In the mind of a book reviewer

Everyone talks about having the customer's perspective at the center. But how do you do that when you are building a house and many people are involved? Some who know are the Bogranskarna, who review and analyze a number of homes every year.

Why do you only talk about skirting boards?
Architect Ida Stavenow not only designs homes at FOJAB. She is also one of six "Bogranskare" who give their opinion on newly produced homes in Sydsvenskan. How does it work and what goes on in the mind of a Bogranskare?

- We make 4-5 trips per year, looking at two sites at a time. The group consists of a landscape architect, an energy consultant and four architects. Two of the architects are linked to academia and the other two work in architectural offices. I have been involved for three years now.

- We look at both apartment buildings and typical villas, and we look at objects ready for anyone to move into, not specially designed homes. The key question we ask ourselves is "Is this a good home?" from the perspective of the ordinary housing consumer. So it's not just about architectural qualities but also other things like material finishes, energy issues, workmanship, etc.

- Because of this mix, my architectural colleagues are sometimes skeptical that there is not enough focus on architecture. Why do you only talk about skirting boards?

Ida Stavenow explains how the discussion can, for example, be about upper cabinets that are placed like dust collectors in the middle of a wall, even though they could have been better integrated into the room. Something that can be perceived as a trivial discussion about a lack of attention to detail can reveal something more fundamental in architecture: that you have not succeeded in creating a whole, a beautiful room where the light flows and which is perhaps part of a good spatial relationship.

- The quality of housing in Sweden is generally very high and has also increased in recent years. There are fine materials, spacious and accessible, good appliances, low-flow taps, fully tiled bathrooms. There is very little that is very bad, but there is also not much that is very good.

The country just right
- Many people think that we are a bit lame in our criticism, everything gets a three. But that's because the vast majority of things are very reasonable - and unfortunately the same. This is an issue that is discussed a lot in the group, and we ask for new thinking. As architects, we also have a responsibility to show alternative solutions.

Most people have an idea of what to expect from a newly built home; they want an oak parquet floor, because it's fresh and uniform, and a white kitchen and open plan, because they've seen it in different contexts. But you don't know what you could get and there aren't really any alternatives because the market is so uniform.

- You can't produce something that nobody wants, and nobody wants something they don't know about. This is why we need brave souls in housing production who dare to invest in different qualities to get the ball rolling. The archaeologists also look at the basic idea. What kind of life is lived in this home? It would be great if there was room for different kinds of lives. We are all different!

Sometimes only a doorway is needed
- Quality of life can mean different things to different people. A lot of other basic things can be decided - whether you want children, whether you want a car, where you work, what you eat. But everyone should live in more or less the same way. There is also less and less variety as the old housing stock is phased out. With a culturally mixed population and new family constellations, there should be room for more variety.

Ida Stavenow's thesis was about this. She looked at variations in housing and structures that can give residents greater opportunities to influence themselves. One idea was to design residential areas with smaller individual plots in favor of common areas. The villas would have a basic size that could be expanded over time with extensions within a given framework. Another ideal project was a row of terraced houses with internal connections and a kind of intermediate link that could be flexibly connected to adjacent homes, for example for intergenerational living; when grandma and grandpa can no longer use their upstairs, the neighbor can take it over, and they can continue to live in a slightly smaller area.

- I believe in flexibility over time and a new form of collectivism where the collective is an offer, not a demand. Another example I came across was two single women with children, who every other week opened up and lived a large family life with each other and the children, and every other week closed down and lived a single life. All it takes is a doorway! And a little courage.

Ida Stavenow herself lives in a 3-room apartment with a balcony.

- "We made the architectural choice to move to an ugly house overlooking a nice one," says Ida. The apartment had such qualities, especially the light with large perspective windows over the corners. The floor plan and lighting must be in place from the start, but otherwise a lot can be fixed afterwards if you know what you want. In the kitchen, we removed the dining area and made a really big stainless steel countertop for cooking. It was a way for us to adapt the home to our lifestyle and interests.