Sweden Builds Homes

Prefabricated houses, co-operative apartment blocks, garden cities, interest at 3/4 per cent —Sweden may have something to teach us

HELEN MARSH August 1 1937

Sweden Builds Homes

Prefabricated houses, co-operative apartment blocks, garden cities, interest at 3/4 per cent —Sweden may have something to teach us

HELEN MARSH August 1 1937

Sweden Builds Homes


Prefabricated houses, co-operative apartment blocks, garden cities, interest at 3/4 per cent —Sweden may have something to teach us


SWEDEN is an old country; old enough to have sent her sons to help found Britain a thousand years ago. Canada is a young country; so young that she is continually being cited as the land of opportunity, of pioneers, of enthusiasm—in short, of adolescence. Yet take a look at any Swedish city and compare it with any Canadian city, and one disturbing fact will become glaringly obvious. You will be faced with the unpleasant reality that Sweden is architecturally young, while Canada is beginning to show signs of senility in its residential areas.

There is a growing recognition that Canada is facing a twofold housing problem. First of all, we are becoming uncomfortably aware of a shortage of dwellings. During the last six or seven years, building activity has been at a low ebb; and the population has gone on increasing. And secondly, many of our existing houses are becoming so dilapidated as to be uninhabitable. This problem is just as pressing in the country as in the cities; and a measure like the H. I. P., which offers loans for repairing and improving existing property, does not affect the shortage, nor yet does it build new homes for the low-wage-earners.

Sweden has been faced with the same problem. But today those who visit that charming country hoping for lovely ruins of the past, crooked cobbled streets, and lopsided manors, are doomed to disappointment. For, architecturally speaking, Sweden is one of the most modern and colorful countries imaginable, and boasts having the besthoused population in Europe. What to a Canadian is daringly “modern” architecture is, to a Swede, merely contemporary.

Stockholm is an excellent example of the new idea in housing, because it is the largest city, and one of the oldest, in Sweden. Stockholm has no slums. The nearest approach to slums are the buildings in the old part of Stockholm, an island which the Swedes are preserving as a historical monument! The island has narrow, winding streets, and old cafés and houses, but it has passed the high standard of habitability required by the Government, and manages to be quaint without being broken-down and disease-ridden.

But apart from the surprise of finding that Stockholm has no slums, an even more astonishing fact confronts the visitor. It is that two out of every three dwellings in Stockholm have been put up since the turn of the century. And one of those two, since 1920. Is it surprising that Stockholm looks like new? It is new. What is more, these thousands of new homes have been carefully planned for those who are going to live in them, and the plans have not only been carried out in respect to the houses themselves, but have covered the problems of garden space, furniture, and conveniences for the housewife. They have been built to ensure the maximum of sun, air, privacy and durability. And they have been adapted to the needs of special groups, such as the aged, the young, the rich, the poor, the outdoor worker, the sedentary worker. There are new homes for everyone.

The housing situation in Sweden, which was bad enough in 1900, became acute during the Great War, when thou-

sands of noncombatants sought refuge in Scandinavia. By some miracle of forethought and long vision which characterize so many of Sweden’s activities, the City of Stockholm began in 1904 to buy up large plots of land and great estates lying just beyond the city’s borders, with the definite intention of turning them into cheap building sites. At present it owns some 20,000 acres, now incorporated within the city limits, and all within from two to eight miles of the centre of Stockholm. The total cost of these purchases has been about six million dollars. The land so acquired was laid out in building sites; mains for water, sewers, gas and electricity were put in, and streets were made. There are now ninety miles of paved streets on that land. Thus was the way prepared for the famous Garden Cities of Stockholm.

Sites Not Sold

SITES IN the Garden Cities are not sold but are let on leasehold terms, the lease fixed at sixty years with power of renewal by the holder, who pays an annual ground rent of about five per cent of the value of the land. The financ-

ing of the building activity is handled by a financial bureau started for this express purpose by the City. The City owns all the shares in this bureau and regulates loans and interest. With the help of such loans, private individuals built their houses, some of them builders who later sold them. This system had one disadvantage which the Swedes were quick to see—that the Garden Cities, originally planned for lowwage-earners, were attracting families who were financially well situated.

