Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Third Way Architecture: Negotiating the Swedish Welfare State

Friday, 13 April 2018

ATCH Visiting Research Fellow, Associate Professor Helena Mattsson (KTH) will be presenting her book proposal "Third Way Architecture: Negotiating the Swedish Welfare State" on Wednesday 18th April in 51-207 from 3-pm - 5pm. All welcome. 



Sweden is well known for its twentieth century welfare state, and the tight connection between modern architecture and the Social Democrats in the building of the so-called Folkhemmet (People’s Home). In the thirties, Sweden took what Marquis Childs called the “middle way” between Soviet communism and North American capitalism, which in the eighties evolved into a political “third way” (Giddens1998) influenced by neoliberal policy. A wide range of literature, both popular and scholarly, sets out a narrative of Swedish modernism as “welfare state architecture” Yet there have been very few inquiries into the period sometimes called the “end of the welfare state” or the “third way society” of the late twentieth century marked by deregulations and marketization.

 This book addresses the relation between architecture and the transformations of Swedish society in the postwar years, with a focus on the eighties. I argue that architecture plays a double role as both production (planning) processes and cultural environments. I show how ideas stemming from the upheavals of 1968, such as local democracy, participatory planning, and the role of the user, together with the new political economy with its stress on branding, creativity, and individuality, were crucial to the third way turn. Through archival studies of large scale architectural projects and projects of the kind I call “emancipations” (Fraser 2013)—architectural exhibitions, feminist architecture, and participatory planning projects—two perspectives are applied to this shift: on the one hand, architecture as a technique of negotiation between the state, the business world and the civil society; and on the other, the biopolitical aspects of architecture in the formation of citizens’ life and behaviour.   

Third Way Architecture provides an understanding of architecture as a “site of negotiation” between opposing forces in society, uncovering the embedded counterhistories and disentangling the tight link between architecture and the social-democratic welfare state. My argument is that architecture, as a practice and as the built environment, has been of great importance for changing habits, values, and sensibilities in the societal changes that resulted in third way society. As a parallel to “welfare state architecture”, the book offers “third way architecture”, which has contributed to the societal transformation of Sweden as much as modern architecture ever did.