"Project Ålidhem" Ingo Vetter and Peter Lundström

"I like Umeå and Umeå likes me" Lasse Sahlin

"An Important Part of our Education" Students’ Foreword

Ylva Trapp

Frida Krohn
Therese Johansson
Lars Hedelin
Frida Krohn, Ylva Trapp
och Lina Palmqvist

Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy

Per-Arne Sträng
Martina Wolgast
Mariel Rosendahl
Nils-Johan Sjöquist


"The History of Ålidhem" Hans Åkerlind
"My own private Ålidhem" Maria Bjurestam
"Functional Sculpturer" Ingo Vetter

Presentation of Participants


(This is a shortened version of the original text)


From the start, Ålidhem was conceived as a district of detached houses. A plan with a large number of sites for small houses had been adopted by the city council and by the beginning of the 1960s lie waiting for confirmation by the County Administrative Board. The first house sites had already been staked out and a row house had been started to be built on the edge of the district, towards Sofiehem.

In the circumstances, the newly appointed chairman of the municipal Finance Committee, Gunnar Aspegren, began to look at the tendencies in higher education in Umeå. Instead of the several hundred dentistry and medical students that the town already had, there were plans for a university with several thousand students. We had also been made aware that every student could entail perhaps four other new potential Umeå residents: not only teachers and assistants but even people to build student housing and other facilities, to provide them with food, clothes, books, entertainment, etc. Quite simply an enormous addition to the town. Five thousand university students in Umeå, then a town of about 25,000 inhabitants, would bring about an increase in population of possibly 20,000 people.

Given this situation, it wasn’t suitable to build single-family houses on the only land remaining in the area which was at the disposal of the town. As Ålidhem lay so close to the university, we all understood that much much more needed to be built. The first thing we did was draft a programme for new construction at Ålidhem. We talked about what the author of the new district plan should keep in mind for the area. We wanted accommodation for 3000 students and for 5000 other residents, space for all the cars we reckoned would have to be taken account of, schools for all age groups, a variety of shops, a church – even quarters for the new diocese that had been ruled on by the church authorities and which we hoped would have its centre in Umeå.

What became the main object of discussion amongst the laymen in the municipal Housing Committee was the programme proposal that Ålidhem should be a red district. At this time it was common that housing areas had a single dominant colour. Personally (I had made the proposal), I was influenced in my choice of colour by the memory of a study trip I’d made in 1948 as a final year architecture student at the Royal Institute of Technology. We travelled around in northern Italy to famous cities and monuments. In Sienna we encountered rain. By the time we had gone up endless numbers of stairs in the town hall tower and were bending over the balustrade, the rain had stopped and a red afternoon sun shone over the newly cleansed town. Below us the roof tiles glistened red, the facades of the houses were also red as were the streets. Everything was bathed in a red light. It was an experience of beauty that has become a permanent memory and that not only influenced Ålidhem but also the colour of the facades around Umeå’s Town Hall Square. I would even like to the surface of the square to be red.


When the planning programme was more or less finished, I made a trip to Stockholm about an entirely different matter. The meeting I attended was quickly finished but my plane back to Umeå didn’t leave until the evening. Thus I could eat lunch by myself in peace and quiet. I went to Sturehof, a much simpler place then in the beginning of the 1960s than it is today. Then at Sturehof one could eat grilled herring with dill butter or a Småland isterband sausage with creamed potatoes, in smoky rooms with paneled walls and simple dark oak furnishings.

There were also daily papers available, hanging on hooks on the walls. In one of these papers I saw that just that day the results of an architect competition concerning a student housing area in Stockholm would be announced. It sounded interesting – it was, after all, a student housing area we were about to build in Umeå. For after lengthy discussions we had decided that the 3000 new university students would live in the section of Ålidhem that lay closest to the university. If they were concentrated to the northernmost part of the district, the distance to the university would be so short that we reckoned they could walk or cycle – an assumption that proved to be correct. With such a solution regarding transport, both Ålidhem and the university could reduce their parking places, which pleased both parties.