In 1927 a new experiment was initiated with the express object of appealing to those of limited means. This was the famous Magic House development. A Building Board was set up and instructed to draw up blueprints of small, prefabricated houses, to lend money at low rates of interest to prospective builders, to help them put together their houses themselves, to supervise the work so as to maintain certain standards, and to offer expert help in such matters as wiring, plumbing and masonry. The Board drew up plans for six types of houses, varying mainly in size.

The prospective purchaser of a Magic House goes to the Continued on page 25

Sweden Builds Homes

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Building Board, picks out the type of house he wants, puts down a first payment of $80, and borrows the rest, which for an average house would be about $2,820. Then he and his family go out to their lot and dig themselves a basement. Later the Board sends them their house, which comes in large pieces, walls, windows, etc., previously put together. The family scrutinizes the accompanying blueprints, and in a very short time the house is complete except for the roof. In this way, the owner of the house contributes about half the labor cost and has an interesting experience. On the day on which the roof is “raised,” the entire family and all their friends, bringing well-laden picnic baskets, come to the lot and make a day of it; then join in with a paintbrush, hammer or saw, and help with the finishing touches to the new home.

And what a delightful home it is! Surrounded by a large garden, painted and finished with sometimes surprising but always individual taste, it has numerous unique features. One of these is the basement, which is finished to provide food cellars, a workshop or garage, furnace and hot-water boiler, and—the bath! At first glance this seems odd ; but on reflection it is merely another indication of the good sense of the Swedes. For the basement is always warm, and the laundry rooms are down there, and the slight inconvenience of going downstairs instead of upstairs for a bath is more than compensated for by the saving in plumbing costs. Upstairs there is a fine, modem kitchen, in which intelligent use of materials and labor saving devices has been made, a living room and frequently another room; and on the second floor, either two or three bedrooms. The house itself has been angled to catch the maximum ol sunlight, and the windows are large and airy. For a medium-sized house, the annual charges for interest and amortization are about $250. There are larger houses under this scheme, but the Swedish family is usually very small. As the school authorities put it. they figure on having to provide for half a child from each home!

That the City has been successful in enabling low-income groups to move out into the Garden Cities, is shown by an analysis of the occupations of the homeowners. Sixty-five per cent are laborers and industrial workers; railroad and streetcar workers total eleven per cent; and Civil Service employees account for another eleven per cent. The remaining thirteen per cent are business employees, artisans, foremen and others not specified. More recently the Building Board has adopted the policy of giving preference to indoor and sedentary workers.

As one drives through Stockholm, the built-up streets frequently give way to great stretches of bright gardens, broken here and there by colorful little buildings and dignified rows of vegetables. These are the City’s Allotment Gardens, laid out to help the apartment dweller or gardenless householder grow some of his own food. Before the War, there were 7,(XX) of these gardens; now some of the territory has been taken over for building, and there are 5,(XX) left. Each is 4,5(X) square feet, for which the head of the family working it pays $5 or $6 a year. He

erects his own little hut and toolshed, which is no mere shack but a decorative addition to the garden, often large and comfortable enough for the family to live in during the summer. Here he grows anything he likes; his vegetables and fruit, and always an abundance of flowers. The styles of architecture displayed in the cottages are as diverse as those of Canadian filling stations. Near by there are stores, dance halls and parks.

Co-operative Apartments

■piFTY THOUSAND people live in

Garden Cities. But an even greater number—80,000—have developed a new way of owning their homes. They have applied the co-operative principle, so strikingly successful in wholesale and retail trade, to housing. The first Cooperative Housing Society was formed in Stockholm in 1916, and it put up half a dozen apartment houses in as many years. Its success was such that in 1922 a national building society was organized, and cooperative apartment houses have sprung up since then all over Sweden. This national society is called the Hyregasternas Sparkassa och Byggnads-forening. Luckily for you and me. it is nearly always referred to as H. S. B.

