Wednesday, 6 January 2010

My Designs on Sweden- Christmas Holidays 2009

I was fortunate this year to spend Christmas in Sweden. In the beautiful Arctic town in Åre in Northern Sweden, 630 km from Stockholm. The mountain air has attracted visitors to Åre since the end of the 19th century. At that time the village was primarily a health resort that also attracted people for hunting and fishing. Eventually, hotels were built and the first lift was opened in 1910. The downhill race, “Årebragden”, was held for the first time in 1921, but it was another ten years until alpine skiing was regarded as a leisure activity, after some enthusiasts visited the Alps and imported the concept to Sweden.

Today, Åre is famous as a world-class ski resort with an extensive slope system However, it has also preserved its authentic charm which, along with its mountain location, gives the village an atmosphere that few other places possess. The beautiful mountains, a rich cultural history and a great variety of activities and events, winter and summer, make Åre a living village – all year round.

It was beautiful to see such an unspoilt part of the world. In fact, the local church dates from the 12th century. I now know what its feels like when the innkeeper said ‘there is no room at the inn’ We tried to go the midnight Christmas service only to be told that the small church with capacity for 120 was full – we managed to squeeze in the back to listen to the service – all in Swedish.

However, it was the design and the care for the environment that really struck me. Sweden is the home to many interesting designs – none more so that the new Copperhill Mountain Lodge at Åre. ( Copperhill was a copper mine in the 18th century with the last mining taking place in 1919.

The Copperhill Mountain Lodge was designed by a renowned American architect Peter Bohlin. Bohlin has Swedish ancestry and is today regarded as one of the best in his profession. The architecture firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was founded in 1965 and now has offices in Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Seattle and Berkeley. It has received more than 290 awards. ( The villa owned by Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, is one of their most notable projects in the last few years, where twenty other firms competed for the job. Copperhill is Bohlin’s first project in Scandinavia.

For me, the intuitive is as important as the intellectual,” says Peter Bohlin. “However different the jobs may be, the challenge is always the same – to succeed in sensing what is unique and suitable for each specific place, and understanding how people want to live or work there. Then you have to realise those needs in a way that fascinates and inspires and works.”

The care for the environment really struck me as well. Sweden does not import oil and is self sufficient in energy with extensive hydro-electric, wind and cogeneration plants which as 99 percent fuelled by pure bio energy from forests as well as nuclear power stations. Even the Swedish approach to airports is impressive with a ‘green approach’ – this means that an aircraft descends towards the airport in a so-called continuous descent approach (CDA) with minimal use of the engine throttle, in order to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise.

Sweden has held eco-driving courses with fuel consumption dropping by as much as 20 per cent.

We have a lot to learn in both caring for and using the environment sensitively.

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