The result of the competition for new student housing in Stockholm was to be announced at Jerum, the newly-built student accommodation on Sturegatan, near Stockholm’s stadium. Thus I simply had to take tram # 10 to Stureplan. The winning entry came from four young architects who had trounced several of the large and famous architect firms in Stockholm. On the way back from Jerum I travelled with the chairman of the competition jury, who was my old architecture professor from university. His name was Eskil Sundahl and he was interested in hearing about what was going on in Umeå. I told him while we slowly walked down Sturegatan. When we got to the subject of Ålidhem, I asked as if in passing, if he thought the four winners of the Stockholm competition might be suitable also for us.

The normally so reflective Eskil – we never called him anything else, even though we also always addressed him as “professor” - didn’t hesitate a second: “These four are such remarkably talented architects that I have no doubt at all they would succeed even with such a large undertaking as Ålidhem seems to be”, was his immediate answer.

On the plane home the same evening I sat next to Hans Brunnberg, also a professor of architecture, but at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm. In Umeå he was occupied with the general plan for the layout of the university on behalf of the National Board of Building and Planning. He was very positively interested when he heard that Eskil recommended the four architect talents who had won the competition for drafting the plan for Ålidhem. He too was extremely impressed by their skills.

In Umeå I simply imformed the chairman of the local Housing Committee of my meetings with these clearly neutral and discerning neutral judges of the then current architect situation in the country. The chairman of the committee was then, in the beginning of the 60s, the editor, Einar Härlin, employed by the newspaper, Västerbottens-Kuriren. After conferring with the representatives of the other political parties on the committee, it was decided that the chairman and I would contact the four architects to hear their views about a possible commission of this magnitude and about the short time they would have to do it.

The four architects’ office lay in an old flat on the top floor of a corner house at Nybrogatan towards Östermalmstorg in Stockholm. There was no lift in the house and the five flights almost did in Härlin, who had a more serious heard condition than any of us knew (and indeed he died of a sudden heart attack in the late summer of 1963, still not pensioned from the paper he was editor of).

We went over the plans for Ålidhem with the architects, putting them in the picture regarding the size of and short deadline for the project. All four were present and declared with pleasure that they would be happy to take on the commission and also promised to keep the deadline. Two of them would work full-time with Ålidhem, the other two only in the initial stages and as consultants during the rest of the time. The two employed full-time were Alf Engström and Gunnar Landberg; the two others were Bengt Larsson and Alvar Törneman. Their firm was called ELLT after the initials of their last names.

During their first visit to Umeå the four architects hadn’t drawn a single line on the general map to show any of the main elements of the plan, something most other architects would have done. No, Engström and Landberg had a thick file with them where everything that was to be investigated was listed. They simply wished to check that nothing had been forgotten. With such strict preparations, they could work with several questions at the same time.

Amongst the many things they found out about was that Umeå is an unusually sunny town, that the winds are southerly in the summer and northerly in winter, that the sun only shines a couple of hours in December and January and sits only six degrees over the horizon, and that Umeå is completely covered with snow until the end of April. All statistical averages.



Like all new housing areas in Sweden in the 1960s, Ålidhem is built with traffic safety taken into consideration. The very first residential areas in the country, built taking account of “the controlled access of vehicle traffic” as the principle is called, came about already in the 1950s.

One of the first long-term budgets the government produced included a figure for a future maximum vehicle density. For a long time this figure served as a guide in city planning throughout the country regarding long-term general planning and therefore applicable to Ålidhem, but the figure has since then been questioned by many as far too high. In the beginning of the present century Sweden reached about two-thirds of the vehicle density given in the figure and our annual increase is so slow that it is doubtful we will ever reach it. However, in the beginning of the 1960s we calculated that in future, generally, every adult person in the country will have a car. As regards students, I remember how we discussed whether two married students who lived together could really own two cars with everything that entailed - parking places at home and at the university. I seem to recall we reduced the figure somewhat but not as far as only one car per student family - most likely, one and a half.

