Erik Gardell has a good eye for solid craftsmanship and skilled hands. Growing up on Gotland, he took summer jobs as a carpenter and also studied art. He then began training as an architect at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, before beginning professional life as an architect in the capital. Thanks to various coincidences, Eric returned to the island of his childhood and became involved in an exciting, much-talked-about project – transforming Bungenäs, whose history included both limestone quarrying and military exercises, into an attractive local community.
He has had a fascination for both details and the big picture since the very beginning, and enjoys having fun at work.
"I enjoy using skilled hands to bring parts together to create fine handiwork. I also remember the agreeable atmosphere during my time as a carpenter. Work was fun!”
He took the agreeable atmosphere with him to the architectural sector, where good cooperation with colleagues and suppliers is just as important. Today, Erik is CEO at Skälsö Arkitekter, which has offices in both Visby and Stockholm. The firm was founded in 2010 by entrepreneur Joachim Kuylenstierna, whose father previously served with the military on Gotland. It was Joachim who purchased Bungenäs at Fårösund and resolved to do something special with the area. Through contact with a surfing buddy who had worked with Joachim, Erik joined the group working on the disused installation at an early stage.
The area was home to several impressive buildings that were listed and lovingly and carefully restored. The old limestone storage barn and the high masonry kilns became an art gallery and restaurant. The dining room, where limestone works employees once ate, also received a new lease of life as a restaurant. An underground military bunker became a private home and the general store was restored to life. Nature was also shown respect, and since 2006 parts of Bungenäs are now a nature reserve.
"I see art and architecture as a way of calling things into question and asking how we should proceed. We may not always be right, but we can work on many levels to look beyond the present and find the heart of what we want to achieve. Art is not just for artists nor architecture only for architects. We create surroundings that people live in and use. It can involve everything from door handles to an entire community"
Prizes and international recognition
For their work with Bungenäs, Erik and his colleagues at Skälsö Arkitekter were awarded prestigious prizes such as the 2017 Young Swedish Architecture and the 2017 Villa Prize. The project has also been recognised internationally, and newspapers including the New York Times and Frankfurter Allgemeine paid visits and reported on the fascinating transformation.