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The following article was published in the Debate section of GöteborgsPosten November 22, 2007.

November 22, 2007:

A City Architect would open up for new thinking

The individual building is the single piece in the puzzle that is the city, but the quality of the city is decided by its whole context. Göteborg has not had an official City Architect since 1999. It is about time we reintroduced that position, claims architect Erik Linn. On his wish list is also an evaluation of the so called 'Älvstrand model'.

It is indeed gratifying that we now have a public discussion on Architecture that often is seen as uniform. The critique is justified when many architects tend to design similar buildings, and acts as a reminder that the distinctive image is important. But building in general is governed by several participants, and the resistance against different solutions can be strong on many levels in the building process.

Things are not improved by the fact that there seemingly is only one architectural label available in media today – 'nyfunkis' (approx. New Modernism). Imagine if we were to describe modern cars as designed in 'streamlined style'. It would be utterly pointless. If we can widen our set of architectural concepts available in discussions and presentations, actual differences will come into sight, and the dialogue between architects and the general public will be much improved. Perhaps then we can avoid the impossible demand for buildings in 'old fashioned style'. No other creative professions – be it design, fashion, art or music – are in this way obliged to produce copies of earlier periods.

The building and the city

The individual building is the single piece in the puzzle that is the city, but the quality of the city is decided by its whole context. In Göteborg today, no single project is more important than the development of the river fronts. Therefore, it is remarkable that not even the smallest public evaluation of the Älvstranden project has been conducted, before that same organisation was put in charge of the south side of the river as well.

Norra Älvstranden was marketed as The Good City, but the promised mixed use developments failed to appear. Contrary to intentions, the Lindholmen office area is deserted at night, while the commercial and cultural facilities among the housing quarters are all but frequent. The scarce number of store spaces – around 40 prior to the commencement of Västra Eriksberg – clearly show the shortages in urbanity. It corresponds roughly to what Karl Johansgatan alone contain between Stigbergstorget and Karl Johan church. It certainly is not too much. On top of that, integration with the neighbourhoods behind is all but absent.

Right now we are determining the future of the central city, and in our own lifetime we will only have this one single chance.

Does the municipal company Älvstranden regard projects so far on the south side of Hisingen Island qualifying as The Good City? Then there might be reasons to worry for future developments. The City Analysis Project of 2005 is generally viewed as being ineffective. The present competition for Södra Älvstranden was limited to only four contestants. Do these four projects cover all possible solutions for the river front? A Danish proposal does not live up to expectations, and another presentation is so architecturally poor that its presence on this level is startling.

This ought to be discussed. Otherwise, we run the risk of having to settle for half measures for long time to come. Meanwhile, the three Nordic capitals surrounding us are investing heavily. Göteborg deserves better, the best.

10 wishes for better architecture in Göteborg

So then, here is – well before Christmas – a wish list of architect's dreams for Göteborg:

• Evaluate the ’Älvstranden model’ in public, and decide whether it actually works.

• Reinstate the office of City Architect in Göteborg – we have not had one since 1999. On comparison, when visiting Chalmers School of Architecture last year, Danish famous architect Dorte Mandrup pointed to the City Architect of Copenhagen as crucial for the open and ambitious working climate.

• Improve the collective self-confidence of the Planning and Building Committee, in order for it to be able to raise adequate requirements for new projects.

• Increase the number of architecture competitions. Please avoid the dubious Göteborg habit of giving the prestigious projects to architects that did not actually win the competition (City Library 1967, The Göteborg Opera 1994).

• Allow a young architect's office to enter every public competition on a 'dark horse' basis. The success of Gert Wingårdh was founded in this way with the Astra Hässle competition in the late eighties.

• Arrange exhibitions on contemporary, international architecture. They are all but absent today.

• Develop parking solutions, so that like the rest of Europe, we can park our cars where they belong. Underground.

• Allow the cost of a student of architecture at Chalmers to be equivalent that of a fellow student in Oslo or Copenhagen.

• Co-ordinate the programs of the School of Architecture and the School of Business, Economics and Law, in order to increase the number of young, ambitious architect's practices. Bring along future building engineers and project developers.

• Make sure to develop new parts of Göteborg with true, urban qualities. Much of today's city planning is dominated by vast, obsolete expanses of traffic in central areas, and a periphery made up of housing and shopping malls.

We are obliged to think differently. If we do, fantastic opportunities are waiting along the river and elsewhere.

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