Learning from Stockholm’s Eco-City of the Future

A fair number of cities that host the Olympics don’t have a lot to show for it afterwards—except empty stadiums and mountains of municipal debt. Some cities, such as Barcelona, do it right. Even rarer is the city that loses an Olympic bid, but still uses that original inspiration to create something even better in its place.


Stockholm, Sweden, is a perfect case in point. In its unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Games, the city wanted to transform a former industrial area into the Olympic Village. When the games were awarded to London, Stockholm decided to develop Hammarby Sjöstad, a mixed-use waterfront eco-city of almost 20,000 people. The district is famous in green building circles for its high-tech waste sorting and waste transportation system.


Now nearly fully built out, Hammarby Sjöstad has become model for sustainable development. But it’s also something else: a great urban place. These images are from a small part of the district, a neighborhood called Henriksdalshamnen. This new community embodies some important aspects of great urban design:


  1. The spaces between buildings are just as important as the buildings themselves. Together, they contribute to the city.


  1. Design must define a place, such as a street, a place to be in, a place of engagement, a public realm focus.


  1. Flexible building programs and uses should reinforce and strengthen shared spaces.  


  1. The relationship between inside and out should be rich and diverse.


  1. Shared assets, such as views and light, make for stronger communities.


  1. Good urban buildings provide both anonymity and community. The ease with which people shift from public to private gives a place its essential quality, its soul.  


  1. People must have transportation choices—the car should not dominate.




An aerial view of Hammarby Sjöstad (courtesy the City of Stockholm) shows a transformed former industrial area focused on the river. Dense and transit oriented, the neighborhood is a model of urban sustainability.




The development is focused on a water basin that forms a destination point along the river. You can see that the boats are modest and suggest middle class residents.




The district is made up of a simple grid. Hendriksdalsallen is a key street connecting the basin to nearby transit. As the street meets the waterfront, the sidewalk widens to form a plaza. Nearby restaurants have tables next to the boardwalk.




The buildings that frame the basin are scaled to avoid casting long shadows across the public spaces. The ground floors are occupied by restaurants, shops, cafes and other uses that reinforce the civic nature of the place.




Balconies, setbacks, and canopies all suggest a “living facade” where the domestic lives of residents meet with nature and the public realm.




Buildings are carefully organized to mark the edge of the street, while allowing for apartments away from the street to capture views of the adjacent river. Even buildings more than a block away borrow views and light through the permeable (and generous) urban blocks.




Good design recognizes that the side of a building can have just as interesting views as those fronting onto a desirable place. Forming a street edge and a more private courtyard without entirely closed perimeter blocks is a simple strategy that can result in a rich urbanism.


An excellent video on the project can be found here.


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