Generally high national demands for traffic safety and almost equal numbers of cars as adults in the population meant that new cities could not look the same as they had done. The cities we built up until then had streets with right-angled crossings, pavements on both sides, entrances to buildings directly from the pavements, with the few happy car-owners’ vehicles parked along the curbs.


New research revealed that we cannot have building entrances from the street. Children tend to play on the pavement if the entrances face the pavement. When they play, they run and jump and chase; without thinking they run between the parked cars and land in the street, almost without a field of vision. Or if the children are somewhat older, they try to run across the trafficked road – even though, according to shocked drivers, they should have realized they wouldn’t make it. Statistics showed that accidents happening in the course of such behaviour were far too many to be ignored.

“Traffic maturity” was coined as a concept in the beginning of the 1960s and was an important ingredient in what came to change all post-war urban planning. Streets and roads disappeared as did pavements; residential building entrances were placed at the back, towards courtyards and playgrounds; the cars were collected in large parking places, at a distance from both roads and playing children.

Previously cities had been built out carefully, roads had been extended but not much more than a block. Everything was on a small scale according to short-term needs, roads were straight and blocks square. This type of city plan was called “the grid plan” and was applied everywhere, from small towns to large cities. Individual deviations existed, of course, but generally the same pattern could be found from Umeå to Chicago.


By the 1960s this pattern didn’t work any longer. The number of cars we’d managed to acquire created a traffic situation that the grid street-crossings in the so-called “4-way cross” couldn’t handle. New actors on the building market also demanded larger lots than those existing in the old towns where small property owners had previously erected and maintained the ownership of residential buildings containing only a few flats per house.

From a few years after the start of World War II, or in the beginning of the 1940s, and during the entire post-war period up to roughly 1990, heavy immigration into the towns and cities combined with a substantial rise in our housing standards compelled large-scale building, where each unit encompassed perhaps 50 or more flats. Instead of many small property owners building our flats, there were now three main actors: HSB, Riksbyggen and the newly-formed municipal housing foundations – in Umeå, Stifelsen Bostaden – on the housing market who required block sizes of wholly different dimensions than previously.


Ålidhem was, as has been mentioned, built according to these pre-1960s ideas of traffic safety. Each one of the 8000 residents of the district can go to school, the shops, the health centre, the post office, church and library without crossing a single trafficked road. The district is like an island where traffic constitutes the dangerous sea that surrounds it on three sides: the road to Tomtebo on one side, Kolbäcksvägen on the far side and Studentvägen on the near end, by Ålidhems Church. Parking places are like deep coves biting into the island from all three sides.

The buildings themselves lie like a 90 metre-broad band along the shoreline. It meanders in two lines, one along Studentvägen and one, somewhat shorter, along Kolbäcksvägen. In this way there is never more than around 100 meters walking distance for car drivers when they leave their cars in the parking lot to go home to their flats. On the island itself, one can thus reach all the facilities that at the time of building were thought to be necessary for a normal life.

In housing areas accessed from the outside, like Ålidhem, a central green area is usually a dominating element, a park that everyone can reach from their dwelling without crossing any trafficked roads. Children can safely go there when they are old enough to play ball or climb trees.

Shops are also located in the vicinity of this central green area. They can be safely reached walking with a child freely running about or cycling. Shops prefer to be located on the edge of the central green area in order to be reached by car from outside the district. According to statistics, a normal family with two children carries four tons of goods home per year, so shopping is tantamount to a daily activity.


In the programme that steered the plan authors’ work and that was adopted by the municipal building committee there was a passage that has become the object of various comments afterwards. It was stated that future buildings at Ålidhem should possess a great deal of urban qualities, with clearly indicated grounds without “impediments” and wasted green borders. In modern city planning there are often large ground surfaces that cannot be used for any practical purposes. Traffic requires gently curving roads with good visibility. To offset traffic noise requires that there is space between buildings and roads. Taken together all this creates large surfaces along the roads that cannot be used for anything. These surfaces are called impediments.

