Stone cold ambition

by Suzanne Miao on Mar 27, 2015 in Architecture
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An aerial view of Kiruna taken during the summer months, when the sun never sets (Photo courtesy of White Arkitekter)

An aerial view of Kiruna taken during the summer months, when the sun never sets (Photo courtesy of White Arkitekter)

Way up north, inside the Arctic Circle, the city of Kiruna is undergoing one of the biggest urban transformations of our time, moving approximately two miles to the east in a project that is unprecedented in its ambition

On the western border of the city of Kiruna, a vast body of iron ore is being extracted at Kirunavaara, causing deformation and subsidence effects which will soon reach the city's centre. Sweden's state-owned mining company, LKAB, which founded the town in 1900 and is now the largest iron producer in Europe and the greatest energy consumer in Sweden, has therefore undertaken to fund the relocation of the entire city in order to sustain mining activity at Kirunavaara up until the year 2033.

Kiruna's population of about 18,200 is, quite understandably, anxious about the entire project — after all, is it even possible to move a city to a new location and build anew while preserving the unique identity of the city and its residents? The physical challenges of the project are also immense. Located 140 km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, Kiruna is extremely remote. It has a subarctic climate where the sun never sets in summer and never rises in the winter, and temperatures can plummet to -22°C.

It was back in February 2013 that White Arkitekter, working with Ghilardi + Hellsten Arkitekter, won an international competition for a 20-year masterplan of Kiruna's phased relocation by 2033. But, in a direct challenge to the municipality's brief, White is taking a much longer view — it has initiated a 100-year masterplan with the aim of creating a sustainable model city with a diverse economy that is less dependent on the world market for iron ore.

In the first phase of that masterplan, LKAB pledged an investment of €415.5 million for the development of the new town centre. Construction commenced in June last year, with estimated completion in seven years. White's vision will allow the city to 'crawl' to its new home along a new urban belt, focused around the central street of Malmvägen. This will link central Kiruna to the nearby settlements of Lombolo, Tuolluvaara, the airport and the mine at Kirunavaara.

White aims to retain the character of the former Kiruna through the re-use of materials from demolished buildings, while some of the culturally significant built elements, including a historic church, will be relocated unaltered. The old Kiruna will be gradually phased out and once the town becomes more vibrant further to the east, the community will relocate.

A section illustrating what will be the new city centre of Kiruna (Photo courtesy of White Arkitekter)

A section illustrating what will be the new city centre of Kiruna (Photo courtesy of White Arkitekter)

This is a preview of the "Stone cold ambition” article from the April 2015 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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