What Is Scandinavian Architecture?

Modern Scandinavian-style villa
olaser / Getty Images

Scandinavian architecture is a relatively new construct that came into the public consciousness within the last century. When speaking of Scandinavian architecture, it tends to include works attributed to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Political and geographical influences played a role in the birth of this style of architecture, and it is undoubtedly one of the more influential styles in modern times.  

Most people have some concept of the Scandinavian aesthetic and design style. It is both simple and comfortable, modern and historic. Homebuilders who incorporate this style are pros at blending traditional vernacular styles with modern technology to create a space that is beautiful and aims to make your life better. 

This article will help you gain a better understanding of how this style came to be and teach you more about some key characteristics. There are several groundbreaking and unique concepts that might change the way you look at a building or structure.

History

Before the early 20th century, much of Scandinavian architecture was either influenced by Europe or was completely vernacular in nature. The ancient medieval castles and cathedrals were unoriginal in scope, and the older homes were built in a simple way using locally sourced materials and knowledge.

Some of these earlier vernacular structures were built without the innovation of architects. However, it can be argued that this lack of formal architectural schooling promoted more craftsmanship and ingenuity as time went on. These vernacular builders were more concerned with function than form before modern architecture said that this focus was prudent. Homes in old-world Scandinavia had to be built with limited materials in rough terrains. An early example of this is the turf houses in Iceland, which were homes with green roofs that provided affordable and sustainable insulation. 

The modern-day version of Scandinavian architecture grew out of this grassroots approach to building. Public buildings originally mixed Neoclassical elements with traditional building styles based on local practices. In the 1930s, the birth of the architecture movement in Scandinavia happened at an exhibition in Stockholm, where two architects introduced the concept of Functionalism. 

Functionalist style buildings were minimal, but they also incorporated a very keen interest in the human condition. Architects wanted these buildings to be simple, but they also wanted them to be beneficial to people (and nature) in some thoughtful way. For instance, the Paimio Sanatorium that was built in 1933, focused on maximizing quality air and light for tuberculosis patients. So while modern architecture is all about simple, clean lines, Scandinavian architecture is that and also a style of building that thinks about how public spaces and homes can be an asset to humankind. 

Characteristics

Some of these key elements can help you distinguish Scandinavian architecture from other similar styles. 

  • Minimalism. Designs tend to be functional and balanced with clean lines and a lack of decoration. 
  • Natural light. Many Northern Scandinavian and Nordic countries lack sunlight in the winter, which makes it extremely important for natural light can easily flow through a room. This lightness might be achieved through skylights, glass walls, and open spaces.
  • Neutral color scheme. The color palette tends to be light and neutral, which helps enhance the natural light in the space. However, you’ll notice that colors tend to be soft and warm toned and are rarely cool and stark. 
  • Comforting decor. Homes incorporate hygge to infuse comfort into the house. You’ll notice soft light fixtures, natural textures, and spaces with thick walls and lower ceilings that are easy to heat and cool. 
  • Efficient home mechanics. Being friendly to people and the environment is important in Scandinavian design. Homes and buildings are equipped with state of the art energy systems that insulate and power the home as efficiently as possible. Old houses are often upgraded with new technology as its made available. 
  • Odd shapes. Scandinavian designers and architects aren’t afraid to play around with different shapes and silhouettes that can keep the building functional without sacrificing aesthetics. These shapes help set the designs apart from other modern designs.
  • Buildings work with nature. Like some modern architects, most Scandinavian architects take the surrounding landscape into account and adjust their designs accordingly. 

Incorporate Scandinavian Architecture into Your Home

The people of northern Europe have created an architectural style that blends old-world local ways of building and sustaining with modern technology and theory. Scandinavian architecture is a style of architecture that cares about how the spaces are used and tries to build comfort and calm into every corner. If you want to add some Scandinavian design elements into your home, paint your walls a soft shade of off white. Next, consider decluttering your home and adding in modern furnishings that are soft and cozy. Add neutral and soft blankets, textured throw pillows, candles, and other simple pleasures to complete the transformation.