The Landscape Of Wood Architecture In Sweden | A Brief Study

Updated: Oct 2


The Landscape Of Wood Architecture In Sweden
The Landscape Of Wood Architecture In Sweden

The construction industry in Sweden is significantly different from the rest of the world because of its emphasis on wood architecture.

With the Swedish governmental goal of having zero net emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2045, a new law in the country requires a climate declaration for every new building starting in 2022. One of the better ways to reduce the climate impact is to stop relying on concrete as much as possible.

A solid alternative to it shifting to wood architecture. It is said, that just building from the latter would reduce emissions by 50 percent. The other improvements would come with less construction time, less transportation, etc.

In the last 100 years, Sweden has doubled its forest assets and has about 70 percent of the total landscape covered with forests. As a result, it is becoming easier for architects to switch to wood over concrete. About 20 percent of all new multistory buildings in Sweden use Timber, and soon it will achieve 30 percent with increased efforts and government support. But wait, there are a lot more hidden facts behind this that you must know. At every stage below, you will find something unusual or fascinating about wood architecture.

From housing demands to climate impact and current projects, here’s a breakdown of everything you’ll find out about on this page:


What you will learn

A preview of the construction industry in Sweden. Domestic landscape of wood architecture. The commercial landscape of wood architecture. Impact on emissions by wood buildings. Architecture firms involved in the activity. Cost effect. Impact on Biodiversity. Crucial project.

A preview of the construction industry in Sweden.


Since the beginning of construction in Sweden, housing demand has shaped the industry. A projection of history translates that from 1965 to 1975, an increase in investments occurred due to housing shortages. This spike dropped again until the mid-1980s. At the beginning of the 1990s, changes in fiscal policies and economic depression led to a downfall again. Further, housing demand spiked at the beginning of the 21st century, which was disrupted again by the 2008 recession. With again an increase in demand in 2013, multi-apartment dwellings became popular.


More than 50,000 apartments were built during the year 2020. According to data, even higher construction rates of dwellings are not able to address the spurring demand for residential properties in Sweden. Due to this, the house prices are soaring each quarter. According to ECSO, there is a need for 600,000 new homes in Sweden between 2017 and 2025.



Sweden average house prices

In 2020, the construction market output in Sweden was valued at $78 Billion, and multiple studies say that it was expected to grow by 1% in 2021. Construction of residential homes constituted the largest segment of the market, followed by utilities, commercial, industrial, and institutional construction.



Domestic landscape of wood architecture.


Wood architecture in Sweden dates long back to the 13th century. Thus the country follows the tradition of using natural raw materials in the built environment. About 90% of all low-rise housing – small-scale homes with 1 or 2 storeys have a wooden structural frame. The modern Swedish homes are an evolution of the old ones. However, the difference lies in the construction site. Unlike the early days, prefabrication to build kits and volumetric units is done on industrial sites, primarily because of the suitability of wood under industrial construction. It can then be carried through transportation and installed for the purpose.


Summer house in Trosa made of wood
Summer house in Trosa made of wood © Busyboo

While the design of these buildings was influenced by the basic properties of the material and the construction techniques, modern architecture is driven by environmental friendliness. In many cases, it lacks cultural links to society. Adapting to the change, many architects have started providing individualized solutions, and the interest in these buildings is at an all-time high.


Importance of sustainability in Sweden, 2020

The city of Växjö (Population 94,859) is a remarkable example of Swedish wood architecture and its achievements. In the 1990s, the city government began targeting timber-framed construction and has already reached the target of 50% of new buildings to be timber-framed in 2020.

You Should Know: Around Sweden, you can still find wooden houses that are more than 500 years old. Let alone this proves the stability and robustness of the material.



The commercial landscape of wood architecture.


Sweden joined European Union in 1995. Before this (between 1874 and 1994) wood architecture was not allowed in the country over the fears of fire. Sundsvall and Umeå burned to the ground on similar hot summers. The risk was real, and no solution existed before 1950. The uplifting of this ban only happened to increase competition in the European construction and material industry. Still, the authorities introduced a new law to use fireproofing equipment for safety.


European Union enlargement 1995, Existing and joining members
European Union enlargement 1995, Existing and joining members © Wikipedia

The majority of buildings between 2007 and 2015 were constructed using concrete, a rough estimate, 90% of them.


