Gert Wingårdh is one of Sweden’s best known and most successful architects. Houses, research facilities, factory complexes, embassies in Berlin and Washington, schools and hotels are all on his CV. The Universeum museum, Chalmers University of Technology’s Student Union Building and his noted Kuggen building on the university’s Lindholmen campus are all Gothenburg landmarks. Anyone flying out of Stockholm Arlanda Airport would have a hard time missing the spectacular air traffic control tower there, another of his creations. He has won numerous awards, is both a professor and honorary doctor at Chalmers and has become a TV celebrity from his appearances on the Swedish home improvement show Husdrömmar.
For Gert Wingårdh, the airport is a meeting place and perhaps soon will also be a city.
“I work with the development of Arlanda, so I’m coloured by that, but what people at Arlanda want to see is a city, so I would really like to see a kind of urban expansion around the airport. We’re talking about one of the major paradigms now, one on which everyone is agreed, and it’s that everyone wants a kind of mixed city with both residences and workplaces. So people may wonder how housing is to become part of such a noisy and exposed environment, which is what an airport still is. As far as I know, there are no plans so far for housing in Airport City Stockholm, but that could come – who knows? We work with residential projects, and people want to rely on ventilation in apartment buildings instead of having windows that open. People may have different opinions about this, but those kinds of projects suddenly make it possible to live at or near airports, and that may be something that is really, really interesting for some people.”
FROM AIRPORT TO CITY
“People want a city feel nowadays. We just put together some proposals for a shopping mall and food court. The customer asked us to make sure it would be less like a typical shopping mall and more like a city. It’s exactly the same thing for airports. They’ll look less like an airport and more like a city, and I have a lot of faith in that. It’s also the key to the future, true diversity. There are good concepts today, in terms of quality as well, both at Stockholm Arlanda and Göteborg Landvetter, especially when it comes to food. With growing numbers of people, space is created for greater variation.
“I believe Arlanda has an incredibly strong future. In ten years or further on, Arlanda could be Stockholm’s new centre. We have a new satellite city taking shape, where a lot of long-haul flights will connect us. I also think that we’ll soon have electrified air travel – perhaps just a decade or so from now – which, unlike the railway, will not be tied to stations along the route, but instead be flexible. It’s exciting that Uber has presented plans for small helicopter-like aircraft that carry five or six people and can be used within a radius of forty kilometres. They’re already on order. They’ll be produced on a large scale in five or six years. The prerequisite is that such aircraft have to cost the same as a taxi ride over the same distance. I think that will change a great many things.
“At the same time, I firmly believe that cars will still be around and that they will be able to drive up close to the terminals, but also that multi-storey car parks will be built so that they don’t dominate the environment when people move around the airport. I now have the sense that these parking garages are like big buffalos lying around, somehow in the way. We need to have them, but there are ways of using architecture to make them an experience instead, so that they won’t be as obvious and dominant as they are today.”
THE MEETING PLACE
We’ll place a high value on being able to have meetings and social interaction at airports. For someone like me who works around the country and abroad, the airport is the meeting place. We’re working right now on a project in Prague and have to bring together people from Prague, Paris, Madrid and Sweden in one place, and it turns out that Düsseldorf’s airport is perfect for that. It’s a good hub, with short waiting times for all the parties involved. In a globalised world, we work with different people, so short waiting times are incredibly attractive.
“What I think is wonderful about air travel is that it’s so reliable and has so few delays. While all of us are travelling from somewhat different places, we can actually be certain that we can conduct the meeting in two hours. That means people have arrived on time and can get home in time to pick up their children at day care or whatever they need to do. When I work with Swedavia, it’s practical for me since they’re located at Arlanda. When I land, I hop on the bus and then it’s just a matter of sitting down in the conference room, and when I’m done I can take the bus back to the terminal again.”
Some people would argue that all airports look alike – no matter where in the world you come from, there are transit halls and the same shops – but Gerth Wingårdh doesn’t really agree.
“I personally don’t think that airports are that similar to one another. Arlanda, Oslo, to some extent Copenhagen, and also Göteborg Landvetter have their own character. The shops, goods and food on offer may be standardised, but there is diversification under way. And if you’re planning for the future, it’s a matter of speeding up that diversification, developing a lot of different things – that’s one of the keys. Then I think that it’s not so much a matter of the outdoor setting as the indoor setting. These places are somehow always changing, and that’s not a drawback. If you look at Arlanda’s Terminal 4, a lot there has changed over the years. You shouldn’t feel bad about that – continuous change is perfectly fine, I think. Different decorating styles and materials come and go – what’s interesting, despite everything, are the people in all of this.”
“Of course, it’s a question of not creating unnecessary stress at the airport. Some degree of calm is good – you should avoid strobe lights, and really loud noise isn’t the best thing in every situation. But sometimes you need the opposite. For example, take Joe & The Juice in Terminal 4 at Arlanda. It’s like getting away from the airport environment when I go into a place where the music is a bit louder and there’s some kind of lounge seating instead of the usual arrangement. We’ve noticed that a lot of people, not necessarily just young people, go there and sit down and work on their laptop. In some way, there’s a sense here that people have been transported away from the airport a bit, with background music that’s good both for the setting and psychologically.
