Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
These giant glass eggs would bring warmth, greenery, and a place to hang out when other public spaces are dark, cold, and empty.
What do you give the city that supposedly has everything? In Stockholm’s case, it might be giant, glass eggs filled with plants.
These structures are improbable, but they serve a noble goal. In Stockholm’s long, sometimes brutal winters, greenery, daylight, and outdoor time are hard to come by. This “indoor park,” thought up by Utopia Architects, would bring all of that to a busy intersection just north of the city center, enticing locals out of their homes to socialize during the cold months.
The 1,500-square-meter (16,000-square-foot) complex of egg-shaped glass and timber domes, proposed at the MIPIM real estate fair this week, would be free to enter and packed with plant life. It would be used as a part-time educational and entertainment venue, but would mainly as a straightforward place to hang out in a city where such cold-weather facilities are somewhat sparse.
It’s the sort of space Stockholm could benefit from. Sweden may be a green, well-planned hive of prosperity and good design, but it’s no coincidence that the country makes such a perfect backdrop for the sort of doom-laden detective series where everyone mumbles and nobody smiles. Leaving the house in Stockholm on the coldest of mornings can feel like a slap in the face, while its skies are all too often that shade of grey that white underpants turn when they’ve been washed with socks. At a latitude this dingy, it’s no wonder Swedes often try to brighten their environment by painting their home interiors in retina-blasting white. The problem is that, when people leave home, there are few public non-commercial spaces that are warm enough to linger in.
The park wouldn’t just provide a third social space, it could help repopulate an underused square. Right now, the site, a visually pleasant but not especially user-friendly intersection called St. Eriksplan, is a place where many pass through but few linger. A place where several transit lines cross, its heart is a walled triangle of lawn whose location and walls seem designed to discourage people from approaching. Indeed, the area may have been planned this way to keep the grass pristine.
This being Sweden, the country with the EU’s highest rate of renewable energy, there’s an eco-twist to the indoor park’s unseasonal warmth. The plan is to channel in warm air from a nearby underground car park, providing an environment that will keep the plants frost-free, but still stay cooler than your average steamy hothouse.
Still just a proposal, the indoor park plan has been greeted positively by the city’s government. It does, after all, fit neatly with the city’s current master plan. Published in 2010, the blueprint aims to turn Stockholm into a promenadstaden—a strollable city—where neighborhoods are more carefully woven together to make more of the street plan easy and desirable to navigate by foot. Part of this must involve unlocking more public spaces for year-round use and making sure that no place is forbidding for pedestrians. Giant eggs might not seem to be most obvious tool for such a goal, but the appeal of the plan, at least in renderings, would surely attract more people into the streets.