Approximate Comparison of new residential properties in Sweden, 2007 to 2015

According to recent data, over 20% of all new multistorey buildings in Sweden use Timber for construction. This number could soon achieve 30% in the coming years.


Approximate comparison of new multistorey buildings in Sweden

The use of Timber poses a solution to Swedish housing problems, as it is faster to build. However, as these constructions are lightweight, a remark on lateral stability still stands. And for the same reason, buildings with 6 to 7 storeys follow a common practice to build the ground floor in concrete and later secure the timber structure to it.


Influence over material selection in residential buildings with three or more storeys
Influence over material selection in residential buildings with three or more storeys 1 = no influence, 5 = great influence © Diva Portal


Impact on emissions by wood buildings.


According to United Nations Environment Programme, buildings consume more than 40% of global energy and produce as much as one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the fourth IPCC assessment report, building-related GHG emissions amounted to 8.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2004 (Levine et al 2007).

Further, the production of cement is the largest single industrial emitter of CO2 in the world.



We can only contain this CO2 to prevent climate change. Wood is one of the materials that can help achieve this in the construction industry.

According to a study of a recent project, one cubic meter of Timber can hold up to 750 kilograms of CO2. While one cubic meter of structural concrete (using ~14% cement) produces 410 kilograms of CO2 during production.


Amount of CO2 captured by Timber and released by Concrete

The use of Timber in buildings will not only capture existing CO2 but displace high carbon cement, brick, and steel.

Additionally, it is estimated that a typical construction site generates as much as 30% of the total building material weight delivered to it. Using wood as a replacement would almost diminish it as most of the work would be done in the industry.


Distribution of global construction waste generated a year


Currently, construction and demolition waste accounts for 0.85 billion tons per year and will reach 2.2 billion tons by 2025. Imagine the transition we can bring by switching to wood architecture.


Increase in construction waste by 2025

Also, we can decrease our consumption of energy resources required for construction transportation. It accounts for 10 to 20% of construction costs.

There is a long list of the benefits to the environment when studied closely, but we will now focus on health benefits. As we know by now, Timber improves air quality and helps regulate humidity, so it checks one box. It is also hypoallergenic because it traps less dust than soft materials like carpet.

Some people find the appearance of Timber calming, which researchers believe can help reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels, and improve the emotional state of members.

Last but certainly not least, we love nature, and a slight feeling of being near it (i.e., using wood in a building) can contribute to our well-being.


Architecture firms involved in the activity.


  • The number of enterprises in the broad construction sector increased by 6.8% during the 2010-2020 period, reaching 187,694 in 2020.

  • The employment generated by this sector stood at 718,148, an increase of 34.0% compared to 2010 (535,817 persons).

  • The overall turnover stood at EUR 146.3 billion in 2020, exhibiting an increase of 53.8% compared to EUR 95.1 billion in 2010.


Turnover Increase In Broad Construction Between 2010 and 2020

Some of the firms participating in wood architecture are:

  • Arkitektstudio Widjedal Racki.

  • Asante Architecture And Design.

  • White Arkitekter.

  • Wingårdh Arkitektkontor AB.

  • C.F. Møller Architects, etc.



Cost effect.


The short and precise story: IT DEPENDS.

The material itself may not impact cost reductions to a considerable grade. However, the process would and the efficiency too.

Cost differences (1000 SEK in 2005) per building type

Sources of cost

In-situ concrete frame building (A)

Actually built wood frame building (B)

A redesigned variant of building B (C)

Material

+0

+1828

+1790

Labour

+1207

+361

0

Installations

+16

+35

0

Fire-safety measures

+0

+23

+23

Common costs

+1350

+470

0

Cost increment

+90

+108

0

Total

+2663 (+4 months)a

+2825 (+1 months) a

+1813

TOTAL (Lowest cost alternative set to “0”)

+850 (5.9%)b

+1012 (7.0%) b

0

Data © Diva Portal


  • Cost reduction during the foundation. We all know wood is lighter than structural concrete of a similar amount. Therefore, the load on the underground is reduced by 30 to 50% and it can lead to a reduction in costs of the ground support system (pillars), especially in weak soil conditions.

  • Transportation costs are going to lower. Although on-site construction might need less transportation, the use of lighter wood prefab elements can reduce this cost compared to heavier concrete. The cost reduction may be as much as four times the usual ones.

