Thermal Aesthetics in Scandinavian Architecture


The objective of this study is to investigate the relationship between architectural form, thermal comfort and thermal aesthetics in Scandinavian architecture toward the goal of assessing how the creative aspects of architecture fit in with the mechanical performance of buildings.

The research will:

1)     Evaluate how Scandinavian architects address thermal aesthetics in their buildings.

2)     Examine the architectural working drawings of the buildings to understand the connection between thermal comfort and building form

3)     Identify criteria for analyzing thermal aesthetics:

a)     Visual Cues- blight/ beauty

b)     Acoustical comfort- too quiet/ too loud

c)      Air movement and Fresh Air- not enough/ too much

d)     Temperature- too cold/ too hot

4)     Document the link between climate and architectural form including natural light, heating, cooling and fresh air.

The study is a continuation of research of Scandinavian sustainable housing conducted in 2003 throughout Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. This original research focused on built work that was identified as “sustainable” and projects were generally built after 1972, when sustainability was first established. The culmination was a research master’s thesis at the University of Washington (MArch) that contributed to a professional career in sustainable architecture.

This proposal seeks to expand this understanding of sustainable Scandinavian architecture by investigating buildings that were designed by eminent Scandinavian architects prior to the global energy crisis of the

1970s. The proposition is that because there is a necessity to heat buildings for a considerable amount of the year, and the level of daylight changes significantly throughout the year, architecture in Scandinavia has evolved as an integrated architecture where the elements of the buildings that keep the occupants warm and comfortable contribute to the high aesthetic quality of the spaces.

By working with Associate Professor in Climate Architecture, Emanuele Naboni at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and Architecture, this study is supported by the Institute of Architectural Technology and connects to the Institute’s ongoing research in the fields of technology, aesthetics and architecture. The Institute will serve as a home base for establishing the historical and climatic context of the buildings through library research, contact with the necessary individuals and institutions for the field research, and promoting a dialog with leaders in the fields of technology, aesthetics and architecture. As the school attracts international professors, researchers and students, this network of global ideas advances the discourse on sustainable architecture. In addition to the Danish Academy of Art and Architecture, the following institutions/ people have been contacted; Eric Gunnar Asplund Architecture Foundation, Sweden; Esa Laaksonen, Alvar Aalto Museum, Finland; VTT Technical Research Center, Finland and Finnish Architect Sami Rintala.

The scope of the research is designed for completion within the five-month period. Five months allows for making proper connections, visiting sites, researching archives, analyzing and circulating the findings. The May through September period is constructive for examining architecture because there is minimal competition for resources (students and staff take vacations in the summer), but buildings are open and operating. Based on experience researching Scandinavian buildings between April and September (2003), this is a sufficient time for study, and accessing the projects is realistic.

The results of the research will be published in an academic paper and may also be assimilated into a book project already underway by Professor Naboni. The work will be incorporated into the Webster University course: Natural Systems and Sustainable Ecologies: Sustainable Living Around the World, scheduled to run in the Autumn of 2013 (International Studies/Global Citizenship Program). Another benefit is advancing architectural skills through greater knowledge of how architects integrate high design with successful mechanical performance. The research serves as a foundation for further academic study at a master’s of Science in Architecture and PhD in Architecture level.

The methodology for the research is mixed, combining qualitative and quantitative techniques and data analysis within different phases of the research process. Through quantitative measurements of the buildings, examination of the architectural drawings, and analysis of related climate and energy data, the study will document the relationship between form and function. ASRAE Standard 55-2010 “Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy” defines the range of indoor thermal environmental conditions acceptable to occupants and establishes a baseline for the quantitative measurements. Qualitative assessments will include historical research and interviews to assess the current opinions and attitudes regarding the performance and aesthetics of the buildings studied.

Fieldwork is at the core of the research because the questions surrounding thermal aesthetics are primarily addressed through physical contact with and analysis of the built work. The drawing archives and experts in the field of Scandinavian architecture are housed in Denmark, Sweden and Finland; therefore the research must be conducted in Scandinavia.

The buildings for study are selected because of their significance as iconic Scandinavian architecture. These projects have been built prior to 1972 and are intentionally chosen for their success prior to the global awareness of energy use in buildings.  Depending on the availability of information and access to the buildings, this list may be adjusted as required to fulfill the requirements of the research.


In Denmark, the works of Arne Jacobsen:

1)     Bellavista residential complex, Klampenborg, Copenhagen (1931–34)

2)     Søllerød Town Hall (with Flemming Lassen), Søllerød, Copenhagen (1938–42)

3)     Århus City Hall (with Erik Møller), Århus (1939–42)

4)     Søholm I (1946–50),[12] II[17] and III[18] terraced houses, Klampenborg

5)     Munkegaard School, Copenhagen (1957)

and Alvar Aalto:

6)     Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Aalborg, (1958–1972)


In Sweden, the works of Gunnar Asplund:

7)     Lister County Courthouse (1919 – 1921)

8)     The City Library of Stockholm (1920 – 1928)

9)     The Extension to Gothenburg Townhall(1913 – 1937)


and Alvar Aalto:

10)   Building for Västmanland-Dala nation, Uppsala, Sweden (1963–1965)

In Finland, the works of Alvar Aalto:

11)   Paimio Sanatorium, Tuberculosis sanatorium, Paimio (1928–1929)

12)   Säynätsalo Town Hall, Säynätsalo (1949–1952)

13)   Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo (1949–1966)


Sustainability as it relates to architecture is barely a forty-year-old discipline, yet it is at the fore of the architectural profession, academic institutions, and governments because buildings use more than 40% of global energy. The majority of energy is consumed by providing light and thermal comfort to occupants. The invention of complex mechanical and electrical systems has derived from the supply of cheap energy and building form is no longer directly related to thermal comfort. Looking at the works of Arne Jacobsen, Gunnar Asplund and Alvar Aalto through the lens of sustainability, and asking how the creative aspects of their architecture fit in with the mechanical performance of their buildings, we can advance our skills as architects. As architects tackle the complexities of sustainable architecture, it is fundamental to understand an integrated design approach, one that assures high quality thermal aesthetics are integrated successfully into architectural form.