The Revolution That Is Changing Architecture (The Aesthetic City)
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In this video, we dive into the world of the Architecture Uprising, a grassroots movement that has taken Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia by storm. We interview architects, activists and a government official from the City of Gothenburg to find out: will this movement change our cities for the better? And if so, how?


There is an architectural revolution happening in the far north of Europe, in Scandinavia. It is a rapidly growing grassroots movement that opposes the boring gray blocks that are getting built everywhere, and it seems that they are gaining momentum.

In this video, we will discover how a small movement in Sweden grew to become a force that is successfully pushing against ugly architecture and which is demanding more beauty in their cities. We'll explore how the movement spread to other countries and even meet a forward-thinking politician from the Social Democrat Party of Gothenburg who recognized the need for change and is now working towards more human-friendly and beautiful buildings.

I'm very excited for this video because you'll hear the story from them, as I went to Scandinavia to interview those who made it possible. At the end of the video, I'll show you how you can achieve this positive change in your own country. So, let's get started.

It's early May, and I'm traveling to the place where it all began: Scandinavia. I'm on a sort of Scandinavian tour to visit three crucial places that play an important role in this story: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Oslo. I'm about to interview some of the people who have been instrumental to this movement and who can hopefully tell me more about how it got started and why it got so big.

But first, we need to discover why there was a need for an uprising in the first place. As I explained in my last video, modernism changed the way we built. Useful building traditions that had served us for thousands of years, and that contained valuable embodied knowledge, were rejected. The modern movements decided that no valuable lessons could be learned from previous ways of building, so everything would have to be reinvented from the ground up.

In Scandinavia, for example, this meant that pitched roofs, a technology that was successfully used to efficiently deal with rainwater in rainy climates, were replaced with flat roofs, which often led to leakages. A very recent example of this is Kiruna, a mining town in the far north of Sweden, where a newly built part was equipped with modern flat roofs, which started leaking soon after they were finished. This preference for flat roofs did not come from any practical use but from an aesthetic and ideological one.

But it's not only the traditional building methods and techniques that are rejected; the classical or traditional aesthetic and design principles are replaced by the modernist ones. During my visit to Oslo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm, this stands out immediately. The old buildings range from cute and colorful, like these wooden houses in Oslo, to handsome and stately, like these 19th-century mansion blocks in Gothenburg. But the new buildings are quite dark and grim, which is surprising for a country where the winters are so long, dark, and cold. And of course, we see a lot of concrete glass and steel.

I am joining Michael Diamant, who you might recognize from my last video. We're on a walk in Stockholm to see what happened to his city and to discover why people had enough of the types of buildings that were getting built. One thing to consider when looking at this dark building behind me and all the other ugly buildings that we have seen recently is that today is a beautiful spring day. Sweden is a Nordic country; most of the year is quite dark and gloomy. Now imagine this building that you see behind me in October or December. It's really, really, really depressing. It, of course, looks good in computer renderings, but it doesn't fit our local climate.

Now we're at Brunkebergs Square; it used to be a lively and beautiful Market Square. They completely destroyed the entire square in the 1960s and 70s, and all the beautiful buildings were replaced with hideous modernism. This is a very sunny and beautiful spring day. Still, despite its central location, there are almost no people here. That is because no one wants to hang out here, and no Stockholmers want to be seen here.

So why is all this stuff getting built, and how could an entire profession overlook what the general population finds pleasing and beautiful? Eric Norin, a young classical architect based in Stockholm, explains the disconnect between the architectural elite and the general population. "The general view upon the architectural establishment in a Swedish context, and probably also European context, is that they're kind of an elitist group. Someone that's up in their ivory tower, not connected to the general public, not maybe on an individual level, but as a group, and especially when it comes to what's being produced, what kind of architecture is being built, what kind of architecture is being designed. Very often that's far from what the general public likes and wants, and I would argue that that's problematic.

