The importance of architecture for the growing city

"Good housing is essential," says architect Thomas Sandell. And to build in such a way that you never have to demolish. With greater density in the city centre and higher density, Skellefteå will be highly attractive to investors. Read Thomas Sandell's thoughts on Skellefteå's potential, the 10-minute city and trends in economic and social sustainability.

Skellefteå is in the midst of a major urban development initiative in terms of infrastructure projects and housing production. Skellefteå native Thomas Sandell, one of Sweden's best-known architects, has long followed developments in his old hometown. He believes that Skellefteå has gone from a small town in decline to a successful medium-sized city in full expansion, with great potential for investors.

- What remains is to develop the density of the city centre and increase density. Then things will happen," says Thomas Sandell, chief architect at Ary.

Thomas Sandell founded the architectural firm Sandellsandberg in 1995, which today develops everything from products to cities. Since 2016, Sandellsandberg has been part of Afry (formerly the ÅF Group), a Swedish engineering and design company with activities in energy, industry and infrastructure.

Medium-sized cities win

Afry recently conducted a large study with people aged 18-35 in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland, which showed that young people would prefer to live in medium-sized or smaller cities in the future.

The survey found that the target group's primary needs are proximity and sustainability.

- The most important thing is to be close to preschools, work, friends, parents, shops, nature and culture. We are talking about the sustainable 10-minute city, a trend that is becoming established and has gained even more momentum during the pandemic.

The Corona pandemic seems to be helping medium-sized cities - like Skellefteå - to become real winners in the future.

Thomas Sandell calls our time the Green Road 2.0, a return to a more small-scale life, but with all the urban features. He argues that good housing is the key to attracting returnees and other residents, as well as an attractive cultural life.

- Returnees are probably the most important target group for Skellefteå. They get an education and start a family elsewhere, then move back home and start contributing. Then the municipality must also contribute, above all with high-quality housing. Skellefteå has many qualities that could be used even more, such as views and waterfront locations.

Density in the city centre

Thomas Sandell believes in creating density in the city centre. High density means friction between people, which creates a mass that generates space for local shops, restaurants and other services. He cites Södermalm in Stockholm, the highest density district in Sweden.

- You could actually create a similar density in the most central parts of Skellefteå.

The new cultural centre has changed the cityscape, something that must be taken into account as construction progresses.

- Now it looks a bit strange, because the scale of the culture house is completely different from all other buildings.

Thomas Sandell proposes densifying buildings in existing courtyards in central Skellefteå, and by building on the many two- and three-storey buildings with two or three storeys.

- The old buildings need to keep up, they need to grow up a bit now, I think, otherwise it will be too silly. My advice is to adapt the density of the city centre and develop the density.

Social sustainability

According to Swedish brokerage statistics, a newly built apartment in Skellefteå costs around SEK 20,000 per square metre. Thomas Sandell believes that the price trend will continue as demand grows, not least thanks to Northvolt's establishment.

- It is the influx of people that is driving expansion. But also social sustainability, outside perspectives create development. New residents bring new ideas and new perspectives.

He also believes in different tenure types, i.e. both condominiums and rental apartments, to create a flexible community and attract new citizens.

- Social sustainability is about creating conditions for all kinds of people. Meeting and interacting with different people enriches our lives.

One of the challenges for the growing city is to grow sustainably. To plan for the long term with the needs of the future in mind and to build houses that will last for a long time, and that can have different functions over time.

- The most sustainable buildings are those that are never demolished. When a city is expanding rapidly, it is important to think long-term and ensure that the houses built today can be used for other purposes tomorrow.

Trends in economic sustainability

Building well pays off in the long run, according to Thomas Sandell. Property prices are rising, and this has proven to be a good investment. But quality also pays off in the short term.

- It avoids costly rework that eats into margins. Defects and construction notes can kill most calculations.

As an architect, he sees a change in demand.

- Our daily lives have been changed by the epidemic, the home is becoming more important. Demand is now growing for larger apartments.

He urges the municipality to be prepared with zoning plans and continue building in wood, it's a winning concept that puts Skellefteå on the map with the help of architecture.

Large pension funds investing in Swedish real estate have previously only been interested in Stockholm's inner city. Now they have started to invest in medium-sized cities such as Linköping and Jönköping.

- It's an interesting trend. The difference between cities in what a property owner gets out of an end customer is no longer so great. So of course investors will start looking at Skellefteå that way. Demand is growing fast, investing in Skellefteå will soon be a no brainer.

Arkitekten Thomas Sandell


  • "Skellefteå has gone from a small town in decline to a successful city in full expansion, with great potential for investors.Developing the density of the city centre and densification will increase interest even more," says Thomas Sandell.
  • "Building well pays off in the long run", according to Thomas Sandell. He urges the municipality to be prepared with detailed plans and to continue building in wood. It is a winning concept that puts Skellefteå on the map with the help of architecture.
  • Thomas believes that returnees are the most important target group for Skellefteå. "Good, high-quality housing is the key to attracting returnees and other residents, as well as an attractive cultural life." He points out that the younger target group is increasingly looking for proximity and sustainability when choosing a place to live.


Senast uppdaterad:
2 March 2023