Strategizing for Expansion: Mälerdalen University, Eskilstuna, Sweden

by Gretchen Milliken


Winning entry by 3XN (image © 3XN)

The intention of the Mälardalen University competition is to evoke a holistic architectural approach to the design one of Sweden’s largest universities with 12,000 students and over 900 faculty and employees. The University is well known for its strong partnerships with regional businesses and municipalities with a focused curriculum on education, health, technology and economics. Six established research departments further strengthen the University’s program, the flagship being Innovation and Product Development. The campus, located along the riverbank in central Eskilstuna is in need of additional space to facilitate a growing academic program with demands for more efficiency, flexibility and connectivity between the different disciplines. The task of the competition was to design the new campus and adjoining public spaces in accordance with the competition’s program which includes creating a signature building that intentionally integrates an existing 1930’s bathhouse designed by Paul Hedqvist into the design. Six Scandinavian firms were asked to submit proposals based on their credentials for the high-profile campus. The shortlisted firms that submitted proposals—three from Sweden and three from Denmark— were well established offices that had a number of high profile projects to their credit:

  • 3XN, Danish
  • Arkitema Dot, Swedish
  • Christensen & Co, Danish
  • Juul/Frost, Danish
  • White, Sweden
  • Wingårdh, Sweden

The jury consisted of:

  • Elin S Olander, Facilities management
  • Katarina Rosenlind, architect, MSA, Municipal planner
  • Dag Johansson, architect, MSA, Chief of Planning, Jury Chair
  • Andreas Forsberg, architect, Representative of Swedish Architecture Assoc.
  • Kristin Jarmund siv. ark. MNAL/int. ark. MNIL/Hon. FAIA, Representative of the Swedish Architecture Association

Jury secretary: Monika Joelsson Vestlund, architect, SAR/MSA, Swedish Architect Although the above panel was made up exclusively of Swedish professionals, in the end the Danish firm, 3XN from Copenhagen (with an office in Stockholm), gained favor with the jury and was declared the winner.*  


Winning Proposal MDH Square 3XN, Copenhagen Principal architects, Kim Herforth Nielsen and Jan Ammundsen 3XN-1

The winning proposal, MDH Square by 3XN, was selected for its strong conceptual interpretation of movement and energy combined with an inventive solution to the functional complexities of the program. ‘Flow’ (Swedish Flöde) is the central theme in the MDH Square proposal. Starting from the exterior, three captivating entrances draw people into the university from different orientations connecting internally on varying levels to a large, spatially dynamic public space. Intersecting staircases and creatively divided multi-functional gradations energize the space, encouraging interaction and movement. There is an openness and transparency that invite the visitor to participate and explore. A principal staircase threads gracefully up through the building, incorporating both the interior and exterior with intentionally placed landings around the building, which provide vistas over the city as well as connections with the interactive interior spaces. The design also demonstrates a convincing simplicity in the internal organization of the facilities, providing flexibility while at the same time addressing the necessity for an orderly solution to the program. On the exterior, the 1930’s bathhouse building is exemplarily integrated in with the new structure using the strong compositional window patterns of the original building to influence the more pixelated arrangement on the new façade. The result is two buildings of vastly different ages, function and design playing off each other to create a whole which is greater than the sum of the two parts. Both the jury and city officials felt the proposal provided a comprehensive solution to the needs of the school and the city’s desire for a signature building in its urban core. -GM


Images © 3XN (click to enlarge)


Finalist Campus V 2.0 Juul/Frost, Copenhagen Frost-1b Campus 2.0 elegantly subsumes itself into the urban fabric of the city with its contextual scale and proportions. The volume of the new building creates a defined dialog with the existing bathhouse, exhibiting an aesthetically sympathetic relationship. A rational, structural division of the façade combined with playful components creates an interesting complexity and succeeds in addressing the different orientations of the building. However, despite these honorable achievements, the proposal lacks a critical dynamic quality. The interior communication fails to provide a focal meeting area that is essential in order to orient and accommodate the large number of people using the building. The layout is organized around the four disciplines, which compromises the long-term flexibility and efficiency the MDH program demands. A single, understated entrance on the north façade further disengages the students and faculty from the surrounding urban environment. –Jury Report

Frost-1 Frost-6 Frost-5 Frost-4 Frost-3 Frost-2Images © Juul/Frost (click to enlarge)


