Sommerstad, Malmø, Sweden

Successful conversion of 1970s hospital building into exclusive rental homes for young people.

Troldtekt, Sommerstaden college, Malmö
Photo: Thomas Mølvig, architect

Malmö is utterly charming, and with a population of 270,000 it is also the third-largest city in Sweden. The Øresund Bridge has linked Sweden to Denmark and made the area comprising Copenhagen and Malmö one of the fastest-growing regions in Europe. The harbour front is being transformed into an attractive residential area, and numerous architects and politicians visit the site to learn about how to create a thriving urban environment.

The symbol of the city's remarkable development is the 190-metre skyscraper "Turning Torso", designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The remarkable growth achieved by the city has naturally also resulted in the need for good, inexpensive homes for young people. The Sommarstaden hospital area is the setting for an eye-catch example of how existing buildings can be converted to accommodate new uses.

August 2006 saw the official opening of 144 exclusive student residences in a four-storey hospital building from the 1970s. The residences are owned and operated by the Stadsfastigheter Malmö Syd housing association, and the project was drawn by the Danish architectural firm JJW ARKITEKTER. The project breathed new life into the 100-metre long building, which now serves as the functional framework around the everyday lives of the young students. The old hospital atmosphere has been swept away, and the architecture seems timeless in its simplicity.

The location is also magnificent, providing easy access to the city centre, shops and green park areas. Residents area actually just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Malmö, and the Mobilia shopping centre is only a couple of hundred metres from the main entrance. Pildammsparken, one of largest parks in Malmö is located just around the corner; and let's be honest ... who wouldn't want to live in a place called Sommarstaden (Summer City)?

Large house depth

JJW Arkitekter A/S is a firm of architects with extensive experience in converting existing buildings. The most famous example of its work is probably the spectacular homes in the old grain silos on the harbour front in Copenhagen, designed in collaboration with the Dutch company MVRDV. Andreas Blomberg, owner and architect SAR/MSA, was also the managing architect for student residence project in Sommerstaden. JJW Arkitekter employs 75 people, and the company's ability to accommodate the client's request to use Swedish as the project planning language proved to be the decisive factor in the Sommerstaden assignment.

According to Andreas Blomberg, converting the strict building into a thriving environment for young people was an exciting challenge. Here is what he has to say about the process: "We started by gutting the building completely to get to the very core of the project. In principle, the only things we actually kept from the original hospital building were the bearing concrete structure, the façade with its window holes, the floors and the stairwells and lifts. It was basically a great building, but the real challenge was to make positive use of the full depth of the construction. It was also important to fit in as many apartments as possible without compromising the comfort of the individual residents. We overcame this problem by breaking the building module, which is clearly reflected in the façades,"

"We had to keep the long central hallway to ensure appropriate logistics in the floor solution. This meant that we had to work consciously to break up the visual impression of the long, straight hallway layout. The hallway is 100 metres long, and you can see from one end of it to the other. We therefore decided to 'split' the building in the middle, positioning a common room and laundry facilities there. This provides light straight to the centrepoint of the building, and from the foyer on the ground floor there is a direct connection to the park behind the old hospital. The actual path of the hallway has been additionally varied through extensive use of coloured flooring sections of different lengths and patterns. Moreover, the light fittings have been placed longitudinally, and the actual light sources are close to the walls, so reflection makes the hallway appear wider. The lighting solution presses outwards perceptionally in the 2.5-metre-wide hallway. This double shortening of the perspective has a major visual effect, and the influx of natural light from both gables makes the hallway look even more inviting. 

Solid ceilings

White-painted Troldtekt panels have been used in the foyer, hallways, stairwells, laundry room and common room. Andreas Blomberg explains: "When it came to the ceilings, we wanted a solid, impact-resistant material with good acoustic properties. Light panels would quite simply not work in a young people's environment like this, where the residents like to play football in the hallways and party on weekends. In addition, we wanted a fully removable, suspended ceiling with full access to all installations. Finally, I didn't want anything to do with an ugly system involving T-profiles – I wanted an aesthetically attractive product with a rustic slant. That is why we chose Troldtekt, which rests on graphite grey steel profiles in 1.80-metre lengths due to weight considerations. The lighting consists of integrated Troldtekt fittings throughout, creating an elegant spatial effect." 

Complete residential unit

The 144 apartments are light and simple in their layout. The residential area varies between 24 and 63 square metres, and the open plan solution makes all the rooms pleasant and extremely functional. The 3-metre ceiling height and the large window sections also contribute to generating an atmosphere of exclusiveness and spatial excess. A number of the apartments also have access to large balconies overlooking the park to the west. The homes are either one or two-room apartments – all with an integrated kitchen and bathroom. Large sliding doors make it possible to shut off the bedroom area or leave the whole apartment open as one large room. The monthly rent is from SEK 3,800–6,700 including water, heat and electricity. They may not be the cheapest residences in Malmö, but July and August are free of charge.