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SAS headquarter Frösundavik in 1986.
SAS headquarter Frösundavik in 1986.

Aviation

1980s: SAS gets a new home

More than 130 architecture firms competed for the contract to design SAS’s new headquarter. Norwegian Niels Torp got it.

In 1985, SAS’s CEO Jan Carlzon announced that the airline would move its Swedish operations under the same roof in Frösundavik in Stockholm. The new building was also going to be the airline’s new headquarter.

“We need a new headquarter. We currently have operations in 26 different buildings and anyone can understand that it’s cost-efficient to bring them all together,” he said, according to Swedish Expressen, in February 1985.

It didn’t hurt that it was 1985, and that the Swedish economy was riding sky-high (no pun intended).

In the final stage, there were eleven bids by ten firms - one Norwegian firm had two bids in the final - including one from Ralph Erskine, a British-born renowned architect famous for his big works in Sweden and his native UK. He had, for example, designed the Byker Wall Estate in Newcastle and the Stockholm University Library.

The winner, however, came from Norway. Niels Torp, a second-generation architect, presented a design that took its inspiration from the Norwegian fjords, and combined several low, four-story buildings with a glass-covered indoor street, with cafés and shops, and a barbershop, along it. All in all, the building has 54,000 square meters of space, 30,000 of it office space.

Frösundavik from above in the 1980s.

Torp’s design was in stark contrast with some of the other bids that, for example, included Danish Henning Larsen’s design with two skyscrapers. Torp’s white low buildings are barely visible from the highway just 200 meters west of the building. Located next to a Baltic Sea bay that’s more like an inland lake, the white building is barely visible from the other side of the bay, melting into its environment, which includes one of Stockholm’s major recreational parks, Hagaparken, just south of the SAS building.

While the Torp bid beat the others even when it came to its budget, the design also appealed to the SAS management, especially you Jan Carlzon who had had brought the customer-first attitude to the company and whose management style focused on empowering the SAS employees. His book on his management philosophy, “Tear down the pyramids”, had become a best seller in 1985, and the SAS building was concrete evidence on how he planned to generate informal meetings between people in different positions and functions in the company.

That was one of the reasons the skyscrapers didn’t fare well in the competition. Lower, Scandinavian buildings were a better symbol for the flat organization Carlson was trying to build. The glass-covered street that joins the different buildings was where the employees gathered both when they enter the building and during their lunch hours and other breaks.

“These guys have understood our needs completely,” Carlson told Dagens Nyheter.

“The customer is number one for SAS and we’re just here to produce a service, and we do it in a discreet environment that supports our [brand] identity,” he added.

The building was finished in 1987 - after and despite Danish protests against having the company headquarters in Sweden - and about 2,000 employees from corporate management, IT, and training departments moved in.

The front desk at Frösundavik in March 1989.

In 2007, CEO Mats Jansson announced plans to move the headquarters to the Arlanda airport after the airline had sold the Frösundavik building to Nordisk Renting four years earlier for SEK 1.1 billion and had continued to rent the space instead.

After six years at Arlanda, SAS moved back to Frösundavik in 2013. 

Last edited: December 14, 2016

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