The Woodland Parliament
The Swedish Riksdagshus (Parliament building) is in need of renovation and under the project title ‘The Parliament of the Future’ the Swedish government is currently preparing for a temporary relocation of the Riksdag while these repairs are being carried out. Concurrently, the year 2021 will mark the 100-year anniversary of Swedish democracy, signifying an important juncture to review the current state of Swedish political culture and norms of governance.
Apart from its symbolic significance, the Riksdagshus is a key instrument of political life that through its spatial configuration affect the conditions in which governance can be exercised. Thus, its architecture plays a significant role in shaping political practices, ideologies and a national identity.
Investigating the historical interrelationship between the Swedish landscape, architecture and people The Woodland Parliament proposes an alternative seat for the Swedish Riksdag, relocated from its current site in central Stockholm to the depths of the Royal National City Park forests at the fringes of the city, and discusses how a new Riksdagshus might reshape collective identities, democratic practices and citizen participation in Sweden.
Sweden is a country dominated by forests. With two thirds of the region covered by woodlands, towering firs and spruces, some rising 40 meters tall, define the Swedish landscape and capture the imagination. The Swedish people have always had a strong connection to these forests. Here, we find our roots.
However, while our old-growth forests represented the wild and untamed, our modern monocultural woodlands are characterised by even-aged stands of managed uniformity. Furthermore, although the Swedish forests are once again growing and the timber industry yields a sustainable net increase of forest mass each year, only 0.5% of the biologically important primeval woodlands remain.
Placing environmental awareness at the centre of the architectural imagination the project uses the forest both as a physical landscape and as an abstract concept of place, to question the monumental manifestation of the current Parliament building as an appropriate expression for asserting Swedish political culture and national identity, and argues for a revived Swedish timber architecture that, once again, emanates from a perceptive understanding of the forest.
Entrance elevation to the Woodland Parliament
Appearing to extend endlessly in all directions, the forest restricts attempts to orientate oneself. Through a play with scale, materiality, grain and intense patterns the architectural language alludes to the forest's ability to hide, conceal and dislocate by referencing Op Art which, similarly to politics, is concerned with perception and creating illusions of reality.
In Nightlands, Christian Norberg-Schultz discusses the forest as the most fitting image of the Nordic world. "Engaged in a continuum rather than rounded out in itself", as he describes this conditions, "things cannot appear individually but are interwoven, and can thereby best be described with the word thicket".
Because Sweden remained a largely rural society until well into the twentieth century, closely tied to the world of the forest, these woodlands were until comparatively recently everyones home and haven against the outer world. The biological satisfaction of this primal space and its association with architectonic space has, as Henry Plummer argues in Nordic Light, therefore come to carry a particular strength here.
Rosenbad, seen from Riksdagshuset East
In the forest things dissolve. They become dematerialised and fluid, or emerge as trolls. In Swedish the term 'tomt' also means 'site', and in Scandinavian folklore tomtar and trolls personify natural forces that lives in and are part of the forests. These are occult creatures that emerge in the darkness.
The project draws from the work of the Swedish painter and illustrator John Bauer (1882-1918). Concerned with Swedish landscape, forests, mythology and fairy tales, his images captures how Swedes both associate themselves with the forest and, at the same time, are somewhat fearful of what hides within.
The forest boundary touches a nerve in everyone's distant memory. In the primeval woodland the possibility to both see and hide, which were crucial conditions for survival, was best found at the forest edge. Termed nest site and periphery by anthropologist Robert Ardrey and refuge and prospect by geographer Jay Appleton, this intermediate zone, at the boundary between the protective trees and the exposure of a forest clearing or open water, allowed people to see out from a place of safety. Hence, the forest edge has played a crucial role in our evolutionary development and echoes at the deepest level in the human psyche.
Proposed edge condition and external structural framework
The spatial condition of the forest edge is explored through the proposal of an extensively braced external structural framework that considers the use of standardised sections and lengths of un-engineered timber from the Swedish timber industry for the construction of a six-story tall building.
Exploring the forest as a setting for the new Riksdagshus, the project takes the original layout of the current Riksdag, housed in impenetrable stone architectures, and fragments the spatial arrangement, merging the spaces for political activity with the natural landscape of the park. The forest itself thereby becomes part of the parliament and the building allowed to be used by both politicians, the public and the animals.
To find one's bearing in this thicket, however, one first needs to create an opening. Thus, space is created as a clearing that humans have formed in the unsurveyable thicket. Martin Heidegger, in his essay titled Building, Dwelling, Thinking of 1954, discusses what the Swedish word for space, Room, denotes. Said by its ancient meaning as he describes, "Rum means a space cleared or freed for settlement and lodging. A space is something that has been made room for, something that is cleared and free, namely within a boundary.