When the city of Malmö announced its plans for "Bo01, City of Tomorrow," MKB was awarded three of the 46 plots on the 50-acre (20-hectare) waterfront site, and they commissioned Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY) and SWECO FFNS Arkitekter (FFNS) to create a model of sustainable design on a block that faces east to the city.
Green architecture has deep roots in Sweden, with its history of frugality and strong technological tradition. Conservation reduces energy costs through the cold, dark winters, and it limits pollution. There's an ongoing effort to share benefits equitably. Though the government program to build a million new housing units, launched in the 1960s, was later criticized for producing bland, impersonal blocks, it was an enlightened policy to offer everyone a decent home at a fair price.
As Ruble observes of Tango: "This was a rare opportunity to build innovative housing that serves as a social generator with few budgetary constraints. I wish we could do something like this in the United States, but that would require the vision and public investment that we found with MKB and our Swedish partners."
Many features contribute to occupants' sense of well-being. FFNS seized the opportunity to specify unpretentious, good-quality materials and impeccable detailing, and the contractor shared their passion to do things right.
Even the smallest rooms are well proportioned, and are given a sense of warmth by the industrial-grade knotted maple floors and built-in cherry cabinetry. White walls are accented in teal blue, salmon, lavender, and five other soft tones.
Though miniscule by American standards, the bathrooms are well appointed, with under-floor heating, three sizes of black ceramic tiles, glass swing doors on the shower, and a wall-hung toilet. Sliding window screens of translucent plastic, banded in cherry, ensure privacy.
Each apartment is fitted with sprinklers and built-in alarms and has a 50-square-foot (4.6-square-meter) storage cubicle in the basement. A pavilion beside the entry to the courtyard shelters bicycles and trash bins.
City of Tomorrow
The Bo01 exhibition strove to demonstrate a sustainable future for urban development. In rehabilitating a classic "brownfield" urban site, the project shows that today's technology can create the city of tomorrow.
Bo01's energy concept is based on minimum consumption, renewable resources, and the balance between energy production and consumption, incorporating Sweden's then-largest urban application of solar energy. Energy and drainage systems work together through heat recovery and biogas generation, using the technology of storing heat and coolants in underground reservoirs.
At Tango, the most impressive amenities are out of sight. Advanced two-megawatt wind turbines and 3,000 square feet (280 square meters) of rooftop photovoltaic panels generate enough electricity to heat and cool the entire building. Excess energy is sold back to the regional electric company, and then returned via district heating.
Daylighting and electric lighting supplement and complement one another. Windows have built-in air vents, bringing fresh air into the apartments throughout the day. Glass areas are triple-glazed to provide insulation. Their R-value, the measure of thermal resistance, is about 6.5, as compared to the 1.5 to 2 for typical American double-paned glass. Two outside layers encapsulate transparent argon gas, forming a "blanket." Two vented inner layers allow fresh air to pass through.
Planners for Bo01 challenged its developers to set a high standard for green landscape to maintain a healthy ecosystem as integral to the urban environment. A point system evaluated green-space quality; biodiversity, groundwater management, quality of planting materials, and an approved program of landscape maintenance were critical factors in calculating a "green factor" for each site.
The rooftop photovoltaic panels are surrounded by a carpet of mountain grasses. With a nod to traditional Scandinavian sod roofs, Tango's sedum roof surfaces provide additional insulation, replenish oxygen to the atmosphere, and slow runoff during heavy storms. Rainwater is recycled and used to irrigate gardens. Run-off water is directed into a perimeter channel and then brought into a central cistern and cleaned.
IT for Modern Living
In addition to highly sustainable construction materials and great energy conservation, Tango's program integrated state-of-the-art information technology into a residential setting.
Each apartment has an "intelligent wall" framed of demountable cabinetry, which runs through the middle of the plan providing each unit with wiring, vertical shafts for fiber-optic cables, and mechanical services. These include under-floor hot water channels, heated ceiling panels, and convectors, which also provide cool air in summer.
Each apartment has its own IT service cupboard, located in or near the kitchen, containing all technology that services the apartment. This system controls and monitors climate, security, and lighting.
Access to the controls is behind a section of cherry wood paneling. However, many residents prefer to use their laptops to activate the system from wherever they may be via the building's private Web-based service interface. They can adjust utility settings, open windows, lock and unlock their doors, display text on an electronic message board, and even reserve the community room or guest apartment with a few keystrokes. Tango is also prepared for future supplements and changes to the existing technology.
As a pedestrian neighborhood, this block was planned to emphasize alternate transportation forms. Planning with a holistic view of environmental matters, inhabitants are inspired to make environmentally friendly decisions in their choice of transportation: walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation. Other than delivery/ drop-off areas, there is no designated parking for cars in the Tango complex — the only "parking garage" is for bicycles.
Tango won the Best Housing Project of the Year award in Sweden and a National Honor Award from the AIA, and residents willingly pay up to three times as much per unit area to live there as they would in a more conventional space.
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Michael Webb is a writer and editor who has authored numerous books on architecture and design, including monographs on George Nelson and Ingo Maurer. He lives in Los Angeles.
This article is excerpted from Innovation in Sustainable Housing: Tango, copyright © 2005, available from Edizioni Press and at Amazon.com.