Kerstin Gåsste was an architect who had a major impact on the struggle to develop a housing policy which was based on the principle that women’s entry into the employment market created demands for new types of housing.
Kerstin Gåsste was born in Hudiksvall in 1928. Her father, Henrik Adolf Andersson, was a public-school teacher. Her mother, Anna Katharina Andersson, née Svensson, had grown up on a large farm. Kerstin Gåsste was a keen pupil who particularly excelled in the natural sciences. Her desire to design and paint was encouraged by her drawing instructor who also encouraged her to aspire to become an architect. Her father, however, thought it unnecessary to fund that kind of training, in the expectation that Kerstin Gåsste would inevitably get married. Her mother, in contrast, was proud of her and encouraged her daughter’s career aspirations.
On gaining acceptance to the architectural course at Kungliga Tekniska högskolan (now KTH, Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm Kerstin Gåsste found an inspiring mentor in the shape of Professor Nils Ahrbom. Nevertheless, they did not completely see eye-to-eye. For her degree piece Kerstin Gåsste wanted to design a building which provided communal living accommodation, but this type of multiple occupancy building was not considered architecturally important at that time. Nils Ahrbom thus discouraged her from working on that project, suggesting instead the more suitable task of designing a church. Kerstin Gåsste then entered a competition to design a church in Skoghall, in which her proposal came in third place. She went on to win several more prizes through the years, primarily for innovative approaches within housing.
Kerstin Gåsste was one of the pioneering female architects of her day and she paved the way to introducing new perspectives on house construction. During the 1953 to 1993 period she designed homes and residential areas, mainly on behalf of Hyresgästernas sparkasse- och byggnadsföreningen (HSB, tenant-owner cooperative housing association). Her artistic intentions, technical and financial skills as well as her consideration for everyday practical needs successfully served as her tools for creating the framework for people’s accommodation needs, adapted to all of life’s stages. Prioritising flexibility in housing planning enabled her to involve residents in designing their living spaces. This also extended to housing which embraced diversity. During her 40-year career as a professional architect Kerstin Gåsste designed many thousand homes. She showed how construction could accommodate the everyday housing needs of professional working women.
Kerstin Gåsste never felt professionally obstructed simply due to her sex. At the age of 25, barely a year after graduating, she was already one of ten group leaders working at the HSB architectural offices. Immediately after her studies she became employed at a landscape planning office which lent her out to HSB for a competition proposal. HSB won the competition and the office completed the winning proposal and it was at that point she became group leader.
One of her important contributions was the HSB Borohus toolkit. This design had also been a winning entry in a 1961 summer house competition run by Allt i hemmet: hus, hem, trädgård, mat, fritid. Boro’s summer houses were constructed during the 1961 to 1964 period. Kerstin Gåsste lived in one of these houses herself during her spare time. The toolkit she designed comprised elements in which the sky was the limit in terms of how they were used. Different models could almost be put together like puzzle pieces.
Kerstin Gåsste’s son, Jan, was born in 1966 and they lived in a multiple-family home which she herself had designed. She described that: “There were four families with children in the house who cooperated in providing childcare and running the household. The children were often together. We cooked together and helped each other out in various ways. Any potential childminding issues I might have were resolved thanks to this and kindergarten”.
Kerstin Gåsste tried to reduce the huge differences between living in a house and apartment living. The flexible terraced housing constructed between 1977–1978 in Bäckby, Västerås contributed both to new thinking and discussion. These houses became a model for multi-family housing where the residents could choose their own floor designs and have access to a pleasant outdoor space.
In 1979 Kerstin Gåsste opened her own offices whilst still retaining a good relationship with HSB. In 1983 her first communal accommodation building was erected, a 30-apartment construction named Blomstret, in Gävle. Shortly thereafter Prästgården, another communal-living building which comprised 50-apartments in Älvsjö, was built on behalf of HSB. Study groups of 7–8 people were set up to take on a role in in the planning process and be involved in various areas. This building still exists and now forms part of a larger complex. Another two similar buildings were erected in Järfälla and Märstadal. Nowadays, however, they have been converted into standard rental apartments.
During the final years of her professional life Kerstin Gåsste largely focused on housing for the elderly. Primarily this entailed small-scale housing units for groups of people, often situated in already-established residential areas. These senior citizen apartments were supplied with guest accommodation. In this, just as in all her architectural designs, she naturally began with the furnishing plan and analysis before the main plans were formalised. This careful approach reveals that Kerstin Gåsste envisioned housing as integral to a good life lived in good conditions.
Kerstin Gåsste summarised her career like this in an interview in 1991: “What makes being an architect fundamentally interesting to me is the combination of aesthetics, social engagement, and constructive technology that it encompasses. Sometimes all these elements conjoin in a synthesis. At that point it is a fine thing to be an architect”.
Kerstin Gåsste died in February 2019. She is buried at the Woodland cemetery in Stockholm.