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Södra huset: The 50-year-old ageing gracefully

This spring it is 50 years since the move into Södra huset was completed. What distinguishes the building? And how is it faring today?

Södra huset flygfoto
Södra huset was built in the early 1970’s in Frescati. In the spring of 1972, the last move took place, in the F-house (far right in the picture). Photo: Per Bergström

The decision that Stockholm University would move out to Frescati was originally made in 1959. However, the creation of the new university was delayed. It was not until 1970 that it was time for the move into the newly built Södra huset to begin. The completion of the building and the move-in took place step by step. In the spring of 1972, F-Building was finally up and running. The architect behind Södra huset, David Helldén, thought of Frescati as a “sparkling glass city” and planned several buildings in the area.

Martin Rörby
Martin Rörby, architectural historian.

“Södra huset is characterized by architectural minimalism, both externally and internally. It is actually a very simple construction”, says Martin Rörby, architectural historian who in 2003 defended his dissertation about David Helldén at Stockholm University.

With facades clad in glass, the building would blend into the landscape and become one with nature while the sky would be reflected in the glass facade. Inside, it is also a simple and efficient construction, according to Martin Rörby, with prefabricated building elements. By not having ceilings in the corridors, the ventilation appeared decorative and gave depth to the ceiling.
But Södra huset was not well received:
“Everything that was problematic with the new Frescati – such as the lack of  an underground rail link in the first years, the lack of lunch restaurants, muddy fields and greater influx of students than expected – was projected onto the “damned blue buildings”, says Martin Rörby.


The style began to be questioned in the 70s

The architecture behind the building was from the 60s and this style began to be questioned in the 70s. In addition, there were problems such as glass tiles falling from the facade. There was also criticism of how the premises were designed with a clear physical separation between classrooms and offices (which was a requirement from the Building Board). This separation was considered “unacademic” by many.

Södra huset is “blue-classified” (the highest classification) according to the Stockholm City Museum’s cultural-historical classification. There is also a care programme for the building to take into account. Certain qualities must be preserved during renovations (for example, the original hot radiators with a foldable part for installation access). Renovations must therefore be done with care, says Erik Wiklund, local strategist at the Property Management Office.


The qualities of the building were saved

When the Property Management Office’s premises on F6 were completed, the office, together with Akademiska Hus, produced a structural plan for Södra huset. It shows the possibilities of developing the office spaces to a modern standard in different versions, without distorting the qualities of the building.

There may be reason to rethink in order to make the premises as efficient and inviting as possible. Not least in the wake of the pandemic with increased working from home, which opens up to question how the premises are used – and what could be done differently. According to Erik Wiklund, Södra huset offers good conditions for this.

Recently, major adjustments have been made to the A-Building office spaces. Several informal study environments have also undergone a major refurbishment, such as the long corridor between Buildings A and B, where new types of study environment have been created. According to Akademiska Hus, there are no major maintenance needs for the next ten years.

According to Erik Wiklund, the focus will be on certain initiatives where they are judged to give good results. This can be, for example, refurbishment of auditoriums, toilets and kitchenettes. In other respects, the focus will be on how the premises can be used as efficiently as possible, taking into account the economic situation and the effects of the pandemic. For example, how meeting rooms can be used.
“Maybe it is possible to find models for a more efficient local division between activities such as sharing meeting rooms”, says Erik Wiklund.

More reading: ”Survey: What is your favourite place in Södra huset?”