A cool, innovative sandwich construction back in the 60’s – Villa Spies

For over sixty years Diab has been at the leading edge of composite core material development with successful projects all over the world. Diab origin is early 50’s with own production of Divinycell starting in Sweden 1960. Back then sandwich construction was mostly used in marine applications like pleasure boats and use of the material in other applications was just in the beginning of development.

Villa Spies was the most experimental villas in the sixties in Sweden, a futuristic, hedonistic summerhouse designed in 1967 by the young Swedish architect Staffan Berglund for the wealthy Danish visionary and business genius Simon Spies. It is located on the crest of a rock at Torö, Sweden, overlooking the ocean and the archipelago that surrounds Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. 

Villa Spies goes back to an architectural competition initiated by Spies travel company in 1967. Invited were a number of architects from Scandinavia and Spain. The project was to create new forms of accommodation for charter tourists in Spain instead of the traditional and simply designed hotel rooms. Swedish architect Staffan Berglund won the competition with a single-plan type house that showed a circular building with a dome-shaped roof. The walls were flexible and the kitchen would be equipped with disposable cutlery and plates, among other things. The family on vacation could, if desired, buy ready-made food through the travel agency.

The project was never realized, possibly the Spaniards realized that prefabricated type houses did not provide any local work. But instead Staffan Berglund was given the task of designing Simon Spies own private villa on a high shelf on western Torö. Staffan contacted his “dream team” to help him with the special functions and to realize the circular roof of the house. Thorkild Rand, professor in aeroplane technology at KTH calculates the design of the sandwich roof. Anders Liljefors, Architect & light expert, does the lighting. Jan Dranger and Mats Huldt, Interior architects and furniture designers works with the interior. Thorkild at KTH contacted Diab for the core material need. Our driven and technical skilled CEO and founder Bertil Diedrichs then became personally very engaged in the project.
The roof is a self-supporting dome consisting of prefabricated elements in glassfibre-reinforced plastic; a sandwich structure with two layers of fiberglass, estm. 5 mm on each side of a Divinycell core (H45) estm. 90 mm thick, total 100 mm. In the center of the roof, a light dome lets in daylight. The dome roof was delivered in triangular segments that could be lifted in place by two men. No cranes were needed. The house was built in three months only. The plastic roof delayed the municipality’s building permit, it was feared that sea storms could lift off and blow it away, but accurate calculations by KTH proved the opposite.

One of the features of the villa is a round dining room in the middle of the house that can be raised and lowered between the floors. At the push of a button, the seating area is lowered to the kitchen in the lower level or raised at the top under the roof of the dome, where guests can enjoy the view. Other technological innovations include electric darkening of the window panes, adaptation of the indoor environment by changing climate, light and sound and several slide projectors that project images on walls and ceilings. Everything is controlled from a panel in orange-red plastic, recessed into the sofa. Outdoors connect a circular patio and a circular pool as well. From here you have a wonderful view of the Svärdsfjärden. Simon Spies liked his new villa and used it as a holiday home and workplace as well as for conferences and exclusive meetings. The futuristic round house in white was much rewritten in the press when it was ready. 

Today 50 years later we can see architects utilize the benefits from light weight sandwich solutions in many ways especially in roof/dome structures and facades. The long life time of composites has with this Villa Spies project also been proven.


Louise Eriksson Jacka
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