Places that Work: The Swedish Embassy

The House of Sweden (Swedish Embassy) in Washington, DC is a striking manifestation of Swedish culture; in fact it may be among the best architectural embodiments of culture/brand I’ve ever visited. As the year winds down, you may see this modern building in the background of end-of-year retrospectives that feature picturesque Georgetown. On television, it might appear as the backdrop for news stories on Swedish efforts in the Korean peninsula.

Sweden’s strong commitment to preserve the natural environment and its broad-minded culture, known for its innovators (including the man who invented the zipper), are reflected in this building’s materials, forms, and programming. For instance, while the construction materials are simple, they are not subtle. The façade is ringed by a pattern that resembles large-scale wood grain. These bands bring to mind the Swedish forests, but also the country’s tradition of woodworking. The same blond wood features prominently in interior spaces.

The interiors are often open or divided by glass walls, bringing to mind the concept of an open society. Exterior walls are transparent, an appropriate expression of “public diplomacy” which the Swedish government attempts to practice. The ground floor museum is open to the public and shows off recent Swedish innovations. Currently, the highlight of the show on infrastructure and intelligent mobility is the Baldos II, developed by students at the Lulea University of Technology. It’s Sweden’s most fuel-efficient car.

The Swedish love of the outdoors is conveyed through the careful landscaping of the grounds and an atrium that infuses the building with daylight. A black granite pond in the event center is reminiscent of the homeland’s many lakes.

Iconic, simple, and functional Swedish design is found throughout the structure. Its lines are graceful, minimalist, and contemporary.  Shapes are organic. Sweden has made sure that its embassy in DC does not diverge from the country’s ethos by hiring Ingegerd Raman to coordinate, and in some cases create, its art.

The House of Sweden, designed by Gert Wingardh and Tomas Hansen of Wingardh Arkitektkontor AB of Gothenburg, opened in 2006; the building also contains the Icelandic embassy as well as apartments and offices. It exudes a sense of thoughtful modern elegance – just as the Swedish embassy in the United States should.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at .

Sally Augustin’s previous post in this series was about an Apple store in Chicago.

Categories: Design, Uncategorized