Swedes are very proud of their social democracy, and why wouldn’t they be? The Swedish welfare state—which, by all accounts, is disintegrating—provides its citizens with the kinds of benefits that are simply unheard of in nearly all other parts of the world. Free universal health care and education. 480 days of paid parental leave per child. The right of public access to all. And let’s not forget, four to six weeks of paid vacation.
Where do Swedes spend all that time? For the country’s 9.3 million population, there are 700,000 vacation homes, meaning that many Swedes have recourse to at least one summer house. These dot the coastline and are aesthetically similar: brightly colored timber cottages set amid a patch of forest.
By contrast, Tham & Videgard arkitekter’s design for a summer house in Lagnö, a Stockholm archipelago, seems downright sacrosanct. The house does away with the traditional wood veneer for something else entirely: concrete. The material is handled in a minimalist manner, with smooth, blank faces utterly devoid of the frilly or cartoonish details that characterize the region’s other cabins.
The decision to work with concrete wasn’t simply an aesthetic statement, the architects say, but also one that drew inspiration from Lagnö’s bedrock foundations. As they explain in the project brief, they wanted "to search for a way to design the house as an integral part of nature, where the material’s weight and colour scale connects to the archipelago granite bedrock."
The structure, a long wedge split up into a main house and a modestly sized guest cottage, sits on a small clearing amid clusters of thin trees and foliage. Its glazed southern facade looks out onto the Stockholm Bay, from which the house’s sawtooth outline juts out of the archipelago’s serene landscape. The undulating series of transverse gables that crown the house unify the interior spaces. These are arranged linearly, with bedrooms, the kitchen, and bathrooms opening onto the wide living room that stretches the length of the main volume.
The irregular peaks of the roof modulate each of the rooms’ interiors, so that the master bedroom, for instance, has a higher, airier ceiling height than the bathroom adjacent to it. The gabled roofline stretches across the gap between the house and the guest annex to link the two, via a glass canopy that shields entering and exiting occupants from rain.
Though it might seem to break with the past, the house is full of details that recall the timber architecture of its more traditional neighbors. The trim of the large panes of glass and interior wall paneling are made of natural ash wood that complements the grey concrete of the facade. The latter, in fact, isn’t the crudely textured béton brut of Brutalism, but finely treated and smoothed. It was cast using plywood board formwork, which imparts the concrete with a fine-grain texture. Which goes to show, you can take the Swede out of the wood cabin, but you can’t the wood cabin out of the Swede.