Sweden’s northernmost town is on the move, building by building. Because of the risk posed by expanding mining operations, the entire town center of Kiruna is being relocated approximately two miles to the east.
More than 20 buildings of historical value will be moved in their entirety to a new downtown district set for completion in 2035. Some are to be lifted and relocated while others must be dismantled and reconstructed.
A new railway station has already been opened further away from the mine. By 2035, approximately 6,000 people will have been relocated to new housing.
The mine’s success spells danger for Kiruna
Kiruna’s mine is today one of the world’s largest iron ore mining operations. But the remarkable relocation project has its origins in the establishment of mining company LKAB in 1890.
LKAB’s first managing director Hjalmar Lundbohm founded Kiruna in close proximity to the mine. There was logic behind the location, as the nearby mountains provided protection from Arctic winds.
Of course, it was hard for Lundbohm to appreciate that more than 100 years later, the only way to continue the lucrative operations would be to mine under his chosen location for Kiruna.
The expansion of the mine would require mining underneath the present location of downtown Kiruna, which would pose an unacceptable subsidence risk to the town. In May 2020, an earthquake of approximately 4.9 moment magnitude was triggered by mining operations.
The heart of ‘new’ Kiruna
The new downtown district is many years away from completion, but it already has a new landmark building that is hoped will become a cultural center and gathering place for the new town.
Architects Henning Larsen said the circular design of the striking golden building maximizes the use of natural light to create “a strong communal space and a symbol of a new beginning.”
To connect old with new, the 1958 clock tower from the previous town hall was dismantled and rebuilt alongside the new landmark.
Eventually the town church, once voted Sweden’s most beautiful building, will also be dismantled and relocated to the new district.
Explore the project in a digital exhibition
An exhibition at Stockholm’s national center for architecture and design (ArkDes) put the eyes of the town planning world on this rare urban relocation project.
The exhibition ‘Kiruna Forever’ examined Kiruna’s relocation through more than 100 works by architects, urban planners and artists. Although temporarily closed, some of the exhibition can be explored online.