Green Housing in Place of Industry

by Peter Sigrist and Rebecka Gordan
Residential development aimed at low environmental impact on a former industrial site in central Stockholm.

“Sustainable architecture and urban development can never be solely technical issues or be reduced to a matter of points on a certification scale, but need to begin with fundamental social issues: How are we to live together and how can architecture and the city create best possible conditions?”

⚬ Central Stockholm⚬ Hammarby Sjöstad1 km
The Hammarby Sjöstad development in relation to central Stockholm. Source: Google Earth

Hammarby Sjöstad is a new residential development in Stockholm with an innovative program for environmental sustainability. Since 1995, when the plan took shape as part of an Olympic bid, the municipal government has transformed a 200-hectare industrial site on Hammarby Lake into a neighborhood with 9,000 residential units, 400,000 square meters of commercial space, new canals, piers, bridges, a tramway, and ferry service. There were 17,000 residents by 2011, and planners estimate a total population of 24,000 upon completion in 2017.

Land use around Hammarby Lake before and after redevelopment. Source: ITDP

The Luma cooperative lightbulb factory, a functionalist architectural landmark built in 1930, once anchored the industrial site. Lugnet Peninsula (now Sickla Udde) accommodated small industrial operations and a trailer park. Many enterprises around the lake were prospering — albeit informally or illegally — when redevelopment proposals began to emerge. Their removal was possible because the city owned most of the land. While government officials raised the threat of expropriation, they ended up compensating many business owners at rates far above market value to avoid lengthy appeals.

The former Luma factory on Hammarby Lake. Source: TEA

The decision to uproot industry around the lake was driven by rising demand for urban housing and a desire to address environmental contamination, noise, traffic congestion, and other problems associated with the site. It was a prime location for Stockholm’s “build inwards” strategy of reducing sprawl by reusing developed territory within the city limits. This was a response to state-sponsored suburban housing of the 1960s and 1970s known as the Million Homes Program, which tended to result in isolated and somewhat desolate apartment blocks. In light of this experience, municipal leaders saw relatively dense mixed-use development as key to economic vitality, environmental conservation, and quality of life in the new district.

Sunlight analysis. Source: D.U. Vestbro

The Stockholm City Planning Bureau drafted a master plan for multi-unit homes reminiscent of nineteenth-century urban blocks, with interior courtyards and businesses at street level. They adapted this layout into U-shaped buildings to maximize waterfront views. They also set height restrictions to bring more sunlight into each courtyard.

Hammarby Sjöstad’s urban livability features include a comprehensive ecological strategy. The municipal government decontaminated the area and set a goal for limiting carbon emissions to 50 percent of the average for new residential development in the city. The Stockholm Waste Management Administration worked with the Stockholm Water Company and Fortum — a Finnish energy company — to develop the Hammarby Model for managing water, energy, and waste through an “eco-cycle” of consumption and reuse.

A stormwater channel in Hammarby Sjöstad. Source: Malena Karlsson

Among the development’s many energy-saving technologies is an incinerator that turns combustible waste into electricity. Efficient land use and building materials help conserve resources. The former Luma factory, for example, now contains apartments and amenities. Convenient pathways for walkers and cyclists complement a variety of public transit options. A central community center showcases the development’s ecological strategy.

Hammarby Lake. Source: Malena Karlsson

Despite Hammarby Sjöstad’s many impressive features, it has not escaped criticism. Providing advanced infrastructure for waste management, energy efficiency, and public transit has apparently not inspired residents to adopt environmentally sustainable lifestyles to the extent expected. Post-occupancy studies show that many are unwilling to make even minor sacrifices to help realize the city’s environmental goals, lobbying instead for more parking. (Still, use of personal automobiles is lower than average for Stockholm, and public transportation is far more common.) A large shopping mall outside the development has been an impediment for local businesses, and despite a small percentage of subsidized apartments for students and people with disabilities, housing prices have given rise to an average income over 20 percent above that of Stockholm as a whole.

Hammarby Sjöstad Sundbyberg Stockholm Central Stockholm
Population 17,000 37,700 829,400 308,900
Area (ha) 130 900 18,700 3,500
Population density (persons/ha) 131 42 44 88
Average income (SEK/year) 356,000 272,000 293,000
Jobs per resident 0.3 0.5
Cars per 1,000 residents 210 295 370
The Hammarby Sjöstad development in comparison with Sundbyberg (a nearby suburb), all of Stockholm, and central Stockholm in 2010. Source: ITDP

Sustainability can be a double-edged sword. Its flexibility unites people in a general sense but often masks important concerns. Hammarby Sjöstad is a case in point: environmental sustainability was a rallying call for public officials, but it also helped stigmatize the area’s previous inhabitants to make way for high-income housing. The redevelopment appears to be a net gain for the city, but critical assessment helps identify what was lost and what should be improved. Returning to the Henrietta Palmer quote, initiatives like Hammarby Sjöstad can benefit from ongoing reflection upon how we live together and how to create the best possible conditions.

Peter Sigrist is a doctoral candidate in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. Rebecka Gordan is a reporter and editor at Arkitekten, the journal of the Swedish Association of Architects.