»If you have an idea, it’s important to be involved with all the details«

Trä meets Jan Larsson

After 36 years at White Arkitekter, Jan Larsson is still passionate about his job. He loves meeting clients and finding the optimum solutions for each project. The fact that he has seen wood climb to the top of the materials list is an added bonus.

You work a lot with wood, don’t you?

– What we say at White is: if we’re going to build something, we’ll always suggest wood. In the competition for the fourth Gothia Tower, we were the only entrant to suggest wood. In hindsight, maybe we should have gone with something else. It was perhaps a little too daring.

Are the climate benefits the only reason to build in wood?

– Looking at the bigger picture, carbon emissions are a key factor. If we are to meet the targets in the construction industry, we have to switch and work more in wood. But there is also a national interest as well. We are a wood nation. We should be using it. It may not always be obvious that wood is involved, but it is going to be used more and more. It’s really going to take off now.

You say that you like wood. What do you like about it?

– I feel that those of us who live this far north, we’re brought up on wood, it’s in our genes. If we need to build something, we go out into the forest and cut down a tree. That feeling is deeply rooted inside us. It’s a material we feel comfortable with. It’s also an attractive material that is easy to work with. This is why the transition to wood is happening so quickly.

Can you have too much wood?

– Yes, you can. I think many people worry about ending up with a mountain chalet. You have to look out for that. It’s counterproductive to say that everything should be in wood. We should use the material that is best suited to the task in hand. Hybrids are coming through and it just comes down to making sure there is as much wood as possible.

What are you most proud of?

– I think the most enjoyable project so far was Frostaliden. We received a call from a client who was eco-aware and had bought a plot in Skövde. The local authority required structural frames in wood. He came and asked whether we were any good at wood, so we sat and discussed possible options.

– Many developers prefer to conceal a wooden frame, but imagine if people start to become aware of the benefits. Imagine if you could charge a little more for a healthy home. So we agreed that we would expose as much wood as possible. The apartments sold out in a flash. There were two other blocks built with concealed wooden frames, and they did not sell as well.

What was your reasoning behind the sprinkler system in Frostaliden?

– If you go to the USA, domestic sprinkler systems are an insurance issue and are seen as a positive thing. Once we had considered how much would have to be treated and encased for fire safety purposes, it turned out to be just as cost-effective to use a sprinkler system instead, and that allowed us to embrace what we believed would secure a higher selling price. We were able to work with fully untreated cedar shingles and with the amount of exposed wood that we wanted in the apartments. We used plasterboard for the ceiling to avoid the feeling of being in a sauna.

Apart from using wood, what else are you doing for the climate?

– Sustainability is part of White’s DNA. We realise that we can drive the transition to a sustainable society through architecture. We have a whole department working on how we can build more sustainably. For example, we focus a great deal on issues relating to the reuse of materials, and of course on energy calculations.

– Can solar cells be built into materials? Roof tiles are being pushed hard, but I’m personally a little sceptical. Roof tiles last for maybe 50 years, but what about the solar cells? We’re going to have to replace a roof just because the solar cells are worn out? But it is also about the shape of the building and how you locate it in the landscape. The wind makes a difference, as does the positioning of the windows and what they look like.

What is the best thing about your job?

– Whatever I design, I’m creating environments for people to live in. I’m shaping space to suit the client. I can make a difference. If you like where you live, then I’ve done a good job.

Do you ever revisit your older buildings?

– I try to stay in contact with the people I’ve designed for. I try to talk to them. Sometimes they have negative criticism, but then you just have to be humble and take it on board and try to be understanding. We’re all different and we see things in different ways. We design not just for ourselves, but for everyone.

You also work as a visiting professor at Chalmers University of Technology. What does that involve?

– Sometimes I get a little fed up with designing buildings, so it’s fun to do something different. And it’s also wonderful getting to meet the students. They’re extremely bright and enthusiastic. I love being able to help them to develop their ideas and realise their full potential. Then there is also the research, when I have some rare spare time. I get to meet wood researchers and talk to people I otherwise wouldn’t have any contact with.

Do you still sit and design every detail?

– Yes, I’ve decided it’s how I want to work. I know many people my age don’t, but I want every project to have drawings by me. Preferably detail drawings. It takes a little longer, but I want to be part of it. If you have an idea for a building, it’s important to be involved with all the details.

What are you working on at the moment?

– I’m working on the Årstafältet development in Stockholm, 300 apartments in wood. There are two different construction systems: Lindbäcks with their modular system and Nordfeldt/Stora Enso with their CLT system. We’ll see whether they get used in separate buildings or whether the different strengths of the systems can be combined. There are, however, some fears about that. But I can put on my Chalmers hat and invite them in for talks. Being non-partisan, I can establish a different kind of conversation. There’s a little more freedom when you’re not tied to any of the parties.

– We also have a plot at Västerport in Varberg where we’re working with modular box units in CLT. This may turn into a research project in collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. Our client Tornet needs to give their approval, of course. And then I’m doing a villa in CLT. That’s fun!

Text David Valldeby

Personalities that trä has met

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