If there is one mythology that unifies the Swedish people it is that of the forests and the trees.
Madeleine Von Heland (art historian)
The Swedish Riksdagshus (eng: Parliament) is in need of renovation and under the project title ‘The Parliament of the Future’ the Swedish government is currently preparing for a temporary relocation of the Riksdag while these repairs are being carried out. Concurrently, the year 2021 will mark the 100 year anniversary of Swedish democracy, signifying an important juncture to review the current state of Swedish political culture and norms of governance.
Apart from its symbolic significance, the Riksdagshus is a key instrument of political life that through it’s spatial configuration affect the conditions in which governance can be exercised. Thus, its architecture plays a significant role in shaping political practices, ideologies and a national identity.
Situating the investigation within the context of The Parliament of the Future, this project will disuss how a contemporary revised Swedish Riksdagshus might alter the way in which power is mediated. Placing environmental awareness at the centre of the architectural imagination, the Swedish forest will be used both in its literal sense and as a concept, to question the monumental manifestation of the current Riksdagshus as an appropriate expression for asserting Swedish political culture and national identity.
The forest as blueprint for Swedish political culture
With two thirds of the country covered by woodland towering firs and spruces, some rising 40 meters tall, delineate the . The Swedish people have always had a strong connection to these forests. Here, we find our roots. The forest is were people lived and worked, and where they found the material for their buildings, furniture and fuel. Moreover, beyond merely a commodity, wood was regarded as a living material, permeated with myth and folklore, and utilised in a way that celebrated its innate structure.
Because Sweden remained a largely rural society until well into the twentieth century, closely tied to the world of the forest, the region retains an intimacy with this landscape. The forest susurrates through Swedish art, literature and language. Our surnames also reveal how we associate ourselves with the trees: Granberg (Fir-Mountain), Lundgren (Grove-Branch), Björkman (Birch-Man), Almark (Alder-Land).
Moreover, the forest has always served as a stage for mythology and folklore, and as a mirror for the . The Swedish term for insane, ‘galen’, means ‘praised by trolls’, and when we have nightmares we allude to the forest-like creature Maran. Thus, the forest also assumes a metaphysical place within the minds of the Swedish people – a state of being.
In the dialogue between humans and the natural world we formulated our sense of self, our national identity and political ideology. Thus, the forest has formed the political and cultural blueprint for our social order.
However, while our old-growth forests represented the wild and untamed, our modern forests are characterised by managed uniformity. Furthermore, although the Swedish forests are once again growing and the timber industry yields a sustainable net increase of forest mass each year, only 0.5% of the biologically important primeval . Even the Swedish National Atlas no longer account for ‘forest’, but instead of ‘forestry’.
Landscapes, whether natural or political, are always shifting. However, what happens with our national identity, collective consciousness and with our inner selves when human activity is no longer in dialogue with an evolving natural world? The old creatures of the forests do not seem to thrive in the managed woodlands of today. Perhaps what gets lost is, above all else, something outside of ourselves that can meet our gaze.
Titled The Woodland Parliament, this project proposes an alternative seat for the Riksdag, relocated from its current site in central Stockholm, to the depths of the Royal National City Park forests at the fringes of the city. Seeking to explore an alternative state for society and the environment by negating our increasing disembodiment from the natural world, the project argues for a revived Swedish timber architecture that once again draws upon the primitive memories of the forest.