Helena Mattsson

Architecture’s Turnover: Aesthetics and Spatial Practice in the Restructuring of the 1980s Welfare State

In the 1990s Sweden’s overheated property market imploded, resulting in a slew of bankruptcies and shutdowns. Architecture and building realpolitik ushered in a deep economic crisis that left Swedish society and welfare in flux. Once the cornerstone of the welfare state, architecture now played a decisive part in its demolition. How could architecture’s role have changed so dramatically? Architecture’s Turnover is a contemporary architectural history that investigates the relationship between architecture, aesthetics and the restructuring of the Swedish Model of welfare at the end of the twentieth century. In the book, architecture is not understood as limited to objects or work made by architects, but rather as assemblages of discourses including aesthetic practices, material objects, decision-making processes, design, protocols, and so forth. Architecture’s Turnover investigates the long 1980s and demonstrates that architecture and aesthetics both contributed to and was affected by neoliberalisations of the welfare state; from its beginnings in the 1968 political critique to the dismantling of the Swedish welfare state in the early 1990s. The book provides an original interpretation of how space, aesthetics, and politics converged at the end of the century. This is explored through a number of ‘sites of tensions and restructuring,’ where politics, economics, space, and aesthetics came together in the form of architecture projects and discursive figurations.
Final report
The RJ sabbatical enabled me to compile and synthesize research on the relationship between architecture/built environment and the transformation of the Swedish welfare state in the 1980s. The work resulted in the monograph Architecture and Retrenchment: Neoliberalization of the Swedish Welfare State across Aesthetics and Space, 1968-1994 (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2023). As the title indicates, the book deals with the long 1980s that spans from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s. Work on the book was delayed as the pandemic hindered additional archival research and interviews, and my grant was also extended to December 2022. The book's title has been changed from the one given in the application, some changes have been made to the chapter order, and two chapters have been added. The first is "The Suburb," which discusses the criticism of the Million Program that emerged in the late 1960s with Skärholmen as the focus. The second, "The Renewal," analyzes the "Million Program" and the upgrading, renovation, and renewal of the Million Program areas during the 1980s and 1990s. The book's structure is developed by distinguishing between six empirical and situated chapters and four theoretical and more generalized chapters.

Other publications that have been produced during the sabbatical period and have links to the same source material, but with a slightly different perspective than the book, are the text "Pioneering Women Movements in Swedish Architecture" in the Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960-2010 (not yet published), and "Att delegera frihet: Boinflytande i marknadens skugga” in the upcoming book Marknadens tid: Historiska perspektiv. The first text reviews the feminist movement in architecture that took shape in the 1980s, parallel to the shift in the governance of the Swedish welfare state that the book Architecture and Retrenchment addresses. I am also a co-editor of the Swedish section of the Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, which has given me a deeper understanding of the importance of women in Swedish architecture - a theme that runs through my newly published monograph. The second text is the result of the invitation to participate in the conference "Neoliberalism in the Nordics - gathering perspectives," which was the first conference organized within the RJ project "Neoliberalism in the Nordics. A new historical field" (project leader Jenny Andersson). The text "Att delegera frihet" analyzes the housing influence reform introduced by the public housing authority in the 1980s and the problem of delegating responsibility down the hierarchy to the individual, the resident. This is also a theme discussed in the last chapter of Architecture and Retrenchment, but more specifically in relation to a housing renewal project that took place in Tensta.

During my sabbatical, I stayed at the Yale School of Architecture in the spring of 2022 (the plan was to travel in the fall of 2020, but it was first possible in 2022). During that time, I had the opportunity to participate in seminars, lectures, and gatherings and deepen my collaboration with colleagues at the school. In addition, I had the privilege to make closer contact and develop ideas on research and teaching with a colleague in Gothenburg (Isabelle Doucet, Professor of History and Theory of Architecture, Chalmers) as she was staying at the same department during the same time. As part of the visit, I organized a panel together with Maros Krivy (Associate Professor of Urban Studies, Estonian Academy of Arts) at the biennial conference organized by the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH). The panel investigated the concept of "environment" from a historical perspective. This resulted in work on the anthology Forging Environments, which is planned to be published by an American publisher. During my stay at Yale, I also had the opportunity to connect with colleagues from Columbia University, NYC. Other results besides publications are lectures at international universities such as TU Munich, Architectural Association London, EPFL Lausanne, The Berlage Delft, Amsterdam Center of Urban History.

The work conducted during the RJ Sabbatical has resulted in a number of new research questions. The most developed deals with the role of women in administration, and the research project "Architecture's Radical Bureaucracy: Women Redrawing the World, 1945-1987" is in the process of being launched. The source material discussed in the chapter “The Collective House” questioned the often-used argument that women’s absence in architectural history is due to architecture as a male-dominated discipline. By following female actors in architecture, the new project broadens the discipline and reveals the crucial role women have played. To place the Swedish situation in an international context, I organized the panel "Women and Radical Bureaucracy" at the EAHN (European Architectural Historian Network) conference in 2022. New research questions have been developed in relation to the archive as a phenomenon and to methodological issues in architectural history research. The last chapter of the book, "The Renewal," paved the way for new research questions about the relationships between the Million Program, renewal projects, and citizen participation and the contemporary situation when the so-called "vulnerable areas" often are linked to integration, segregation, and assimilation. The research group I am part of, Aktion Arkiv, has organized witness seminars in Copenhagen and Stockholm that deepened the issue from the residents' perspective.

The synthesis of previously conducted research material in the book Architecture and Retrenchment has been disseminated through lectures, pedagogic forums, and conference participation. The book, published by Bloomsbury Academic/Visual Arts, is available as an e-book and is disseminated and promoted mainly through academic channels.
Grant administrator
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Reference number
SEK 1,696,000.00
RJ Sabbatical