Signature Move

A New City Hall in Sweden is Laying the Foundation for a Town's Massive Relocation




The new city hall in Kiruna, Sweden




Kiruna, Sweden

won’t be rebuilt in a day. But the first major milestone for relocating the Arctic mining town made one thing clear: The 18,000 residents are fully invested in driving the vision for a new Kiruna—no matter how long it takes.

The five-year, SEK600 million project to build Kiruna a new city hall was completed in November. It’s part of a massive £1 billion endeavor by the state-owned mining company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) to move the entire city 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) down the road by 2033. The old town is sinking, at risk of being swallowed entirely by the world’s largest underground iron ore mine on which it’s built.

The new city hall was the first of a stream of projects, with 21 existing buildings to be relocated and 3,000 new ones to be built. The city hall also established a template for how the new city must connect with its past and how feedback from residents will influence all project teams going forward.

The people of Kiruna saw the old city hall as the town’s heart and hub: a popular and centrally located meeting place with a cafe and exhibition space. “So we needed a building that not only was an outstanding architectural landmark for the city but also served this public role,” says Goran Cars, project leader for the new city hall and an urban planning professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.


—Goran Cars, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

The team integrated community input from start to finish to secure public support and ensure the new city hall met the expectations of those it would serve. Residents participated in meetings to determine key features for the hall, and they were part of a committee to select the architect, Danish firm Henning Larsen. Two of the five members on the project’s steering committee were from the community. And a community member served as a full-time liaison between the project team and public stakeholders.

The resulting structure—a gleaming, eight-story building dubbed the Crystal for its shiny exterior—was completed on time and on budget. Both the public and the sponsor have praised the new city hall, says Johan Makitaavola, chief of projects, LKAB, Kiruna. “Now the residents feel they’ve been listened to, and they’re satisfied with how it looks and works,” he says.


Power to the People

The team put people at the center of the city hall’s design. In 2013, the project team completed a three-year feedback and engagement phase that helped determine what residents wanted most in a new facility. Their answer: a mix of old and new.

“We got the architects and construction contractors together from the very early stages of the project to stress to them the spaces the public appreciated in their old city hall and wanted in their new city hall,” Mr. Cars says.

Residents wanted the building to have public spaces to include features similar to the old city hall, including a restaurant, art gallery and airy atrium that welcomed visitors. At the same time, no one wanted a carbon copy of the old structure. So architects positioned the atrium and other spaces in the building’s center, while placing the bureaucratic offices on the periphery.

Storm-Proof Shape

The team chose the circular glass-and-stone exterior to satisfy the public stakeholders’ desire for a visually striking landmark—and the sponsor’s requirement of an environmentally friendly building suited for Kiruna’s climate. Decisions were based on the expertise of inhouse sustainability specialists, including engineers.

Most notably, the round shape helps the building absorb 17 percent more daylight than a traditional square building, greatly reducing the structure’s power needs. The shape also helps reduce the impact of severe weather. The circular geometry evenly distributes wind drafts and makes it easier to predict where snow will drift around the building.

“In this cold climate, the wind around a traditional, angular building can become hellish,” Mr. Cars says. “The circular structure slows the wind down.”


Time Management

Preserving the old city hall’s iconic clock tower was one way to ensure a link between the past and present facilities—and towns. But the team couldn’t just move the clock tower; it needed to renovate it too. So the team scheduled the start of work on the clock tower for mid-2017, more than a year before the new city hall opened. “So if something went wrong with the clock tower, we had time to correct it,” Mr. Makitaavola says.

As part of the original plan and budget, the team consulted engineering experts to identify and quickly mitigate any potential risks. The team determined the clock had to be disassembled in six pieces, moved to a local workshop for repair and cleaning, and then rebuilt at the site of the new city hall. All clock tower work was completed within budget and before the building opened.



Johan Mäkitaavola,
chief of projects, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB), Kiruna, Sweden

Experience: 20 years

Why did this project have special meaning for you?

I usually work on industrial mining projects for LKAB, so it was fun to build something that residents will see and use. And it was an important project—the first building in the new Kiruna.

What career lesson did you learn on this project?

When you build something like a city hall, everyone in the community has an opinion, so you have to constantly communicate.

How did you cope with the constant cold weather?

I live in Kiruna because I like the winter—I like skiing and being in the mountains. I’m not a warm-weather person.


Assembly of the clock tower at the new location




Cold Comfort

Construction—particularly concrete work—in a sub-Arctic climate is always challenging. Low temperatures can make it impossible to work with concrete, threatening costly delays. To offset that risk from the start, the team compiled a list of project activities the construction workers could complete whenever the weather precluded the concrete work.

That meant the team had to be ready to quickly change course from concrete work to tasks such as erecting the scaffolding or the structure’s steel beams, so that the crew never stood idle. “It was a matter of being very flexible with how we used our workforce,” Mr. Cars says. “We always had to have a plan B if it got too cold.”

The team also mitigated weather-related delays by having the construction team members work more hours during the warmest months. In addition, when temperatures turned cooler in the evenings, teams could shift to tasks such as woodwork. “To keep to our schedule, the building site sometimes was at work 24 hours a day,” Mr. Makitaavola says. PM

—Johan Makitaavola, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag, Kiruna, Sweden




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