Wood is always the first choice at White Arkitekter

No other material offers the same combination of strength, durability and light weight as wood. That is why wherever possible, White Arkitekter always chooses wood first as a construction material on principle.

Jan Larson is an architect at White, working on Frostaliden – one of the biggest projects being built in wood in Sweden. He sets out the firm’s view of wood and explains how the combination of new regulations and technologies served as the starting gun for the growing trend of constructing tall, beautiful buildings in wood.   

“Can we build it in wood?”

This is always one of the first questions asked when White Arkitekter starts work on a new project. In recent years, it has been part of the firm of architects’ policy to actively recommend construction in wood where possible, and where this aligns with the customer’s wishes with regard to the construction project.

The reason for this is a desire to promote the use of this eco-friendly and versatile construction material, and it is rarely difficult for the architects at White to convince their customers. In addition to the environmental benefits, building in wood gels neatly with Swedish culture, and most people in Sweden feel naturally comfortable in buildings made of wood.

“Both customers and architects are keen to use more wood in buildings. Around 13–14 per cent of Swedish multi-residence buildings are made of wood at the moment, and the figure is rising. Over the next few years, we estimate that buildings made of wood will account for 25 per cent of the total number of construction projects. The principal reason for this is the increased focus on sustainability and the environment, and wood is the only material that can make a real difference in this context,” explains Jan Larsson.


New regulations breathed new life into building with wood

The revival and strong growth currently distinguishing the trend of building with wood in Sweden follows in the wake of a long period of restrictions. On account of decades of strict fire regulations, it was only permitted to construct wooden buildings with a maximum of two storeys, but building regulations have been progressively harmonised since Sweden joined the EU. At the same time, new construction techniques have minimised the most common objections to building in wood – fire risk, noise and damp, for example.

“Building in wood has come on in leaps and bounds in Sweden since 2012. Towns and cities in Sweden are full of well-preserved old wooden buildings, but many of the old traditions from the art of timber construction have been lost over the years. We have therefore drawn inspiration from other countries in Europe and combined this with our own Scandinavian design traditions to create a new, unique Nordic style in wood,” continues Jan Larsson.

In a new report, the Nordic Wood in Construction Secretariat – an initiative under the Swedish government and the Nordic Council of Ministers – highlights 25 examples of modern, Nordic timber construction art. One of them is Skellefteå Kulturhus, which was designed by White Arkitekter.

The 25,000 sqm culture centre was designed to honour the regional construction tradition, and in addition to a variety of cultural facilities, it will comprise a 19-storey hotel built of wood and glass.  


A couple of delightful wooden buildings in Skövde

Another beautiful and inspiring example of modern Swedish timber construction art can be found in Skövde. Here, the local authority has decided that 1,200 new homes for a total of 4,000 residents in the Frostaliden area are to be built using wood as the principal material. Jan Larsson is the architect behind White’s contribution: a pair of eight-storey buildings containing a total of 52 apartments.

The two stand-alone buildings are constructed exclusively in wood with the exception of the foundation platform, basement, basement beams, lift shaft and concrete staircases. The exterior is clad in overlapping cedarwood shingles that provide both a vibrant expression and a highly durable, maintenance-free façade with a long service life. The interior presents a fascinating journey from the raw concrete staircase to the bright and open apartments with light oak floors and solid wood walls, which generate a truly natural impression. 

“The Frostaliden construction project neatly demonstrates how we can use wood to create healthy and sustainable urban environments. The local authority charted the path, establishing an unambiguous framework centred around wood. As an architect, this gives you plenty of freedom to create inspiring and aesthetically beautiful buildings that are not only reasonably priced, but also ensure a pleasant indoor climate,” concludes Jan Larsson.    

White Arkitekter - facts:

  • White is the name of an architects’ collective comprising 900 people employed at 13 locations in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the UK.
  • Ten per cent of White’s annual turnover is earmarked for the White Research Lab, which carries out practice-based research in the field of architecture and design.
  • As an employee-owned business, the White organisation is distinguished by values such as sustainability and innovation.

Jan Larson, Architect at White Arkitekter.