of our identity. Artists from all over the world come to create large-scale works on-site in the sculpture park, a designated nature reserve with majestic old beech and oak trees.
The Modern Museum of Art in Stockholm is also the home of ArkDes, the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design.
With a heritage going back to the 1950s, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design, ArkDes, is a museum, a study centre and an arena for debate that shares premises with The Modern Museum of Art ('Moderna Museet') on Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. Aside from the exhibitions do not miss the library, which boasts great glass windows and an appealing functionalist interior.
Staying true to Scandinavian values of inclusion and accessibility, the centre also arranges seminars and conferences around themes such as the future of the city and exhibitions often highlight young design talent. Spanish architect Rafael Moneo has designed the award-winning buildings at ArkDes, which include two exhibition halls, a library, an office and a café.
The Sauna in Frihamnen, Gothenburg
Cool down in the pool or heat up in The Sauna in Frihamnen, Gothenburg, as you witness how the former industrial port is transformed into one of the hippest areas on the west coast.
In the midst of the old containers and cranes of Frihamnen at Hisingen, across the city centre at the opposite bank of river Göta älv, a whole new area is emerging. It already features a public swimming pool and one of Sweden's most spectacular saunas. The sauna, created by German architect collective Raumlabor Berlin, is in large parts constructed from recycled material. The sauna’s rusty steel exterior is created completely from recycled material and the changing room walls were created using 12,000 recycled glass bottles.
Please note: The sauna is temporarily closed due to renovations and will reopen in spring 2023.
Western Harbour, Malmö
Once a rundown industrial estate, the Western Harbour ('Västra Hamnen') in Malmö has experienced a complete makeover in the last few decades.
In 2001 a new future scenario was set up for the area – to turn it into a future sustainable city, available to all. The neo-futurist twisted skyscraper Turning Torso by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, ready in 2005, has become an obvious landmark for the area, and the surrounding seaside promenade, skateboard park, beach and restaurants are attractive destinations for locals and visitors alike.
Located in Sweden’s first marine national park on the island of Sydkoster, Naturum by Gothenburg-based White architects, is a spectacular destination.
Surrounded by crystal clear sea, this red sea hut-inspired building, covered in a smooth Falun-red timber-panelled facade, offers exhibitions, seminars and advice on excursions including snorkelling in Sweden’s only coral reef and exploring the unique sea wildlife up-close in the aquarium.