5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture


Scandinavian architecture is widely recognized for its clean lines and austere color palette, but this architectural style responds to more than just aesthetics. 

Firms like Snøhetta are peaking in popularity today and respected for designs that value simplicity, functionality and comfort, mixing modern techniques and vernacular methods to create spaces perfectly tuned for inhabitants who crave more than what meets the eye.

While Scandinavian architecture responds to a certain location and climate, their way of approaching design can be easily adapted to any climate and location. The style's main function focuses on the user’s comfort based on its surroundings, whichever that might be. 

Read on to learn the five design principles that make for stunning Scandinavian design.


5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture

Villa J2 by Jonas Lindvall

Scandinavian design owes some of its most defining characteristics to its unique weather and location. Long winters accompanied by few daylight hours mean users spend most of their time indoors.

Lack of daylight and overcast skies create the need for light-enhancing elements such as skylights and glassed roofs and walls which drive as much daylight as possible into the project. Lack of daylight can cause SAD, a condition tightly related to polar areas.

The light neutral palette abundant in Scandinavian architecture also responds to the need of capturing light. Light colors reflect light and illuminate spaces, working closely with glassed openings to illuminate the project’s interiors.


5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture

Cabin Norderhov by Atelier Oslo

As mentioned above, long winters and cold weather mean Scandinavians spend much of their time indoors. This phenomenon gave birth to the concept of “hygge”, a trend that permeates every aspect of Scandinavian life, including architecture. This trend holds comfort as its main goal and one of the most important elements of Scandinavian architecture.

When translated into architectural design, hygge can be achieved by adding natural textures, avoiding harsh light fixtures, creating cozy spaces which can be easily heated, and designing unexpected spaces such as reading nooks at the bottom of windows. The right colors, shapes, and materials can add to a project’s comfort levels.

Insulation plays a key role in this aspect of the design, as it promotes the project's thermal comfort and protects the user from unexpected temperature changes. Efficient heating techniques such as a radiant heating and cooling system––which is powered by clean energy––paired with efficient insulation, cut the costs of energy consumption and lower the project's carbon print. 

Energy Efficiency

5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture

Ion Hotel by Minarc

Green alternatives are preferred by Scandinavian designers as the design of energy efficient households is demanded by law in Scandinavian countries, including Sweden and Denmark. These countries manage to keep their carbon emissions low thanks to passive solutions and appropriate construction techniques, even going as far as retrofitting older buildings to meet the current standards.

Sleek Shapes

5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture

Romsdal Folk museum by Reiulf Ramstad Architects

Sleek shapes and clean lines are a staple of Scandinavian design, varying from simple shapes to complex compositions.

Even when creating sinuous organic shapes, the designs remain clean and void of any distracting elements, keeping the building’s functionality as a priority without sacrificing its appearance. This duality in the design sets the style apart from traditional modernist architecture which usually focuses primarily on functionality rather than beauty. Scandinavians enjoy playing with shapes and often avoid aesthetical adornments, keeping designs clean but interesting to the eye.

Connection With Nature

5 Principles of Scandinavian Architecture

Tverrfjellhytta by Snøhetta

Aside from its aesthetical beauty, Scandinavian design focuses on merging projects to their terrain and building with local materials, sentiments that can be adopted within any architectural style. 

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