Finally getting my first chance to see the Swedish construction process in real time made me realize how unimpressive videos can be. I traveled to the town of Norrköping, a typical European looking city thrown into a river. It is known for its industrilandskapet (industry landscape) and the Motala Ström which flows through several dams in the city. The first thing I noticed after getting off the train was a cluster of buildings turned into its very own island–google Norrköping and it is the first thing that comes up.
I had the chance to tour portions of the city before meeting my American contacts. I pulled up google maps and decided to choose the densest part of the city I could find and head there. I stumbled into the mall, Spiralen, and moseyed around some of their stores. Once I was fully aware I wasn’t in the buying mood for clothes or candy, I headed toward the city center. On my way, I started feeling feeling like I was walking in circles because I kept passing the same driving school. I kept checking my phone to make sure I was heading in the right direction and it reaffirmed me that I was. That’s when I realized that Norrköping has to have the highest number of driving schools I have seen in any city. There was a driving school on nearly every block and they greatly outnumbered cafes. At the moment, I am fully unaware of why there are so many, but I’m hoping it had something to do with Volvo’s lobbying efforts.
The next morning, I was up at 5:30 a.m. to head to a build site for a new home outside of Norrköping. We pulled up to the neighborhood and there were cranes and trucks everywhere expanding houses. We were greeted by our extremely friendly contact who was the head builder for the house that day. His team ranged from the ages of 16 – 50 and I realized by the end of the day why this was. When we first arrived, all that stood was a concrete foundation with some wood planks flanking its edges. The workers began using the crane to move some of the internal wall materials onto the foundation. However, things got really interesting when the panelized wall elements started flying into the air. The team clearly had done this many times and it was great to hear Swedish in a very different context. From the first wall being attached to the crane to the final wall being installed, the walls of the house were in place in 1 hour… 1 HOUR. This process could take up to weeks in the US due to constructing the correct wall structure for windows and internal sheathing. All of the team were laughing at how we were marveling over the speed and simplicity of the process. I stepped aside to speak with one of the team members who was a studying engineer and the only female on the team. She explained that she wanted to focus on the construction process within the house factories to make the on-site construction even more efficient. I described the standard US construction style to her and she laughed and left the conversation with the final sentence “You have a lot you could learn from us then”.
The roof came after the walls and this was by far the most time intensive part of the build. Arranging the trusses so they are perfectly vertical and in proper alignment with the walls is a necessary time sink. Like clockwork, the trusses to the house were in place and being fastened at the end of another hour. Quickly thereafter, tongue and groove wood was being nailed to the trusses to enclose the house. Water-proof fabric was placed on top of the roof and then it was finally closed by adding furring strips for adding the roof tiles to. All this was done by 3:30 p.m., all on the same day. It was incredible to remember standing on a concrete surface and then experiencing the enclosed space all in a matter of a few hours difference.