Focus on urban climate

Local climate aspects will play a central role in the redesign of Gothenburg’s Selma Lagerlöf district – thanks to Sofia Thorsson, climate scientist at the University of Gothenburg.
‘As a scientist, it’s so much fun to be part of the building process.’

The city of Gothenburg is growing, and so is the need for new housing. New residential buildings will be erected in the areas surrounding the Selma Lagerlöf town square in Gothenburg, and as part of this work there are plans to also give the whole area a facelift.

In 2011, five architect teams were invited to draft a ‘new’ town square area. One of the teams contacted Thorsson to tap her expertise on local climates.
‘The idea is to give green aspects a central role and to build with a stronger focus on what constitutes a good outside climate,’ says Thorsson, senior lecturer at the Department of Earth Sciences.

THE FINAL DRAFT from the team, named Addera, gives thorough attention to climate aspects. The idea is to design the buildings so that the spaces between them will offer both sunshine and shade, and both wind and calmer spots.
‘The perfect place offers a variety of different conditions, since variety enables people to enjoy the climate they want regardless of the weather,’ says Thorsson.

Thorsson told the team that it is better to build only low buildings than buildings of different heights. The reason is that low buildings give the best wind conditions at ground level. In contrast, mixing buildings of different heights leads to complex wind patterns that people may find unpleasant. Architects, however, seem to prefer tall buildings.
‘There were obviously some conflicting interests, but I feel we had a good dialogue. The outside climate is an important part of people’s housing experience.’

ANOTHER IMPORTANT aspect is to add greenery around the buildings. The final draft includes more flowers, bushes and trees than in the past.
‘Vegetation is important in many ways. It regulates the climate and is important for recreational purposes. It also reduces noise and offers an ecological way to handle surface water.’
When evaluating the submitted drafts, the assessment group was very pleased with Addera’s ecological touch. The local residents were also able to look at the different suggestions, and shared this view.
The best ideas from the five teams have now been gathered in a focus document, which will form a basis for the rest of the construction process..

KRISTINA HULTERSTRÖM, manager of the Selma Lagerlöf project, likes the idea of researchers contributing early in the process. She also sees the interaction between experts in different areas as important.
‘In this type of work where we’re trying to accomplish something that’s new, innovative and sustainable, we really need the input from academia.’

It is becoming increasingly common to invite climate scientists to participate in the planning of new residential areas. Both architects and local governments are asking for their input, and Thorsson and her colleagues currently have several projects on their table.
‘The attitude to scientists has changed over the years. Today we’re in much higher demand, as many builders, planners and architects want to include climate aspects in their work. And as a researcher, it’s so much fun to be part of the building process,’ says Thorsson.


The method used to gather architectural ideas for the Selma Lagerlöf project is common in Sweden. The invited parties work alongside each other with the same task. Nothing is secret and everybody is told who submitted what suggestion. No single winner is selected and all participants are paid the same.

The purpose of the request was to gather ideas about how the Selma Lagerlöf area can be developed and what should be considered in the planning process.
(source: City of Gothenburg)

The architectural offices Erséus Arkitekter AB and 02Landskap, with Paul Castell and Sofia Thorsson as experts, named their contribution Addera. Both offices will remain in the project as consultants.

Time plan
A draft of a new local plan map will be presented before the summer. Following due consideration, a new local plan will be finalised by 15 February 2015. Construction will begin shortly thereafter.