Reimagining sustainability through Scandinavian architecture and philosophy
A review of eco-minded architecture in Scandinavia and how it promotes unity with the earth.

The peoples of Scandinavian nations—Norway, Sweden, and Denmark—have rich cultural and philosophical traditions when it comes to their relationships with the environment. The values of natural beauty, sustainability, and frugality regarding consumption are all deeply embedded within the Scandinavian way of life. 

Scandinavians use the word “friluftsliv,” a term that refers to “open-air living,” to guide their values and traditions. First popularized by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, “friluftsliv” was used to describe a way of thought that relates to our physical and psychological responses when we are submerged in nature. More recently in Scandinavia, “friluftsliv” has emerged as a core part of one’s relationship with nature—it denotes the experience of being in harmony with natures’ powers. 

In the last 50 years, Scandinavia has seen striking architectural changes. For example,  Scandinavian “green roofs,” a roofing design used since the Viking Age, have now been reproduced as a sustainable living option in rural and urban settings. Green roofs serve a variety of ecological and aesthetic purposes relevant to upholding the philosophy of “friluftsliv.” Their benefits include providing shade, reducing storm water runoff, and facilitating local biodiversity. Additionally, as a testament to their versatility, green roofs can lower temperatures during summer months by absorbing heat while also providing natural insulation during winter. 

Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect known for his design of upscale buildings, unites modernist designs with sustainable additions. His architecture includes features like green roofs and flood resistance shields. In his work, Ingels places focus on “hedonistic sustainability”—a concept suggesting that a sustainable future does not need to come at the expense of one’s morals or political standings. “Hedonistic sustainability” affirms the notion that social engagement and environmental living can mutually exist in a world with growing technologies. In other words, pursuing a green future should not come with dramatic compromises. Instead, architects, design creatives, and even everyday citizens, need to recognize that climate change solutions are not solely political in nature. 

As countries like Norway and Sweden relish in their sustainable living spaces and continue to maintain low carbon footprints, their architectures demonstrate that sustainability is possible—although it is challenging. Still, the future of sustainable living rests upon effective architectural and creative decisions that better the structure of urban living and promote pro-sociality among citizens. 

Associate Opinion Editor (Volume 50) — Mashiyat (”Mash”) is a second-year student completing a specialist in Neuroscience and a double minor in Biology and Professional Writing and Communications (PWC). As an associate opinion editor, she hopes to use her voice to encourage others to write freely and unabashedly about the things that mean most to them. In her free time, Mash can be found striking up conversations with strangers in the city, cooking for her family, and being anxious about her nebulous career plans!


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