How a Swedish Architecture School Is Helping Refugees Become Builders
Self Build City is a project that will employee refugees as builders of a three-story, nine-apartment timber complex in a suburb of Stockholm
Last year, Per Franson, the dean of KTH’s Architecture School in Stockholm, opened his classroom doors to immigrants who were newly arrived in Sweden. For the more than 200 students who enrolled in Franson’s course, called Self Build City, the special master class was meant to be nothing more than a conceptual exercise in exploring how communities might build and support their own architecture.
The students spent weeks discussing the ins and outs of self-building. They learned about Sweden’s storied history of community-constructed housing and just how much work it would take to pull off today. They heard from professionals about the logistical challenges and societal benefits that self-building presents—and then they decided to try it themselves. “We turned it from a think tank into a do tank,” Franson says.
Now Franson is heading up Self Build City, a spinoff project from his class that will employee refugees as builders of a three-story, nine-apartment timber complex in Knivsta, a suburb north of Stockholm. The design of the building is still in progress, but Franson says it’ll likely be made from timber modules that machines will fabricate off-site and workers will assemble on-site. Refugees will take up jobs like plumbing, electricity, painting, and construction, which Franson believes will give them a sense of ownership over where they live. “I feel like we are too far away from our own homes,” he says. “We want to build in more transparency to the whole system.”
Self Build City echoes Sweden’s earlier efforts to incentivize citizens to construct their own homes. In the 1930s, government agencies subsidized housing costs with loans for families who helped with construction tasks like laying bricks and fixing plumbing. At the time, it was a way to lower the cost of housing and keep people from leaving Sweden for the United States during a period of severe housing shortage.
Today, the Self Build City project has the opposite problem—too many people coming into the country; too few homes to go around. But the build-it-yourself solution remains the same. Franson says the project has widespread support in the country, but there are still many questions to answer, like: How cheap will this self-built home actually be? Who owns it? How can they make it aesthetically comfortable while scaling up the construction processes? Fanson and his team will spend the next year finding those answers, as they shoot to begin construction in 2018. “We’re turning it into a research project,” he says. “There are a lot of questions that we need to straighten out.”