  • Lift and assembly of lighter wooden frames will require normal cranes compared to heavy cranes used for concrete.

  • No cost for drying. On-site concrete construction demands wet masonry be dried. The elimination of this step will help save some extra bucks.

  • Lower capital production costs. A wooden building will be built faster, and it is one of the benefits for saving costs and getting rentals faster.

  • Save money during winters. Winter construction requires heating treatments for concrete. Involvement of no such costs in a wood architecture decreases costs here.

  • Energy and carbon tax. The emissions due to concrete buildings lead to increased tax amounts in Sweden. Using wood as a replacement will decrease the costs by 1 to 2%.

  • Changes and refurbishment costs are lower. The building may have to be changed when the incorrect design is relied upon during construction. The refurbishing costs for older buildings are much lower for wood than concrete.

  • Prefabrication of wooden elements is done at a faster pace by Swedish firms. It can further reduce costs (mainly transportation) by some figures.


Common cost differences (1000 SEK in 2005) per building for the three types of buildings, when the lowest cost alternative is set to zero (Rolf Jonsson CPM AB, 2005)

In-situ concrete-frame building (A)

Actually built wood frame building (B)

A redesigned variant of building B (C)

Weather Protection

0

+450

+300

Drying

+100

0

0

Scaffold

+270

0

0

Establishment

+800

+200

0

Management

+480

+120

0

Total

+1650

+770

+300

TOTAL (Lowest cost alternative set to “0”)

+1350

+470

0

Data © Diva Portal


Potential sources of cost reduction compared to a traditional on-site concrete construction in the production of a building in Sweden (Boverket, 2009)

Source

Potential cost reduction

Lower cost to the final customer (i.e. commissioner) in practice

Taxes, fees, land area

0 - 5%

Maybe 5%

Commissioner

0 - 10%

Maybe 8%

Contractor

0 - 20%

Maybe 12%

Competition

0 - 10%

Maybe 6%

Energy measures

0%

Maybe 5%

Industrialization

0 - 10%

Maybe 4%

Data © Diva Portal

Overall the wooden building methods can relieve the already increasing housing prices in Sweden.



Impact on Biodiversity.


In One Word: BAD!

Swedish forests have doubled in the last 100 years, but some argue that this model of cutting down old-growth trees and replacing them with monoculture plantations is bad for biodiversity.


Trend for standing volume of Swedish wood

According to the Global forest watch, Sweden lost 17% of its tree cover, not accounting for plantations, between 2001 and 2020. That equals 48,000 sq km (19,000 sq miles), an area greater than Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, and more.



The cleared areas are replanted with monoculture plantations which would be harvested again in 60 to 80 years. According to Swedish Forest Industries, at least 380m of trees are planted yearly.


A cleared down tree cover in northern Sweden
A cleared down tree cover in northern Sweden © Frédéric Forsmark


Although the model can hold emissions and help the government achieve its goals in nearer future, it is harming biodiversity. Sebastian Kirppu, a forest biologist, counted more than 100 significantly older trees (more than 150 years).


Logs from old-growth trees
Logs from old-growth trees © Kovac Family

Ancient trees provide lichen, which is an essential source of food for reindeer. More than 70% of Swedish lichen-rich forests have disappeared in the past 60 years. The biodiversity is clearly in danger which habitats other species as well.


Old Tjikko
Old Tjikko © Wikipedia

No human-made movement can reverse our actions. The Swedish policy only addresses the future problems to a small extent while harming the other essential factors.



Crucial project.


More than 20% of new multistorey dwellings are now Timber-made. The number is on the rise and, as discussed before, will soon reach 30%. Currently, Växjö's newest landmark is a glass-paneled timber structure that houses the train station, City Hall, and a small shopping center, with a hotel soon to follow.


Vaxjo train station using wood architecture
Vaxjo train station using wood architecture © Binderholz

One of the notable achievements, however, is Sara Culture Centre. A 20-storey, 75-meter-high building that opened its door in September 2021. The architects of this building claim that it can hold up to 9 million kilograms of CO2. The building required special permission to be made, and you can learn more about it here:


Conclusion.


The wood architecture in Sweden is a modern solution to the problem.

With many advantages, it carries a long list of fearful situations too. Based on your understanding of the landscape, what do you think of this strategy? Will it play out well in the future?

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