In Umeå we can see these early impediments between houses in Fridhem and the then new housing area Berghem – almost impenetrable woodlands which no one ever visits. It was just this sort of impediment or “wasted” green areas that we wanted to avoid in Ålidhem. It wasn’t possible everywhere: along the road towards Tomtebo there are still a few unused strips of ground – at one point potential sites for petrol stations. Between Studentvägen and the houses in Sofiehem there has long been a clump of trees between the church and a children’s nursery. The pine forest there is so dense that one can hardly move in it. However, this site is no impediment but the lot designated for the diocese, which was never built. Instead the new mosque will be built there.

The desired urban quality also meant that the buildings at Ålidhem are strictly orientated towards north-south respectively east-west, the same directions as the university and the hospital. The buildings at Ålidhem are mostly grouped forming courtyards of varying sizes. Since the sun lies low on the horizon in Umeå for a large part of the year, the courtyards must be very large if the sun is to reach the ground in these courtyards during the winter months. The authors of the plan consciously declined that possibility and chose to give the courtyards pleasant dimensions and proportions. So the northern buildings in these courtyards are for the most part one storey higher than the buildings on the other sides. On sunny days, even around Christmas when the sun is at its lowest, the sun shines only on the top storey, but spills over to the rest. This might sound ridiculous but it accords with reality – I can verify that after having been rather skeptical. One doesn’t need to have sun shining into one’s own flat to be happy; on cold winter days; it’s often enough to be able to see that the sun is shining over the town one lives in to feel a wholly different kind of satisfaction than one feels when everything is grey.


Some time after the town planning was completed, several representatives from Umeå went to Stockholm. The meeting was finished quickly and once again there was time to do other things before flying home. The group from Umeå consisted of Finance Committee chairman, Aspegren, Housing Committee chairman, Aage Nilsson, and myself, municipal architect.

The two politicians suggested a visit to Kungshamra, the student housing project that our Ålidhem consultants, ELLT, had won the competition for and which was the main reason they were commissioned to plan our housing area. At this point, some of Kungshamra was finished, so it would be interesting for us to see what the buildings looked like, especially considering that the same architects would be designing our student housing in Umeå.

We hadn’t forewarned ELLT of our visit and landed in the middle of their moving from Nybrogatan on Östermalm to a newly purchased warehouse building on Brunnsgränd in the Old Town of Stockholm. As the move was going on when we arrived, everything was in a mess.

Alvar Törneman was the only one of the four architects who was available. He was therefore compelled to put aside what he was doing, order a taxi and take us to Kungshamra, which is in Solna. As I understand it, both politicians were shocked by what they saw, though they said nothing. The buildings in Kungshamra are placed tightly around small courtyards; they are built out of grey concrete, without visible roofs or foundations. However, they have brilliantly painted windows and doors – piercing yellow windows against the unusually raw concrete, or equally garish red, blue or green. None of us had ever seen anything like it before. It was very quiet in the taxi back. Afterwards, Riksbyggen’s architect office in Stockholm was commissioned to design the first student dwellings at Ålidhem.


The unity and radical attitude that Ålidhem residents so clearly demonstrated in conjunction with the fight for Dungen (“dung” = grove of trees) in the 1970s has largely continued. It seems to have created both a more caustic but simultaneously hearty and warm spirit amongst the inhabitants of Ålidhem than what exists in other housing areas in Umeå. In Ålidhem people talk to each other, help each other, do things together in an entirely different way than they did when they lived elsewhere. They are tolerant towards others. Though neighbouring home-owners have complained, building a mosque on Studentvägen has met no opposition from Ålidhem residents.

Post-war housing areas have often been criticized by people who don’t live in them, by those lucky ones who already have their housing taken care of by living in the old town. They have mainly seen new housing districts through their car windows, often when their grandparents visit them at Christmas and they have had to drive around the district, rather like boats at a comfortable distance from an island, and never gone on land to see the important things properly. They have only seen the back side with all the parked cars, never the inside with small friendly courtyards, safe footpaths and lovely green areas.

Those who live or who have grown up in these districts (which exist in all Swedish cities) have, however, another attitude towards them. They love them in the say way as we all love the milieu where we grew up or lived a long time. Investigations show this clearly – to the critics’ surprise - and Ålidhem is no exception.