Reconstruction of the Welfare State – Restructuring Swedish Post War Housing Kitchens

Erik Stenberg

Project Period:
Type: Affiliated Research Project
Program Area(s): Critical Historiography


Reconstruction of the Welfare State as an ongoing project is concerned with making small physical changes with great social consequences. In rebuilding 7 of Tensta’s 5600 apartments over a 10 year span, differences and conflicts between the existing built environment and the changing needs of contemporary society have been uncovered. Globalization, multi-culturalism, conflict immigration, and the breakdown of the nation-state have radically changed Swedish demographics since The Million Program Era years 1965-74. However, housing as a typology has not evolved as rapidly.

By focusing on the structural potential for alteration within the existing multi-family housing stock from the Million Program Era, a forgotten quality of the large scale post-war era estates in Sweden has been rediscovered. These predominantly rationally planned, industrially produced, repetitive, and pre-fabricated blocks are actually well suited for alterations. Some structural systems of these multifamily houses were designed to allow for flexible layouts by separating the loadbearing walls from the room dividing walls. Others were not intended to be flexible but can easily be adapted because of their repetitive and systematic qualities.

The apartments built in post war Sweden remain unchanged despite the fact that numerous programs for change have been implemented. Further, in new construction, apartment layouts are still based on the post-war nuclear family or propose general open-plan solutions for a similarly idealized urban family while contemporary Swedish urban demographics are dominated by single person households, divorcees, and other arrangements with respect to ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status. However, the presentation linked to this text will focus on the contrast between the historical circumstances that formed the welfare state apartment and the small scale efforts being made to restructure the apartments to fit the contemporary citizen.
Apartment layouts were also highly regulated, standardized, and typologized during the post war era. Each room was studied in detail according to its function and designed thereafter. All possible configurations of movement, furniture, proportions of rooms, and lighting conditions were analyzed in regard to function. The results were puzzled together (organized and ordered) as type-plans to be used in planning multi-family housing. This also led to extreme similarities of the apartments in the housing areas of the Million Program Era.

The kitchen was an especially well planned and standardized room. In many ways the kitchen also reflects the social ambitions of the era. Women’s rights were on the political agenda and the well planned kitchen was yet another improvement in the daily lives of women. The sheer fact that two people could co-habit the kitchen was seen as liberating at a time when many of the traditional rural homes were still centered around the wood stove. However, the kitchens constructed as a result of this progress risk becoming outdated and outpaced by the rapid changes in society. The contrast between the old apartment kitchens and the new families inhabiting them has never been greater.

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