Sweden's World of Volvo Timber Building Celebrates the Right to Roam

Henning Larsen deliver a great example of how architecture and building have evolved.

World of Volvo rendering exterior photo with people outside

Henning Larsen / KVANT-1

The World of Volvo is currently under construction in Gothenburg, Sweden. It promises to be a "unique experience center and meeting place" for Volvo Cars and the Volvo Group when it opens in 2024. Architecture studio Henning Larsen revealed the design for the circular timber structure and there are a number of remarkable things about it.

The most obvious is the glorious use of wood, with giant glue-laminated (glulam) tree-like continuous columns and beams topped with CLT slabs.

What Is CLT?

It's an acronym for cross-laminated timber, a form of mass timber developed in Austria in the 1990s. It's made of several layers of solid dimension lumber such as 2X4s laid flat and glued together in layers in alternating directions.

"Computer-controlled fabrication allows the curved glulam pieces to be cut with a high degree of precision," said Henning Larsen. "Rigidity and continuity in the structure is guaranteed with metal connectors that can be hidden inside the wooden members."

Plan of World of Volvo

Henning Larsen

The main building is set on a "mountain" with three "trees" that contain exhibition spaces. The interior blends smoothly with the outdoors, with "floor-to-ceiling glass façades creating a seamless transition into the sprawling nature beyond."

The tree-shaped structure in the middle of building

Henning Larsen / KVANT-1

Perhaps counterintuitively—given how damaging cars and their supportive infrastructure have been to the natural environment—it's all about embracing Swedish nature.

"The reference to nature in the arcing 'branches' and roof 'canopy' is by design, with the concept for the structure centered around the idea of The Mountain (the landscape and building’s base) and The Tree (the building itself.) The large landscape that surrounds the building brings the nature of Sweden to the center of Gothenburg, covering the area in delicate flowers and native plants that bloom between, rocky outcroppings and meandering paths. And just like in the landscapes across the country, visitors are encouraged to inhabit the landscape however they like, keeping in mind the principle of allemansrätten: leave no trace."
World of Volvo exterior shot

Hennig Larsen / KVANT1

The reference to the Swedish concept of allemansrätten is interesting in light of recent discussions on Treehugger regarding the right to roam, which attracted dozens of comments complaining about property rights and socialism. Henning Larsen actually designed this building around these principles, breaking down the boundaries between inside and out, private and public, and free and paid.

Henning Larsen states:

World of Volvo is designed around the Swedish concept of “Allemansrätten”, denoting the fundamental right that all citizens share to nature: the right to roam freely on any land (public or private), showing consideration for nature and for others. This tenet has become not just a right, but a central part of the Swedish ethos and one that lives in citizens, businesses, and organisations alike—Volvo included.
 The circular form of World of Volvo, encompassing both care of nature and consideration for people, encourages visitors to make their own experience both inside and outside, regardless of whether they hold tickets to the exhibitions inside.

“Our goal was to give form to something very essential to the Swedish spirit. World of Volvo’s circular form, the timber materiality, its integration with the landscape, and, fundamentally, its openness – these things are all parts of a core collective identity,” said Martin Stenberg Ringnér, associate design director at Henning Larsen.

These things are actually possible.

night shot of building by highway

Henning Larsen / KVANT-1

Of course, it is next to a major highway and designed so that "travellers will catch a high-speed glimpse of the project’s tilted roof and exhibitions inside." But this also demonstrates another thing about Henning Larsen's presentation of this building: extraordinary photo-realistic renderings. As someone who has watched the technology's development over the last few decades, I can attest these are remarkable, as are many others in the portfolio of Norwegian firm KVANT-1.

Editor and conservationist Kevin Kelly recently listed 103 bits of advice, with one being, “The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.” I am also not-so-young and I am still being astonished by changes in the architecture profession and the industry, many of which can be found in this building. We have computer-generated presentation technology that didn’t exist, materials like CLT that didn’t exist, cut with computerized tools that didn’t exist—all delivering stunning buildings that probably couldn’t have existed. These are incredible times for architecture and Henning Larsen delivers here on so many levels.

To learn more or see the video fly-around of the building, head over to the Volvo Museum site.