How Stockholm designs for greater well-being

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm.

Although we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, it is only recently that the health and well-being effects of our social and physical environments have become a major concern for property developers. In Stockholm, interest in mindful design has surged in the last decade, and many major developers have begun connecting quality of life with sustainable growth.

  • Photo: Castellum
    Photo: Castellum

At Stockholm-based Castellum, the Nordic region’s most sustainable property company, human well-being has come to the fore as a design consideration in recent years. Already a long-standing innovator in sustainable property development, in 2016 Castellum broadened its view of sustainability to include social and human-centric factors alongside ecological and economic concerns. Taking its inspiration from booming sustainability trends in the United States, the firm developed Well, a health and well-being certification based on some 100 parameters. The goal of the initiative is to evaluate the extent to which a particular office building contributes to the well-being of those working there.

“After years of working with developing ecologically sustainable properties, we came to a point where we realized that the human element was completely missing from the equation. While we, as an industry, had become very good at things like energy- and space-efficiency and environmentally-friendly building materials, there was little or no mention of how our buildings were impacting those actually living and working there,” says Filip Elland, Sustainability Manager at Castellum.

Castellum facilitated the marriage of public health and design using findings from American research company Delos, and the ideas gained traction by tapping into the health and wellness trends proliferating in Sweden at the time.

“Delos is a pioneer in the field of well-being-enhancing design and their research was the foundation upon which we developed—and continue to improve—Well. Their research has, for example, shown that by choosing natural materials, ensuring high air quality, and flushing buildings with natural light, we as developers can lower the pulse and stress levels of those working in our buildings—and even give them one more hour of sleep every night,” says Filip Elland.

After many years of modeling and remodeling, the first monument to Castellum’s ambition materialized in southern Sweden: Eminent. Situated in Hylie, between the city of Malmö and Öresund Bridge, the 10,000 square meter office building was the first of its kind in the Nordic region and set the bar high for the modern Swedish workplace.

“Today, we see a megatrend in Sweden, and in Stockholm especially, where more and more companies come to the realization that the office environment they offer their employees is a matter of competitive advantage on par with factors such as paycheck and employee benefits. Our role in this has become to make sure that there is a solid and systematic infrastructure in place, and in this work, the tools of Well have been central,” says Filip Elland.

A more recent focus for Castellum is WorkOut, a project aiming to equip existing and future office buildings with ‘outdoor offices.’ While designers are yet to outsmart the Swedish elements, Castellum wanted to integrate the health benefits of the outdoors with the modern office experience, at least during the milder months of the year.

“WorkOut is a result of a long line of inquiry into new ways of conducting office life that make us perform better. By equipping outdoor spaces with WiFi, sockets, and ergonomic desks and chairs, we are allowing office workers to do better at work while also reaping the health benefits of daylight and fresh air,” says Filip Elland.

Climate-friendly, affordable buildings

In September last year, SSM Living, a major Swedish residential developer also based in Stockholm, devised a similar qualitative evaluation template to Castellum’s Well, the Urban Score index. The Urban Score draws heavily on insights generated by ongoing customer surveys to evaluate SSM Living’s buildings according to specific goals in four weighted parameters. 

The parameters of Urban Score include communications, such as convenience and proximity of public transport; everyday services, primarily access to the likes of local town centers, healthcare facilities, and circular economy services; community, particularly the availability of shared spaces at the property as well as nearby restaurants and cafes; and well-being, such as the proximity to green areas as well as opportunities for training indoors and outdoors in the immediate area.

“Urban Score was created in order for us to design buildings that aligned more closely with the expressed needs and wishes of our customers. Nowadays, when SSM Living develops new buildings, the Urban Score team works closely with architects, designers, and construction companies to optimize the score in each respective area of interest for our customers,” says Anna Bergkrantz, who is responsible for concept and pre-market at the Urban Score project.

Contrary to what one might assume, SSM Living’s buildings, even those scoring highest on the Urban Score, are surprisingly affordable. Channeling Sweden’s egalitarian impulses, SSM Living believes that quality of life should be for everyone, not only for those with the highest salaries.

“Looking ahead, our main vision for the future is to continue to stay relevant; to develop buildings that not only lower our climate footprint and are tailored to their particular residents, but are inclusive and safe—and affordable to as many people as possible,” says Anna Bergkrantz.

‘A vibrant meeting place’

Another Stockholm developer which has taken a similarly democratic approach to human-centric design is Skandia Fastigheter. In 2014, during the overhaul and restoration of the Sveavägen 44 office building, the Swedish property owner built Stockholm’s first full-fledged rooftop park—and so kick-started Stockholm’s rooftop Renaissance.

“When we started working on the Sveavägen 44 building—and were planning for a regular rooftop smoking area—it occurred to us that there must be something more we can do to utilize the building’s sweeping roof area. So we got in touch with landscape architect Johan Paju and started working on sketches for something more ambitious,” says Markus Pfister, Real Estate Manager at Skandia Fastigheter.

Today, Sveavägen 44’s rooftop is a vibrant meeting place—and a haven to unwind—for some 2,500 people working in the building. Open to the public during the daytime, it is frequented by locals and tourists alike and incorporates bars, restaurants, and rooftop yoga as well as as a green art park with almost an acre of different Swedish biotopes which contribute to the city’s ecological diversity.

“Since its opening, people working in the building have expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to enjoy the greenery and some stillness during work breaks. Visitors, too, have emphasized how the rooftop has given them a new vista onto Stockholm—a bird’s eye view of an otherwise horizontal city,” says Markus Pfister.