FI. S. B. puts up three kinds of apartments, designated as A, B and C. Types A and B are very similar—one to five rooms, bathroom and kitchen. The difference lies mainly in the fact that tenants of A-type apartments are required to put up ten per cent of the cost of their apartment in cash, while those of the B type need put up only five per cent. Through private banks and insurance companies, the members of the housing co-operative borrow another ten to fifteen }>er cent, and the city and state furnish the rest (seventyfive to eighty per cent) at the astonishingly low rate of % per cent per annum. As in all co-operatives, the members receive interest on their deposits (six per cent); when their apartment is built, they pay an annual rent which goes toward interest and amortization on loans, service, heat and hot water. Rents for an A-type apartment run from $125 to $865 a year; for one of the B type, from $120 to $485. The rent is figured on the floor space of the apartment. Consider the fact that building costs in Sweden are at least fifty per cent higher than in Germany and Europe generally— partly due to the extreme climate, which is much like Canada’s, and partly to the strength of the trade unions which prohibit “cheap labor”—and it will be obvious that co-operative building under a well-disposed Government has very definite financial advantages.

But the advantages are not purely pecuniary; for the co-operative spirit has led to some interesting innovations in apartment housing. To begin with, all housing comes under municipal control, which sets a minimum standard. The basement is fitted up with communal electric washing machines and mangles, which each housewife uses on an allotted day at a cost of about seventy-five cents for the month. In addition, a kitchenette saves the laundresses a trip upstairs for the frequent pauses for coffee. An enclosed room (enclosed so that the noise will not disturb other tenants) is available for beating rugs and mattresses, and the dust is carried off through a vacuum mechanism in the ceiling. The garbage is disused of in the furnace—a device which the careful Swedes soon found took something off the coal bill! Nearly every block has a wirefenced courtyard, which makes a safe playground for the youngest tenants; its border of bright flowers adds a touch of beauty.

In all these apartment blocks are large nurseries, charmingly equipped and decor-

ated. They are in charge of one or more nurses, who supervise the children’s play, put them away to sleep in the afternoons on little woven pallets, and give them three meals a day. As one of every four married women in Stockholm has a job and many more do not have maids, communal nurseries in co-operative apartment houses came in direct response to the needs of the tenants. A Government subsidy makes it possible to keep the charges down to fifteen cents a day for children aged up to two years, and twenty-five cents from two years to school age.

Another delightful feature of the cooperative apartment house is the furnishing and fitting of the rooms. A special department of architects spends a great deal of time designing furniture which is artistic and suited to the expressed wants of the tenants. Their efforts have been attended by surprising success; and the humblest family lives in a home furnished with taste, beauty and modernity. Laborsaving devices, too, have been developed to a high point of efficiency.

Owners of individual apartments may sell, provided they secure the permission of H. S. 13., and provided they sell for the same amount of money, no more and no less, that they have put in.

For Poor Families

nr HE THIRD, or C type of apartment has been planned particularly for the poorer families, and in this case H. S. B. j merely acts as the building organization I for the City. The tenant makes no down I payment at all; the apartments are built by the City on its own land, with the financial help of the State. Sweden has a j very low birth rate; and as a measure of special aid to families with more than the average number of children, the State helps those in the C-type buildings with their rent. It pays thirty per cent of the rent for families with three children; forty lier cent where there are four children; and fifty per cent where there are five or more.

All these apartment blocks have many entrances; this, not only to vary the architectural design but to accentuate the feeling of privacy. Rarely more than half a dozen families, and frequently fewer, use the same entrance.

The State assistance given H. S. B. in order to build these apartments for lowincome families with many children, is not the only example of the confidence of the Government in the co-operative housing organization. The Government has also recognized its responsibility to another great group of people—the aged; and it makes arrangements with H. S. B. to include in an apartment house a number of apartments, paid for by the State, for old people. The rents are low, for thousands of Sweden’s old people are living on their pensions, and the apartments are small— one room, kitchenette and bathroom for a single person, two rooms for a couple.

