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From social housing to highly desirable in Stockholm

Feargus O’Sullivan is back with another Bloomberg CityLab article about “the iconic home designs that define our global cities.” In this recent article he focuses on the Barnrikehus of Stockholm (and also talks about Sweden’s housing market in general). Originally built in the 1930s, the slab-like midrise buildings were largely intended to address two pressing problems: 1) the need for affordable housing and 2) Sweden’s incredibly low birthrate (supposedly the lowest in Europe at the time).

The Barnrikehus template was deployed on the edges of Stockholm and other Swedish cities. The designs were/are fairly simple. Very little ornament (this is Scandinavia). Four or five storeys usually. And no more than about 12 meters deep. This allowed for better natural ventilation, which was important for stymying the spread of tuberculosis. The rents were also heavily subsidized and declined even further with every child in the family. In other words: the more kids you had, the less rent you had to pay.

The suites were fairly compact, with many around the 430 square foot mark. This kind of space might have housed a family of six according to O’Sullivan. But compared to the other available housing options at the time, this was a significant improvement. Perhaps not surprisingly, these “child-rich houses” (which is how the name translates) developed the same kind of social housing stigma that was prevalent in many other countries and cities around the world.

But that perception changed over time and, today, these rent-controlled apartments are apparently highly sought after. (Here’s a listing to give you a taste of what they’re like.) Originally on the fringe of cities like Stockholm, they are now very well located and offer a high standard of living. (You also can’t go wrong with white walls and pale woods.) To learn more about the evolution of Stockholm’s depression-era housing, click here.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash


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