Finalist The Academic Quarter Arkitema Architects, Stockholm Arkitema-1 The Academic Quarter divides the the proposed university building into smaller scaled volumes, for what the jury can only believe, is to create a viable dialogue with the bath house. This architectural expression signals a typology more closely associated with smaller housing units, which in actuality, seems to achieve the opposite by the separation of the neighboring bath house. The building’s composition suggests an entirely different function, thus giving no indication of the academic interactions of higher education occurring within. The jury was unable to find a reasonable motive for breaking the volume into eight smaller parts, which significantly compromises the flexibility of the space. A fundamental linking structure in the layout, needed to support the program, is also lacking. On the positive side, the ground floor achieves the prerequisite for openness, flow and movement and the communication elements (stairs, elevators, hallways) are well designed and strategically placed, encouraging movement and use. The circulation between the existing building and the new is commendable, but does not compensate for the larger shortcomings. –Jury Report

Arkitema-1bArkitema-6 Frost-6Arkitema-5 Arkitema-4 Arkitema-2

Images © Arkitema (click to enlarge)


Finalist The Chain of Knowledge White Architects, Stockholm Principal architect, Sara Grahn White-1b The Chain of Knowledge is in sync with the urban environment in a sympathetic manner by virtue of a consciously chosen human scale—corresponding to the existing scale of the riverfront. Architecturally, the proposal is eclectic and complicated with too many volumes sending different messages. The perception of the proposal is a patchwork of numerous, distinctive additions that have occurred over time, thus failing to create a strong identity and presence. The proposal also fails to build any meaningful relationship with the bathhouse, and the ambition to create a more human scale has compromised the intention and integrity of the concept. The complexity and disorder of the exterior composition penetrates into the interior with little organization, orientation or familiarity to work with. The 11-story structure to the south is practical from a programmatic standpoint; however, the relatively small footprint of the floors creates an inefficient use of space. –Jury Report

White-1 White-3White-2White-4White-6White-5Images © White Architects (click to enlarge)



Finalist In dialogue Wingårdh Architectural Office, Gothenburg Principal architects, Gert Wingårdh, Jonas Edblad and Petter Hauffman Mälarden-1b In Dialogue takes inspiration from existing prominent buildings along the river, designed as independent, solitary structures with clear intentions of purpose. The jury, however, found the composition and repetitive window pattern along much of the façades as more of a reference common to commercial and/or office buildings, ignoring the need for originality as a strategy to arrive at a ‘stand alone’ design. They also found the proposal to have disengaged itself from the bathhouse, the only existing link being on the second story in the form of an unconvincing ‘bath ring.’ The interior dialogue between the buildings is more successful with a bamboo conservatory acting as alternative classroom space and occupying much of the bathhouse. The jury, however, found it unfortunate that the conservatory was not intended for public use, thus removing the historic bathhouse from public interaction. In addition, the conservatory would inhabit much of the main floor of the bathhouse, creating unnecessary constraints to the program. –Jury Report

Mälarden-1 Mälarden-2 Mälarden-3
Mälarden-4Mälarden-5 Mälarden-6
Images © Wingårdh (click to enlarge)


Finalist Campus Tower Eskilstuna Christensen & Co, Copenhagen Principal architects, Michael Christensen and Håkan Sandhagen Christensen & Co-6b In terms of enhancing the Eskilstuna cityscape, Campus Tower Eskildstuna presents an attractive and bold signature building which elegantly frees itself from the bathhouse using its size and scale. The height of the proposal is what provides the link between the new and the old. The structure’s extended composition is appealing yet it is questionable if the tower concept is relevant for the University. The area around the tall structure is too small to add substance to the functional program housed within the tower and the proposal fails to show flexibility. Through skillful handling of the volume’s distribution of scale, Campus Tower Eskilstuna, provides a central, sun-lit and sheltered outdoor space leading to generous entrances into the school. The public outdoor area provides the architectural fabric to weaves the urban environment into the academic institution. The proposal traditional solution, however, focuses too heavily on verticality than the significance of the ground floors as an arena for urban activity. –Jury Report

 Christensen & Co-1 Christensen & Co-2 Christensen & Co-3 Christensen & Co-4 Christensen & Co-5 Christensen & Co-6

Images © Christensen & Co (click to enlarge)

*As is usually the case in Scandinavia, open as well as invited competitions are normally limited to Scandinavian-based architecture firms. All of the Nordic countries have lent their support to this system, which has often produced remarkable architecture. On the other hand, by favoring Scandinavian architects, non-Scandinavian architects find it difficult to gain access to these markets when competitions are the gate of entry.  


Gretchen Peterson Milliken, an architect and city planner, is currently the Director of Advanced Planning for Louisville Metro Government. She received her Masters of Architecture from The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH) and spent the following two decades working across a broad range of project types including mixed-use, workplace design, private residential, adaptive reuse and urban planning and design. She has led or collaborated on numerous projects, which have received honor awards along with national recognition. In addition to her work as an architect, she was an associate professor at KTH. Gretchen is a member of both the American and Swedish Institute of Architects.