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Equator Stockholm was able to carve these light wells by removing a few structurally redundant load-bearing pillars. The oversized construction also made it possible to build two-story apartments on the roof without adding reinforcing.
Reclaiming the City
For many Stockholmers the name of the Klara parish is synonymous with the destruction of large parts of the city's center during the heyday of modernism in the 1950s and 60s. The city's vibrant and picturesque core was becoming a district of offices and shops that punctually died every day at 6 p.m.
But it wasn't until the city planned to cut down a few witch-elms in Kungsträdgården Park to make way for a subway station in 1971 that the people of Stockholm reacted against the urban transformation.
In May 1971, large crowds made up of everyone from environmentalists to housewives took to the streets to save the trees. The violent clashes with police that followed, known as the "Almstriden," not only saved the trees but also marked the beginning of the end of Stockholm's official neglect of the city center's cultural heritage. But the turning point came too late, and Klara and the rest of downtown fell into a long period of torpor.
Today, the leading politicians of Stockholm have once again turned their eyes to Klara, but now with the intention of revitalizing the district. Thanks to existing building legislation, every building project in the area will also include a few apartments.
Living at the Top
Although Klara Zenit's metamorphosis is visible at the street level, where large shop windows and facades in warm colors attract the attention of the busy shoppers passing by, the greatest surprise awaits those who are able to get up to the more private domain on the roof.
Here, a half-dozen freestanding apartment buildings have been erected, also diagonal to the building's rectangular roof plan. Between them run narrow alleys affording breathtaking views over the roofscape and church towers of central Stockholm.
The architects have used the diagonal light wells, which are elements of the apartments' "streetscape," as a starting point for giving these buildings an appearance that clearly differentiates them from other newly built housing projects in Stockholm.
When it comes to office and commercial buildings, architects in Sweden seem to prefer glass as a dominant material. Housing, on the other hand, is often built in a traditional style alluding to "Swedish Grace," a style of architecture that is exemplified by the 1920s work of Erik Gunnar Asplund.
Klara Zenit and its apartments represent neither of these directions in contemporary Swedish architecture. Instead, the roof buildings have been given pointed shapes, and the brown and grey facades are clad in sheet metal and French ceramic tile.
Most of Klara Zenit's 100 apartments are different from each other in some way. Some of the one-sided apartments facing the narrow Bryggargatan street have a generous interior that is high enough for a loft but that is just under the limit for what is formally considered to be two floors. These tenants get two levels, in effect, for the price of one.
The apartments' design quality may compensate for the somewhat sad fact that, in many of the lower-floor apartments in the remodeled portion of the complex, pillars block some of the living room views.
Indeed, the views offered in Klara Zenit's apartments range from spectacular — from the added roof houses — to dull — from some of the lower units. Despite this, the owners have had no problem finding tenants for these expensive apartments.
And as a sign that today's reshaping of downtown Stockholm is being done more cautiously than during the 1950s and 60s, some of the original facade's sheet metal has been saved and mounted in public interiors as artistic decoration, which might please the nostalgics of tomorrow.
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Daniel Golling is a journalist who lives and works in Stockholm. He has a degree in art history and writes about architecture for various magazines and newspapers.
A version of this article was previously published in the Swedish architecture magazine "RUM."