SWEDEN ON THE POTOMAC
The New House of Sweden fi nally glows on Washington's waterfront and Sweden's King and Queen are coming to dedicate it - no wonder Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund and his wife Kari Lotsberg are smiling. Photography By Gary Landsman By Gail Scott
The new House of Sweden, the first foreign embassy to ever be built on the Washington waterfront, is finally open. And to add to the romance, Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia will soon be here to officially inaugurate this handsome, long glass building that glows in the dark. The tale of the House of Sweden is also a love story of two people from different countries who have created a family, impressive careers and a happy marriage despite the never ending demands of diplomacy, government and politics and constant complications of living on different continents. Perhaps you already have met them, Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund and Kari Lotsberg, his wife, who is Norwegian by birth, Swedish by passport, a dedicated mother and a well-known economist.
They climb mountains together, cross country ski as far as they can go and then hike to Kari's family "hut" in the Norwegian woods, above the timberline. There to greet them: no running water or electricity. Often, no one else either. Their three kids won't come there anymore; they call it "punishment" to spend their vacations at the family's 300 year-old "hytte" (or "stuga" in Swedish). But to these two, still obviously in love after 26 years, it's a special time to renew themselves and grab some quiet time together. But quiet isn't what they'll have this month in Washington.
"The King and Queen immediately agreed to come," said Lund of the upcoming royal inaugural festivities October 21-23 for Sweden's impressive glass house. "The House of Sweden does demonstrate what importance we place on this city and our long relationship with the United States. We were prepared to go out of our way by erecting such a piece of beauty." After decades of dreaming but losing complicated issues with Washington's zoning boards, neighborhood councils and its own National Property Board to build on Embassy Row and then, on a skinny piece of land between Thompson's Boat House and Washington Harbour, Sweden has finally won. [See House of Sweden's Saga.] This spectacular showcase on the Potomac was well worth the wait. Although Lund oversaw the financing for the House of Sweden as the Swedish cabinet minister with responsibility for international economic and financial affairs, he was delighted when he actually saw the finished product.
"It feels familiar but it does impress me; I am still surprised and pleased that with so much glass and stone, it is not cold but inviting, with the wood so dominant that there's a warm glow," says Lund. The building, which houses the chancery and private offices (which are available for rent alongside Volvo and Saab), cost a half billion Swedish crowns, or approximately US$80 million, making it Sweden's most expensive chancery and its biggest bilateral mission in the world. Swedish architects Gert Wingårdh and Tomas Hansen won the transatlantic competition to create "the crown jewel" of Sweden's embassies. Along with the chancery, there is exhibition space, 19 corporate offices, a high-tech business event center and a roof garden. Swedish Interior Designer Ingegerd Råman made all the difference by weaving warmth, style and whimsy throughout. After a delay moving in (would you believe a flood), Lund and his staff of 50 are finding it easy to get used to "postcard" views from their office windows, riding up and down the sexy, seethrough elevator and walking through a waterfall to go to lunch in Georgetown.
Lund, a self-proclaimed "exercise freak," has already requested a sports shower, changing room and storage for the canoe, kayak and shell he plans to buy for the staff to exercise on the Potomac. Of course, he'll be the first one out there. His wife, who kept busy commuting across the Atlantic all last year when their daughter Ingrid was still in school in Stockholm, finally moved into the Nebraksa Ave. N.W., residence just in time for the long Labor Day weekend. But 15-year old Ingrid and her cousin Ida arrived earlier to attend Washington International School this fall. The girls brought Ninni, the family black lab with them to Washington, and that changed everything. "We have two homes and I commute between them," Lotsberg says, "But the moment Ingrid moved in with our family dog, America became more our home base."
Their 22-year old son, Gustav, is studying Mathematics and Physics at the University of Uppsala and 19-year old Harald was accepted this fall at the University of Lund to study Bio-medicine. But Lotsberg feels that living apart some of the time has turned out in a very positive way for their family. "The distances give us all an incentive to find occasions when we can spend time together. In some ways, we are a closer knit family than we might have been if we all stayed in different cities in Sweden. Then, when the kids came home to Stockholm for holidays, they'd be out with their old friends." Now, their boys as well as their girlfriends already have tickets to come for two weeks this Christmas like they all did last year. "The kids, to my joy, very much want to see the family brought together. This is something we win despite our choice to be based in two continents with a big ocean in between."