»Sweden could become a leading wood nation«

Trä meets

Vistet, Treehotel, Arctic Bath and Sapmi Lodge are some of the buildings that architect Bertil Harström is best known for. He is a structural engineer who tired of Sweden’s Million housing project, trained to become an interior architect and now spreads the word about how to construct buildings in solid wood using modern technology.

Where did the idea for Arctic Bath, a floating open-air bathhouse, come from?
During the opening party for Treehotel, I sat next to one of the leading lights of Harads. In true northern Swedish fashion, he said: “Bertil, we should have included a floating sauna.” I put the idea past designer Johan Kauppi and after several visits to open-air bathhouses, we realised that we wanted to combine the northern Swedish and Finnish sauna tradition with the open-air bathhouse tradition. Arctic Bath is a floating, ring-shaped bathhouse made entirely in wood, in the middle of the Luleälven river. It is set to open sometime in 2015.

Treehotel is still proving an attraction. Why is that?
It’s five years since it opened, but there is still plenty of interest and occupancy remains high. Seventy percent of visitors are tourists from all over the world. I think the attraction lies in the bold idea, but also in our clear values, that we should live in harmony with nature. I often design conceptual buildings, partly out of my respect for the traditional role of the architect.

You want to improve Sweden’s skills in building in wood. How?
I’ve been exploring the incredible knowledge Sweden had about building in wood back in the 18th century. My vision is that we should learn to refine the raw material in a modern way. There is currently a drive to get Folkhem to build student housing in solid wood. That would be entirely in line with today’s requirements for sustainable building.

You want to develop northern Sweden through design. What do you mean by that?
There is great potential for wood processing in the building industry. It doesn’t have to be on a large scale – with modern production methods it can be built up around smaller niche industries. Modern wood processing is an ideal area for industrial robots, as Glulam of Sweden in Ljungaverk has shown. By designing wooden products, in this case buildings, we can create the conditions for efficient production based on repetition. As soon as we realise that whole houses can be built in solid wood, we have the conditions for Sweden to once again become a leading wood nation.

Personalities that trä has met

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