Long Study Week – Sweden/Finland

Two weeks ago, DIS had the second study week where the other half of students, me being part of that group, traveled with their core course.


One of the goals for this week was to look at the different manufacturers of high quality wooden furniture. Our first stop was at the Ikea Museum to understand how and why Ikea started. It was fascinating to learn about the different eras of design through Ikea and to learn how long it took to expand around the world.

We then stopped by Gemla – a Swedish furniture manufacturer – who specialize in solid bent wood. Their processes take steam softened wood and then using specialized machines, bend that wood into the final forms. Some of the wood though is lost to cracking due to the stress exerted on the outside of the curves.

On Tuesday we toured Swedese manufactures. Unlike Gemla, they used wood veneer laminates to ensure adequate bending for their pieces of furniture. Their famous piece is the Lamina chair which uses 14 different techniques to be constructed: some include lamination, bending, and then the final sheep skin upholstery. Swedese uses an electronic pulse to cure their glue once the form has been reached.

When in Stockholm we went to the Möbeldesignmuseum, a collection of 300 different furniture pieces from many different designers form different eras. One of the oldest chairs they had was a Charles Rennie MacKintosh, a Scottish architect and furniture designer. One of their rotating exhibits was women designers. Many people compliment Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, however if one looks at his furniture before and after his relationship with Lilly Reich, his furniture during the relationship has a distinctly different quality. During this time the Barcelona chair was designed and thus begs the question, did Reich actually design much of the chair?

Once we got to Finland we toured A-Factory, where furniture designed by Alvar Aalto are still produced to this day. Again, steam bending is a huge part of the design process, however they use solid wood that is then cut and filled with laminates to help with the curve. This is a distinct style that I feel helps greatly with the overall design of legs and strength of the wood.


Swedish and Finnish Architecture are massively different than most other architecture.

We started at St. Peter’s church in southern Sweden which brings brick architecture to a whole new level: not a single brick was cut in the entire project. This is against what most bricklayers have, as the half brick is used in many different applications. The idea behind this was the not everyone is perfect and God uses the whole of a person in His plan.

In Stockholm we toured the Woodland Cemetery – one of the first large scale planned cemeteries. A internation contest to design the cemetery was released in 1915, so, because of WWI, mainly Swedish designers submitted. The winners were Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Asplund finalized and completed the last part of the design in 1940 once enough money had been raised.

In Finland we got the chance to tour Aalto’s Sanatorium. A center for treating patients, Aalto designed it to achieve the goals of tuberculosis; fresh air, sunlight and breathing. Everything down to the furniture was designed to ensure adequate ‘recovery’. It was for this building that the classic Aalto chair was designed.

One of the coolest places we got to tour was Aalto’s home and studio. Both his first and second wife were architects and designers as well and they contributed greatly to Finnish design. Aino Aalto is arguably the more famous of the two and worked greatly with glass and furniture.


In Stockholm, we toured the Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a 1600’s ship that sank in the Stockholm harbor after only sailing 1500 meters on its maiden voyage. You can read more about it in my Stockholm blog.

From Stockholm we got to take an overnight cruise to Turku, Finland. We lucked out and got exterior facing cabins and only two person rooms. As it was my first cruise I had been on, I wanted to explore all the decks. Once we got to the top deck and outside in the freezing air, we looked out and saw (in the blackness) trees that looked to be only a couple hundred meters away. The channels were narrow! Sadly, because this was an overnight cruise, we boarded after sunset and arrived just at sunrise, so no pretty views…

In Helsinki we got to spend a dinner at one of the harbor saunas, and then spend an hour in the saunas. Having not really done saunas before, I was surprised with how hot they got. One of the saunas was decently hot when we got there and two older gentleman wanted to impress us with how hot they could withstand, so they added another six scoops of water. It was blistering! We couldn’t breathe through our nose or mouth without feeling the searing pain of hot steam, we left soon after. To cool off, the sauna had a heated walkway down to the harbor so that one could jump in. I jumped in three times, and each time it was: jump right in, find the ladder, get right back out.

Our last stop before leaving for the airport was to the Kiasma Museum. Here we saw one of the coolest exhibitions. Of the four portraits below, which one is not a humanoid robot?

Pictures from the trip can be viewed here.

Published by Josiah

I am a 21 year old studying architecture and applied mathematics at Cal Poly in SLO. I am spending a full school year abroad in Copenhagen studying architecture at DIS

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