Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Can you build a new "old" town?

Jakriborg, Sweden (photo Wikipedia)

Can you build a new “old” town?
The Swedish town of Jakriborg is a sustainable community in southern Sweden. It is actually a housing estate in the town of Hjärup, Scania. Built by the Swedish developer Jakri AB in the early 1990s it continues to grow as more and more people want to live there. Why is it so popular?
A very obvious reason is the style of architecture. It is constructed very much in the style of many pre-industrial towns of the southern Baltic region.

Jakriborg, Sweden (photo Wikepedia)

Medieval town of Visby, Sweden (photo ©Chris Traynor)

The old town, Eksjö,Sweden (1400-1800s) (photo ©Chris Traynor)

Another reason is that the town is built with sustainability in mind. Sustainability is a bit of a buzz word at the moment but, simplified, a sustainable community is one where it’s possible to meet many of your daily needs either on bicycle or on foot. There’s less reliance on the car and fossil fuels and more importance placed on being pedestrian-friendly and creating enjoyable public spaces. The town is self-sufficient with its own restaurants, shops and offices, in fact, pretty much everything you would need.
I think the town is very charming and it may only get better as it gets bigger. But growth will be slow as the developers have no intention of doing anything too quickly.
One of the criticisms of Jakriborg has been that the creation of a new “old” town is somehow fake. Critics say the architecture is fake because it’s trying to be something it’s not. I think there’s much that’s attractive about this style of architecture and when it’s combined with the finest craftsmanship and modern building methods then you have a winner. I think the argument that the town is fake or too Disneyish is a rather poor one. Here in Ottawa we take some pride in our Parliament Buildings. Does anyone call the style of architecture fake? After all, they are neo-gothic, not true gothic. Why are some styles seen as homages while others are seen as fake? Frankly, almost every tower that goes up in a city today is neo-modernist and hence “fake". Every community springing up somewhere is a take on something else. With the exception of some post-modernist twists on the same old thing, there seems little that’s new in architecture today. What is wrong with revisiting the past for ideas?
So what do you think of Jakriborg?


  1. Old towns have had centuries to work out the problems (especially in the times before rulers cared about the impacts on the people). So designing a new town to mimic an old town (instead of trying to 'fix' them with wide roads for cars, for example) seems to make sense.

  2. I obviously agree. But it is nice to also see a more human scale to buildings and public spaces.

  3. And colour! It is refreshing to not have to see only grey and beige high rises like the ones in Ottawa's downtown core. I think our eyes were designed to be able to process more colours in the spectrum than that...

  4. No Marie, everything must be glass now. If there are colours, it has t be coloured glass (viz. the Mondrian).

    Didn't you get the memo? It's all the rage. :P