As more and more buildings arose that people couldn't connect with, unhappiness grew. But instead of listening, developers, architects, planners, and policymakers just marched on. After all, there was no real alternative. Or was there? The Uprising Something had to be done. But what? The architectural educations only taught the same type of architecture that made the problem only bigger. Politicians also didn't show a lot of interest in the topic. Many confused building modernist buildings with being progressive or being somehow future-oriented, which is a common mistake I'll do a future video on.

Without politicians to address the growing unhappiness and an architectural establishment that was too invested in their ideas, there was only one way out: a grassroots movement that would take matters into their own hands. Michael Diamant was there from the very beginning: "So Facebook, there were a lot of groups engaging people in different topics, so it was, yeah, it was a very good format to reach out to people. So in 2013, I started a group. Today it has an English name, New Traditional Architecture, and it had a very simple purpose back then: to show new built traditional projects. So I specifically showed projects from Berlin and New York. Because those places in the Swedish psyche cannot be accused of being 'backwards'. They're very cool in Berlin and New York; according to the Swedish psyche, everything they do there is the latest. So if they build classical, it's not backward; it's the latest thing, and we should build classical.

So one year later, a member of this group, so he started the Architectural Uprising. Basically, you have one big photo of a new build project; this is new built in Berlin. Click, like, and share if you want something similar. And this really took off. So what you got is that you got people that have not architecture as a main interest, like 90% of the population love beautiful architecture, but they don't have it as a main interest. So these people got engaged now. It attracted people that are interested. It connected a lot of people and it created a movement.

This strategy worked. It caught the imagination of many, and the Facebook group started to grow. At some point, people in Norway started their own uprising. Saher Sourouri, a psychologist living in Oslo, and a spearhead of the Norwegian uprising, tells us how the movement blew up overnight: "For a long while, it was a fairly small group around 2000- or 3000 members, but it was growing steadily, but slowly. Then I joined it in 2019, and around the same time, another man called Erik Holm also joined. He and I, we were talking about how we can bring the debate to a larger audience. He's a social media genius. So we started the Instagram group, started to make posts there, and there was no magic tricks. There was nothing. We were just speaking our minds, you know, as common people who are users of the city. Almost overnight when it exploded and it went from zero to 50,000 people in a couple of weeks on Instagram, I had no idea how many people cared about this issue.

With this new movement growing rapidly in Sweden and Norway, there was suddenly a new challenge for the status quo in architecture. One of the first groups to attack the architectural uprising wasn't the architects; it was journalists. "We have one section of Sweden in Stockholm called Södermalm. More than 1% of the people that live there are architects. Every third Swedish journalist lives on this island, and of course, a lot of politicians. You know, these people, they hang in the same bars; their kids go to the same kindergarten; they're friends with each other. So capital journalists, they don't like us, of course, because we are attacking their friends.

So at the same time as they live in traditional environments, in classical buildings, they will write this down. Some of the harshest criticisms that we have received come actually from journalists who have labeled the uprising as 'far right', 'populist', 'Trumpist'. Does that mean that the large majority of Norwegian people are Trumpists? Because there was a poll showing that around 70% of the Norwegian people prefer traditional architecture rather than modernists. So does that make 70% of the Norwegians Trumpists? And it maybe is not a coincidence that many people that are in this movement have immigrant backgrounds. Because it's harder to call us neo-Nazis. So in my case, my mother is Jewish, 99% of her relatives died in the Holocaust, so it doesn't stick to call me a Nazi.

In Norway, there's also a very successful architectural rising. I think he's an Iranian immigrant, and as soon as you cannot label us 'Nazis', then you have to debate. And then it's not fun anymore because you lose. So..." Gothenburg Time moved on, and the movement kept on growing. Sooner or later, a political party would have to address the issue. Enter the Social Democrat Party of Gothenburg. But before they became the first political party in Sweden to go to town, and this is a very surprising party to lead the way on this issue. Gothenburg is a very blue city, so the idea that a right party should be the first party to lead the way on this issue is very likely. So when we started this initiative, there were a lot of people who did not believe that we were really serious. I think we were like 5000 on the left, and I could not even start with us; you just took the bit of we started the small subcommittee, and I think that we have this without the feeling of this is wrong; you're coming out there in the cold and what kind of place that was we have this.