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Best Green Houses:

The Lofted Life: Thinking Big for a Micro-Dwelling

Christensen & Co Architects and Mikael Ahrbom
Uppsala, Sweden

By David Sokol
August 2014
Photo © Christensen & Co Architects and Rosendal Properties

Uppsala is the fourth largest city in Sweden, and the Scandinavian country’s unofficial college town. Uppsala University, founded in 1477, today boasts a student population of 40,000, and it retains a strong grip on recent graduates—who often remain within the 205,000-person city, thanks to its location minutes from Arlanda International Airport and within commuting distance of Stockholm.

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Yet housing is no easy A in Uppsala. In fact, affordable accommodations are in short enough supply that 16 percent of university enrollees say the housing market has a negative impact on their studies, reports local real estate developer Gorgen Abrami. He also notes, “Uppsala’s labor market grew by 3 percent in 2012, while the number of homes rose only half a percent. This troubling trend has not been addressed by developers, until now.”

Abrami is president of the 6-year-old company Rosendal Properties, and he is referring to its Smaragden project. This multifamily building validated micro-dwellings as a local solution for the affordable housing crunch, selling all 115 units in one day. Smaragden is under construction currently.

While the rush on Smaragden’s sales office is notable in its own right, it is the fact that the forthcoming building’s nine ground-floor apartments were the first to be snapped up which struck Abrami and his colleagues as particularly interesting. In addition, all of these units happened to include sleeping lofts and were sold to first-time buyers. To determine Rosendal’s next project, the investment team engaged the municipality, youthful prospective buyers and their families, and other stakeholders, which confirmed the strategy of going small with a sleeping loft. And from this research, the 344-unit Inspiration Rosendal was borne, which is slated to break ground shortly.

To start designing this newest Uppsala condominium, Rosendal Properties limited its scope to a 6-story structure on a triangular site not far from Smaragden—but it set no height limits on the individual floors. “This presented a challenge in figuring out how to efficiently leverage the extra height for this kind of living. The loft sleeping solution adds character while maximizing space,” Abrami says. The units range in footprint size from 280 square feet to 538 square feet, while the typical studio apartments in Uppsala or Stockholm start at 430 square feet and “are much too expensive for the average young, first-time buyer.”

Interior ceilings at Inspiration Rosendal will reach to almost 12 feet high, and the Danish architecture firm Christensen & Co Architects, as well as Swede Mikael Ahrbom, who serves as principal project architect for Rosendal Properties, shared the job of determining the number and layout of units. Ahrbom says of the task, “I have been sailing all my life and have learned to use the boat cabin as efficiently as possible. Everything has its own place and must be readily accessible,” and for Inspiration Rosendal accessibility translates to a consolidated service core with a bonus 140 square feet of sleeping quarters above it. Ahrbom also notes, “I like the exclusive feeling of sleeping up high, looking out onto the apartment with the view from the window, unseen by others.”

Fenestration is impressively scaled to match the interior heights, and variations in the facade reflect differences like condo size and owners’ choice to engage in urban agriculture with an installed infrastructure for window garden boxes.

Asked to make a distinction between Inspiration Rosendal and Smaragden, Abrami does confirm that the larger property is more evolved than its predecessor: “The primary difference is in the attention paid to community building in all aspects of design. We listened carefully to our focus groups and transformed their feedback into features like indoor and outdoor common areas.”

Chief among those features is a YMCA-like rooftop, which will feature a basketball court, running track, and garden, as well as so-called “sun stairs” about which Ahrbom says, “Sunbathing is big in Sweden. You’ll often find Swedes standing against buildings or sitting on outdoor stairs on the rare occasion the sun breaks through a dark winter day to get a dose of Vitamin D.” In a similar vein, each corner of the triangular building will include indoor gardens with trees and vegetated walls, visible from the street.

The amenities embody Rosendal Properties’ sensitivity to city dwellers’ need for a third place, especially in tight primary living conditions. They also reflect nature’s importance to developer and consumer alike. To sustain it beyond sowing plants throughout the building, Inspiration Rosendal will recycle heat from the ground-floor grocery store’s refrigeration system, capture stormwater for irrigating plants, employ local and certified materials, and expand upon the adjacent bicycle infrastructure. Not surprisingly, not every green strategy suited this property. Additional risers required for graywater recycling, for example, would have cut into precious living space.
 

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