The prefabAUS tour of Sweden in May prompted the unfurling of many compelling ideas, but arguably the city of Växjö, located in the southern province of Småland, represented the most cogent expression of how government intervention, social investment, research + development, design and planning and can coalesce to create a living, unified vision.
Presenting to the prefabAUS tour at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Johan Thorsell, Business Developer, Wood and Urban Development at Växjö Municipality, outlined Växjö Municipality’s wood construction strategy, which involves a number of undertakings. These include that the city would stop using fossil fuels and would commit to a vision that by 2020 the province of Småland would be a leader among Europe’s timber regions. This amounted to a regional strategy for timber and wood-related industries, adopted by the three regional development councils in Småland in 2012.
As part of its timber strategy Växjö Municipality committed to the goal that by 2015 25% of new builds would be timber-based and by 2020 50% would be timber-based.
With around 90,000 inhabitants and boasting a strong culture of housing development, Växjö is home to around 9000 companies (SMEs) and is famed for Linnaeus University. But, Thorsell pointed out, perhaps its most notable characteristic is its location.
“Växjö is located in the middle of the forest. We use the local material,” he said. “It is easy to process and light to transport. Wood is also well suited to modern construction.”
He confirmed that from early on, Växjö’s vision was to boost competition and the growth of new enterprises, while developing timber as a local material. Another focus was to evolve traditional building methods to expand the boundaries of what was technically possible in timber construction. The result is a thriving local economy. Ongoing research at Linnaeus University underpins the timber strategy, which has in turn created local jobs.
“Why is Växjö a success story?” Thorsell attributed good outcomes to brave politicians with the follow-through to realise their vision and a culture of “strong and long term cooperation between municipality, university and industry.”
A glance at the wide ranging program of Växjö’s pending multi-residential developments shows the City of Timber is alive and well. Among them are Strandsnäckan, featuring 42 apartments (pictured left); and eco-friendly, design-led student apartments(pictured below) developed by Svenska Studenthus.
As well as residential developments, a new train station and city hall (pictured below), will create “a smart, efficient and sustainable home for collaboration”, strengthening and preserving the city’s identity.
Meanwhile, Thorsell confirmed the timber building strategy would continue to evolve. Future focus will be on optimisation of key measurables such as lifecycle costs in terms of CO2 emissions, building costs, acoustics and vibrations, minimising moisture and mould in timber buildings and exploring the ways in which timber architecture can be visualised to best effect in a design sense.■