Apart altogether from the Government, another group of people has given thought to the housing requirements of old people —a group which may include the old people themselves. Members of this group do not join a society, nor do they invest any money. But when their friends die, they send the bereaved family a note of sympathy and the information that in memory of the deceased they have contributed the cost of a wreath to a special fund. This is the famous “Flower Fund” which is used not for flowers, but for building houses for old people. For about sixteen years the Flower Fund custom has become increasingly approved, and already six beautiful apartment houses, set in delightful gardens, have been erected with the money thus collected. Thus, for perishable tributes to the dead the Swedes have substituted an enduring and beautiful service for the living.

Flower Fund apartments have been designed with particular reference to the convenience of the tenants. They provide cleaning service where required, and serve excellent meals in a bright communal dining room at low cost. An infirmary in the

building is used by people with minor ailments. There is a pleasant library, and a lounge where the old people can gather round a card table or sit and gossip about the “good old days.” Rents vary, sometimes in proportion to the pensions of the tenants. An average rental paid by a couple receiving a pension of $300 a year would be about $8 a month.

Another type of housing is that built by K. F. (the great national organization of the co-operative societies) for its employees. An excellent example are those erected by the Three Crowns Flour Mill near Stockholm. These dwellings include one apartment block and four rows of individual cottages built in steps down the slope of the land toward the water. They are drenched in sunlight all day long, surrounded by the ubiquitous lovely gardens, and each has an uninterrupted view of the hay. As the mill is some distance from Stockholm, living in this colony saves money not only in rent but in commutation costs, and provides a delightful country environment for the families living there.

Finally, the seeker after inspiration for housing schemes must visit the up-to-date and exciting Kollektivhus. This experiment in housing was carried out recently in Stockholm by the architect, Sven Markelius. The building, very beautiful in design, was a private venture, but embraces co-operative principles and provides a complete set of co-operative services. A communal kitchen sends meals up to the tenants in their apartments; room and cleaning service is available; and there are the usual nurseries and laundry rooms and so on. A roof terrace, complete with a shower room, is a favorite spot for sunbathing. And the apartments can be purchased co-operatively.

Particular stress has been laid on the interior decoration and furnishings, which are modern in feeling and skilfully blended. For the opening of the apartment house in 1935, apartments were completely furnished by decorators who adapted everything to the tastes and personalities of the families who were going to live in them.

In all these ways the urban housing problem has been met. But what of the farmer? Is he, too, learning how to house himself decently without going bankrupt?

Farmers Own Their Homes

SWEDISH Governments have encouraged farmers to own their farms and houses for two reasons; firstly, they recognize a “social demand” that the population of the country districts should be the owners of the land they till; and, secondly, they have been anxious to preserve a rural population of families able to provide themselves with a reasonable standard of living and to run small holdings as efficiently and economically as possible. To these ends, the State has promoted the “Own Homes Movement.” A fund has now been in operation for thirty-three years, which is administered by provincial agricultural societies, to supply loans to farmers anxious to build houses, or to buy them. Before loans are made the suitabilities of the property, of the price, of the desired buildings and of the applicant are investigated, and help is given in planning.

A supplementary loan may be granted for the extension of the area of an agricultural holding, or for converting a dwelling holding into an agricultural holding. In addition, “bonus loans” may be made for the purpose of improving the property -building outhouses, breaking fresh land, and sometimes the erection of buildings. The bonus loan, which is advanced as the prescribed work proceeds, is considered to be repaid when the work is completed, and thus constitutes a free State contribution toward new cultivation.

Thus the people of Sweden, through their Government and through their co-operatives. have solved the housing problem. There is still private building of course, especially by the wealthier families, and there are still landlords. But a steadily increasing proportion of the land is owned by the Government; even much of the land

used by private builders must be rented from the Government and cannot be bought outright. And. last but not least, the success of the co-operative housing movement, backed by State grants, has offered such keen competition to private builders that opportunities for speculative real-estate ventures have been limited.

There is great variety of form in Sweden’s housing, but one is struck by the

universal high standards of utility and comfort. But perhaps they are not so striking when one remembers the large amount of participation of the family in the building of their home. Houses in Sweden are not commodities to be bought and sold at a profit. They are designed and erected with one object—to provide pleasant and inexpensive homes for the people who live in them.