Magnus Månsson: Method is the same everywhere

  • contemporary architecture

Interview with the head of Semrén+Månsson deals city blocks, energy efficiency and peculiar features of sweden architecture.

1.  How can you explain the growing popularity of Scandinavian design in the world and especially in Russia?
I believe that the popularity of Scandinavian design is much to do with its high functionality. It is not only aesthetically attractive but also practical, functional and comfortable for people. Another aspect is that Scandinavian architecture aligns well with the trends today concerning ecology and energy efficiency.
2. Which are the main features of contemporary Swedish architecture? Is there anything that distinguishes it from the architecture of the other Scandinavian countries?
Swedish architecture is very close in style to other Scandinavian architecture. However, Swedish architecture might be slightly more classical, restrained, and less experimental. Swedes are very focused on sustainability and timeless design qualities. We believe that you willeasily get tired of the extreme.
3. As far as we know, city blocks are now widely used in some Swedish cities. What do you think about this type of city planning? Which preferences does it have? Which weaknesses?
City blocks are our common European heritage and urban context. This way of living is widely spread and appreciated by people throughout Europe. It defines the urban spaces and, in a natural way,provides different dignities with public squares, streets and private yards. We use it and like it because it is a comfortable way to live. And for us architects, the convenience of residents is always a main focus. A weakness would be that the sun and light do notreach all apartments equally. This is an important challenge for the architect –  to manage to give all apartments sufficient qualities of light and sun. 
4. Is it possible to add any diversity to a city block? Which tools does Semrén & Månsson use for this?
I believe that it is important to keep the measures and proportions of the streetscape, and also that the first floor is used for public or commercial activities. Having ensured this, you can play more with volumes, for example adding taller buildings inside the block, or break it up so that more sun comes in. This is something that has to be studied in each specific case, to decide what solutions would bemost beneficial.
5. Does Semrén & Månsson manage to strike a balance between building aesthetics, convenienceof its residents and modest construction budget? How?
Yes, this is our focus in all projects! We have long experience of designing in both Sweden and Russia. The most successful projects are always the ones where we work in close dialogue with competent and visionary clients. In Sweden we have a full scale lab since we, beside the ordinary architectural business, design, build and finance our own projects. In these projects, we have really proved it possible to balance quality architecture and satisfied residents with financial success.
6. Which aspects are the most important for landscaping of city blocks?
Public parks and semi-public yards are important as well as the landscaping design of the streets with its squares and pocket parks. The aim is to create places for social contact and interaction as well as recreation. We even use rooftops for this purpose, creating space for recreation and socialization as well as cultivation of plants and vegetables.
7. Wooden architecture is widely spread in Sweden, wood is used even for public buildings and business centers. Am I right? Do you have any technical norms that regulate using wood in construction? Do you think that they are still necessary today?
You are completely right. Wood is already commonly usedas building material in Sweden, and the interestfor using it has lately grown stronger. Society is encouraging the use of wood because of its sustainable qualities and the fact that it is a renewable material. Furthermore, it is a material closely connected to our culture since we are surrounded by wood everywhere in Sweden. Not only is it a convenient choice, but also beautiful!
Fire regulations are very strict when it comes to wood, but we have good ways of ensuring fire safety. Following all norms and regulations, we are still able to build even high-rise buildings with both façade and construction made of wood.
8. Have energy efficiency requirements been revised in Sweden in recent years? How often does Sweden change them? Which norms do you have now?
Since the beginning of the 1970s, when Sweden suffered enormously from the oil crisis, focus has been on energy efficiency. Norms are constantly changing and in pace with technology they get more and more strict. In Sweden, it is quite common to build passive houses that require almost no energy, and there are even projects in which buildings themselves produce energy – so called plus energy houses.
9. Can you tell about the company’s work in Russia? When did Semrén & Månssonbegin to work in Russia? How did you start it? Which was your first project in Russia?Does Semrén & Månsson work abroad besides Russia?
We started to work in Russia in the 90s, but back then it was not on a regular basis. For about eight years we have had more steady projects, which led us to openingour first office in St Petersburg five years ago, followed by a second office in Moscow two years ago. In our St Petersburg office we now have 25 architects employed and we are continually growing. Our focus is a long-term commitment in Russia and we work all over the country, from St Petersburg and Moscow to Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen, Yaroslavl and other bigger cities. The first project we did after opening in St Petersburg was a residential project in Kolpino, St Petersburg. It is now built and has come to be a great success for the client,SpbRenovation.
Besides our offices in Russia, we have one in Stettin, Poland, but it is much smaller than the one in St Petersburg. Apart from these countries we sometimes have commissions in other countries, but not with the local representation we have in Russia and Poland.
10. What is the difference between designingin Sweden and designing in Russia?
The method and approach is the same; we start by interpreting the site and the circumstances with its limitations and potentials, context and culture, and after that we create our project. This method is the same everywhere, but the outcome is of course different depending on diverse circumstances. Norms are clearly different, which is why we have our own Russian staff, and naturally, that effects the outcome. The aim for good architecture, however, is the same! Since many of our clients in Sweden not only build, but also manage their real estates, they may be more interested in long term qualities. This could be about energy efficiency, materials that age well or other aspects that influence good finances and quality over time. 
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