Right-wing Sweden Democrats using architecture to push “traditional nationalism” say Front

Stockholm design studio Front has expressed concerns that the far-right Sweden Democrats, which following Sweden‘s general election is the country’s second-biggest party, is appropriating the country’s cultural heritage.

“They’re very interested in the expression of some kind of traditional nationalism,” Front co-founder Sofia Lagerkvist told Dezeen. “So their thing is all about architecture, weirdly. There shouldn’t be any more concrete boxes – that kind of rhetoric.”

Designers “embarrassed” by rise of Sweden Democrats

The party recently proposed a scheme under which wooden buildings constructed in a traditional Swedish vernacular style would not require planning permission, in a bid to increase construction and solve the country’s housing shortage.

“It’s this traditional red-and-white house that looks like it’s 200 years old,” explained Front’s other founder Anna Lindgren. “They’re saying this is a house that could be built everywhere because it looks good and it’s Swedish.”

One in five Swedes voted for the Sweden Democrats (SD) in the national election on 11 September, turning what was once a fringe movement with neo-Nazi connections into the second biggest party in Sweden.

While 73 parliamentary seats don’t garner the party a majority, the SD will now either become part of a coalition government or hold significant sway over any legislative decisions made in parliament, upsetting Sweden’s longstanding reputation as a beacon of progressive ideals.

“I’m embarrassed,” Lagerkvist said. “I thought we were all a united country, with people standing for a certain type of values.”

“Politics is reflected in architecture”

Although the SD have attempted to extricate themselves from their neo-Nazi roots since first entering the Swedish parliament in 2010, a recent report found that more than 200 of the party’s candidates from the last five elections can still be linked to right-wing extremism.

At this month’s national election, the party campaigned based on a 30-point plan to make Sweden the toughest country in the EU on immigration.

Top: Front is formed of Anna Lindgren and Sofia Lagerkvist. Photo is by Kvadrat. Above: the SD’s housing proposal was published in an opinion piece for newspaper Aftonbladet

This nationalist rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with the party’s focus on traditional housing and even clothing, Front told Dezeen at the unveiling of an installation the studio created for Kvadrat as part of London Design Festival.

“It’s interesting how that type of politics is reflected in architecture, like all the ideas Hitler had about aesthetics and banning certain types of expression,” Lagerkvist said. “I’m not saying they are in any way close to that extreme. But from a design point of view, I think it’s really interesting.”

“When the Sweden Democrats first came into parliament 12 years ago, they all came dressed in traditional folk clothing,” she added. “For them, aesthetics is very important.”

Election result could politicise “cultural heritage”

Although the SD cannot influence what projects will receive government grants, Lagerkvist and Lindgren believe that the party’s rise to power could trigger an anti-traditionalist movement among liberal Swedish designers and architects.

“In the 80s, the Swedish flag was connected to the far right, just like the English flag was,” Lagerkvist said. “But then it was sort of reclaimed.”

“Now, it could be that the overall attitude sways in the other direction,” she added. “It could become more problematic to work with cultural heritage expressions.”

Right-wing politicians favouring traditional architecture styles is also a trend in other countries including the US, where Donald Trump used his last days in office to issue an executive order that new federal buildings should be considered “beautiful” and ideally designed in the classical style.

Architectural historians argue that this kind of ideology, famously espoused by British critic Roger Scruton, has resulted in brutalist buildings across the world being demolished due to their associations with the “post-war welfare state”.

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