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    • 21 November 2018

      A Special Building with a Special Story

      Kiruna, Sweden is home to the largest iron ore mine in the world. As the mine expanded deeper into the ground, the city needed to be moved. Kiruna Town Hall is the first new building in the new city.

    • A special place calls for a special building. In 2004, LuossavaaraKiirunavaara AB (LKAB) mining company, which operates the Kiruna mine, announced a long-term plan to relocate the city to a stable setting some three kilometers away.

      Moving an entire city three kilometers calls for a new, extraordinarily welcoming city center, a gathering point that fosters community and signals a new beginning. On this foundation, the new Kiruna Town Hall now opens to the public as the first building in the relocated city center.

      This is the story.

      A house built on Iron

      In 1898, Kiruna was born as a mining town, emerging along the tracks of a new rail line that connected the immense iron deposit in the area to the Norwegian trade harbor of Narvik.

      In the 1960s, mining operations at Kiruna shifted from surface mining to subsurface cave mining. Today, the mine’s subterranean shafts have plunged 1,365 meters beneath the earth’s surface, tunneling downward at an angle to follow the ore body deeper into the earth. More than a kilometer beneath the light of day, these operations are vital to the continued existence of the town itself.

      After over a century of constant operations, Kiruna continues to extract over 26 million tons of ore from the mine every year, providing 90 percent of Europe’s iron ore.

      But on the surface, warning signs have begun to appear: The ground is breaking, splitting into deep rifts and falling into sinkholes. The extensive mining operations are causing surface-level subsidence, meaning that the earth above the tunnels is weakening and sinking downward.

      For Kiruna, this could mean severe structural instability: Studies of the expanding rifts show them moving toward the town, putting the buildings of the city center at risk of damage or collapse within the century.

      A community on the move

      In response to this threat, mining firm LKAB has proposed a direct solution: Move the town.

      Since 2004, the company has planned to shift the town of 18,000 citizens some three kilometers east, outside of the projected spread of ground-level subsidence. Perhaps simple in concept, the logistics of this operation are anything but: LKAB anticipates relocating 3,050 houses, in addition to nearly 200,000 square meters of commercial, office, school and civic floor space.

      LKAB is preserving and relocating 21 buildings from old Kiruna, but the rest of the city will be built anew. This relocation is a challenge of identity – How does one preserve communities in a new space? Where is the balance between a fresh image and town heritage?

      Answering these questions spans city planning and personal histories, exploring the relationship between architecture and community.

      We are proud to contribute to this process with the grand opening of the new Kiruna Town Hall, an architectural tribute to Kiruna’s heritage and a public focal point for a new community.