Cities of Colour

Last Wednesday I was at Livsrum, a seminar that launched Janet André’s initiative to change Swedish housing architecture, by creating an exchange network between Dutch and Swedish architects. She argues that Sweden’s problem is the uniformity between dwellings, which is produced by the portfolios of large contractors. These contractors reproduce conservative uninspiring architecture throughout Sweden. The exchange aims at raising the architectural quality in Sweden.

Self-build housing does not have a strong tradition in the Netherlands, its southern neighbour Belgium does. The Dutch housing market was mostly dominated by housing cooperatives, who mass produced quite uniform social housing. However, over a little more than a decade, self-build housing has been gaining in popularity and since than individual preferences are stronger represented in housing design/production.

Roombeek, Enschede (Netherlands). Picture by: Patrick Goossens

Roombeek, Enschede (Netherlands). Picture by: Patrick Goossens

Interesting lectures were given by, among others, Dick van Gameren (Prof. housing, TU Delft), Björn Siesjö (Gothenburg’s city architect), and Tobias Olsson (CEO, Sveriges Architekter). In contrast to these nice lectures, one contained some misleading info, namely that Sweden has 1 architect per 77 inhabitants and the Netherlands have 1 architect per four inhabitants. That would make 25%, or 4.2 million Dutch citizens, architects. Sweden and the Netherlands are actually rather similar when it comes to architects per capita. Here are the numbers as provided by Monditalia.

Unexpected was the lecture by a representative from Akzo Nobel, a chemical company mainly producing paint. As a kid I have been at one of their salt refineries once, where I left with a free bag of salt and a hamburger. Unaware that our paths would cross again at an architecture seminar at the Dutch Embassy in Stockholm. Akzo Nobel sponsored the seminar as part of their new Human Cities campaign, which they launched, together with Rem Koolhaas, last summer at the international Architecture Biennale in Venice.

Their main point: we should use more colour (read Paint), when designing houses. “Right” I thought “Just wait through the commercials, it will soon be over”. However, during the course of the presentation, I kind of liked the idea of more colourful cities.

Van Gameren had argued in his presentation that the Dutch, when building bigger housing blocks, had become masters at giving the impression that these blocks are individual units, hence creating more charming and diverse environments. One way of doing this, is by using paint.

You might think “Should Sweden import design practices from the Netherlands, shouldn’t they just modernize their own styles?” Actually Sweden seems to have a long tradition using paint on their houses. Who doesn’t think of charming red wooden houses when thinking of housing in Sweden? One of the things I like most about Stockholm are the pastel colours used on many of the inner-city buildings. But, also with newly developed projects the tradition of using paint seems to be carried own.

Colours can give a sense of identity to places, or reproduce their identity. There are many reasons why we might use colour, in the end they are just extremely beautiful.


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .