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Waugh Thistleton wins contest for Gotland public housing HQ

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Waugh Thistleton Architects has won an international competition for a new headquarters for the housing association of Gotland in Sweden

The London firm defeated eight rival teams to win the commission to create a new ‘low carbon and low impact’ campus base for GotlandsHem, which owns and manages around 4,600 homes across Sweden’s largest island in the Baltic Sea.

Working collaboratively with local studios In Praise of Shadows and Land Arkitektur, Waugh Thistleton will create a timber-frame structure for the housing association on the fringes of the city of Visby, featuring an open courtyard for the whole community.

The appointment comes just months after the practice narrowly missed out to Dublin’s Grafton Architects in the contest for a new $16 million (£12.5 million) timber design and fabrication facility at the University of Arkansas.

The GotlandsHem project is Waugh Thistleton Architects’ first competition win in Sweden and comes three years after the practice drew up a masterplan for 4,000 new homes in the Stockhold suburb of Arstafaltet.

Architect’s view

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The buildings are an innovative interpretation of a farmstead, typical of the local area. Intimate in scale, and clustered around an open courtyard they create a new neighbourhood which integrates into the emerging district on the outskirts of the city. The design comprises two independent buildings around an expansive garden and combines an unusual mix of uses. Office space for the housing association sits alongside a multifunctional workshop for repairs, temporary accommodation for tenants, business premises which can be used by local start-ups or to house pop up markets or shops, and a gallery and restaurant area, which is open to all.

GotlandsHem’s new building lies on the edge of the city of Visby where the town dissolves into the surrounding countryside. The volumes interact with the city to the north and the agricultural landscape to the south. A new public route which traverses the site provides a pedestrian link between green spaces and community allotments to the east and west.

This semi-open neighbourhood is oriented around a generous courtyard which is protected from the strong prevailing winds, creating an oasis akin to a botanical garden at the heart of the building. This secret garden acts as a break out zone for the workers and visitors during the day, and at night provides shelter for community events such as pop-up cinema screenings, open-air markets and lectures.

The internal and external spaces extend from one to the other, creating a smooth transition between the outside and inside. This is facilitated by the use of a timber structure and natural materials within the spaces, which reflect the colours and textures of the luscious courtyard beyond the building perimeter.

The building is designed as a prefabricated systemised framework of cross-laminated panels and glulam beams. This enables the creation of large span widths and allows for flexibility and future adaptation of the spaces. Five prefabricated façade modules, which relate to the span and height of the structure but are independently applied, ensure that building has endless possibilities and can be adapted as the needs of the association and local community evolve: office space can be repurposed as temporary housing, or increased gallery space with a simple change of façade panel and movement of internal partition walls. Exterior materials are durable, ensuring a minimum of maintenance, providing a beautiful, yet low-cost design which will age gracefully over time – a truly flexible space fit for today and tomorrow.

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