“Quiet settings, charging stations for tablets and everything like that are needed, but I and many other people think that the shift in settings is rather nice. So I believe more in diversification, that it’s more than quiet bubbles we’re after. Different caves that suit different people – greater diversification, quite simply,” says Gerth Wingårdh.
“The art exhibitions at the airports have been exciting, but one should really think about where they’re located. At Göteborg Landvetter, one of them was before the security checkpoint for domestic flights, and of course everyone was stressed about having enough time to get through security. If it had been located after security, I think it would have had twice the number of visitors. After the security checkpoint, people can feel that they’re in control of their time to some extent, but not before. It can take ten minutes to get through, or two, and if you’re flying domestically, you have small margins, maybe ten minutes or so.”
THE NORDIC LOOK
“Arlanda should feel Swedish since it should feel like the place people are travelling to. The question is what’s distinctive about Sweden? We often talk about the northern light and our preference for vibrant colours compared to people to the south, but I think it’s really hard to characterise it that way. Furthermore, this is also increasingly up for debate. When 20 per cent of the Swedish population are originally from other countries with other values – why should we exclude them? We have to find our own form of expression, not everything should be the same – because we don’t want that.”
Gert Wingårdh also thinks that Swedish architects are fairly courageous and that today it’s possible to think differently.
“From an architectural perspective, we’re rather daring today in Sweden. We’ve gone from being extremely cautious in our architectural production to actually being rather open-minded. However, today – and this applies to all civilised states – there’s a fear of making a mistake. People are so afraid of making a mistake that they almost never manage to do things right. This thing about minimising risk and young managers who just do their job and see it as getting from point A to point B, without doing anything wrong – that’s a problem.”
“I don’t think the airport is a showcase anymore. If I arrive in Frankfurt, I’m doubtful that the airport is a good representation of what Germany is. People aren’t interested in Sweden or Germany at the airport – they want to get where they’re going. Since Göteborg Landvetter doesn’t have many intercontinental direct routes, I frequently choose between Frankfurt and Munich, in which case I almost always choose Munich since it’s an airport that’s easy to get around in. It’s never felt crowded and full of people, and everything is extremely easy to understand. It’s the same thing if I fly to London. Then it’s really pleasant to fly with British Airways to Heathrow. You arrive in their Terminal 5, which is also easy to get around in. I’m sure that I’ll get through the security checkpoint, find my way and all that. That’s important,” Gerth Wingårdh emphasises.
HONG KONG AND OSLO
“In Scandinavia and continental Europe, it often feels as though the terminals are built together into some kind of conglomerate that you can walk the whole way across. In other places, you end up in buildings that are set apart and may have more of their own character. In Heathrow’s Terminal 5, you’re in the world of British Airways, and you can be pretty pleased with that. Many US airports are also divided into rather small, distinct buildings.
“Two of the airports I’m interested in today, although I actually haven’t been to either one yet, are Hong Kong and Beijing. Both have an interesting Y-shape and are easy to get an overview of and can be seen as a single large space. They have a geometry that moves slowly and which can only be captured by computers. These are big spaces, incredible models. Kuwait will be a beautiful airport with fine concrete arches that I think will be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, I don’t really want to point out any airport in particular. I fly to airports like Logan in Boston, Dulles in Washington and to San Francisco, and there’s nothing particularly interesting to highlight there. The new section of Dulles is a long linear concourse, with an absence of love in all its parts.
“In Paris, I always land in Terminal G at Charles de Gaulle, which is about as big as Bromma Stockholm Airport, with all the shortcomings and advantages of Bromma. The advantages are that I always get through security in five minutes and I can get a full overview of the place. It’s fun to fly in and out of a terminal like that in a major city. I also think Oslo is a strong airport and a good representation of what Norway, as well as Scandinavia, is. There’s a lot of wood and they’ve made the extra effort to use wooden beams in the ceiling, although it would have been easier and cheaper to use steel. It provides a tone and a feature that’s nice. All the logistics – the way you quickly get a seat on the train and reach the city – are also really good.”
BORN: 1951 in Skövde, Sweden
CURRENTLY: New hotel project at Göteborg Landvetter Airport. Appears on TV.
TRAVELS: to Leipzig and Munich
“I never take the train if I can avoid it. I enjoy flying because it goes so fast. It’s also reliable and comfortable. At the same time, I have a hard time seeing the point of rail-bound systems, which in all probability can only link a few places along one line. We know that things haven’t gone all that well for them.”
“I almost never go away on holiday since I think I travel so much in my job. But I’m interested in Europe and think it’s really enjoyable visiting any major European city at all. My most recent trip was to Leipzig, via Lützen, since we’re working on a project there. It’s really fun going to a city like Leipzig and learning about the city. It was an important meeting place for many centuries, since the main roads that crossed Europe intersected right there. So getting to go there and understand the history of Leipzig, I think that’s really fun. Europe is so rich in such history. One of my most frequent destinations otherwise is Munich. It’s a fantastic city, with wonderful museums and a lovely Christmas market, the world’s best shopping and amazing restaurants. And it’s so easy to get to – just two hours and you’re there.”