American architects aren't the only ones who face tough design review boards. Sweden's Gert Wingårdh can attest to that. “The site was governed by some very strict rules,” he says of the seaside house he created for two pharmaceutical executives in Göteborg, on the country's western coast. Local ordinances cap all new houses at just one story and forbid roof pitches higher than 7 over 12. Although these stipulations achieve a noble result—preserving water views for all residents—they can make satisfying the client's program all the more challenging.

Fortunately for Wingårdh's clients, he and colleagues Karin Wingårdh, Danuta Nielsen, and Joakim Lyth found a way to make the project work within the community's guidelines. They did it by blasting out part of the rocky, sloped site and embedding the house into centuries-old layers of granite. Because the craggy, cottage-dotted landscape stretches out to the north, east, and south, they designed a V-shaped floor plan for sight lines in every direction. “The plan was dictated by the site, by where the nice views are and to avoid disturbing the views from other houses,” Wingårdh says. By nestling the open end of the “V” into the hillside and tapering the rooflines according to the slope of the land, they eked out enough vertical space for three stories—a top-floor office loft, a main level, and a below-grade bedroom level. Nowhere on the site does the home rise more than one floor above the ground level at that particular spot, so technically the project conforms to the single-story requirement. “It was sort of bending the rules,” Gert Wingårdh admits. Their maneuverings also led to the home's most striking feature: the naturally occurring walls of rock that penetrate the master bathroom and lounge.

Such a rugged setting required an equally strong structure, so Wingårdh chose concrete for the house's frame. Lightweight, watertight foam glass insulation retains heat during the frigid Swedish winters, and a coat of plaster over it provides extra durability. Pre-patinated velvety black copper shingles clad the building. A ring of crushed limestone surrounds the foundation to neutralize any copper ions contained in the runoff from rain and snowstorms. Inside, radiant heat keeps the locally grown ash floors toasty, and carefully placed windows let precious sunlight pierce deep into each room.

As head of a 112-person firm with offices in Stockholm, Sweden, and Göteborg, Win-gårdh doesn't always have the time to focus on custom houses during regular business hours, so he designed this one over a series of weekends and vacations. “I like to have one villa I can focus on every year,” he says of his moonlighting. “I do it because it's interesting to me.”


Villa Astrid, Göteborg, Sweden


Wingårdh Architects, Göteborg

general contractor:

Bergman & Höök, Göteborg

structural engineer:

FB Engineering, Göteborg

landscape architect:

NOD, Stockholm, Sweden

project size:

4,090 square feet

site size:

0.2 acre

construction cost:

$339 per square foot


James Silverman

first floor second floor