A city shaped by contrasts and similarities
Discovering and experiencing a complex and fascinating city like Stockholm in five days is a very special and unique experience. The idea you have of a city before visiting and the actual being in the city is most of the times, and was for me, a world of difference. In my opinion Stockholm is a city that mostly consists of contrasts and similarities at the same time. These contrasts and similarities can be found on different architectural scales from urban typologies to suburban housing. A big amount of different architectural styles, from National Romanticism to postmodernism, are represented on quite a small surface and give the city a fascinating stratification. This stratification exists thanks to the rich history Stockholm has in the development to the architectural inspiring city it is today. Although the city at first sight sends out a sense of well-established architectural unity a confrontation with the contrasts that characterise the city is inevitable.
Being the capital of Sweden, I expected high density in the city or at least in the periphery like other European capital cities such as Paris or London. Nevertheless the city is not at all characterised by high rise buildings defining the skyline but a balance is created by the general use of medium rise buildings in combination with broad avenues, big squares and green parks. Instead of expecting to live in ground bound houses with gardens and garages like many people do in Belgium, living in apartments which are surrounded by big parks is normal. In my opinion this results in a agreeable city without experiencing almost any kind of overcrowding that todays urbanisation can effect on most capitals.
But not only the structure of the city fascinates me but also the different kind of building block typologies. Most of the time building blocks have a defined character as well on the outside as on the inside. Keeping in mind the typical Flemish urban building blocks with their chaotic core full of fences and random extensions, I was intrigued by the unity. For example square building blocks have a cylindrical 1inner courtyard, something that’s unusual but it creates a high quality space in the building block.
These urban contrasts and qualities do also occur in the suburbs of Stockholm. A very intriguing and unforgettable example of these contrasts and similarities is the residential area of Ängby. The area blends modernistic functionalism with garden city ideals and it is nowadays one of the most coherent functionalist villa areas in the world. The 500 still well preserved villa’s where constructed in the 30’s. To keep everyone happy Edvin Engström decided to build half of the houses in the traditional style, colourful cottages, and the other half are variations on a strict functionalist theme.
The unity of the traditional Norra Ängby is amazing. The houses are organised on a grid so they have a classic front yard and a big backyard and are most of the times equally dimensioned. This is a huge contrast with the hilly terrain of Södra Ängby filled with white modernistic volumes. By leaving the surrounding nature almost intact and the allowance of sprawl, the impression of a forest is created. The houses are not surrounded by the expected high fences to keep out unwanted looks but the gardens are, almost, fence-less. The small variations in every house in the size of windows, height, balconies, etc. give the idea that every house is build for the family living in it. And especially the location close to the lake makes this place truly fascinating.
Visiting Stockholm taught me a lot about other kinds of architecture but also other ways of thinking about urbanism. The city is very open minded to try out new things and accomplishes projects that we can hardly imagine happening in Belgium. I had the impression that the impact of the way the city is structured has a good influence on the well being of its inhabitants. New urban projects are most of the time applauded for instead of shut down by referenda and so it keeps the city thriving and growing.