Like every architectural project, a transformation calls for a deep dive into context to fully unfold the geographical and cultural conditions. But, in addition, it also includes an exciting exploration into the work of others, investigating the past through the built. The design of the newly inaugurated Uppsala Town Hall in the 4th largest city in Sweden is no exception to this.
Totaling 25,000 square meters, just over half of the project is newly built, extending the existing architecture, that is the half-completed design of the brothers Erik and Tore Ahlsén.
The late modernist design proposed by the brothers had planned four five-story buildings congregating around a central outdoor courtyard.
Construction, however, was met with financial struggles that concluded the project prematurely, in 1964. As a result, an L-shape were constructed, one of which was not constructed in its entirety, and the envisioned courtyard remained undefined, eventually becoming quite a dull parking lot. Over the five decades that followed, the city tried several times to continue building, without success.
The unrealized plan meant that its intended function was never quite fulfilled. Uppsala City Hall never managed to accommodate all the municipal departments and offices as, over the decades, many of them dispersed throughout the city. Short of an assembly hall, the elected politicians would even gather periodically in the neighboring Concert Hall for discussions and meetings. In short, Uppsala’s City Hall never became the place it was intended to become.
After an international competition in 2016, we were selected to take on the challenge of transforming the town hall.
An exploratory deep-dive into the building of the Ahlsén brother’s unfinished building from the 1960’s sparked the idea of using the Japanese art of mending pottery with gold, known as kintsugi, as inspiration for joining the existing building with a new one. However, instead of using gold, the team chose glass – submarine glass in fact, to ensure the glass band that join old with new can carry the extension, where the new roof alone weighs 700 tons.
The transformed city hall in Uppsala engages with the citizens. It invites the audience inside through a passageway that runs through the ground floor of the building forming the heart of the town hall, and here public services and programs such as café and restaurant, shops and exhibition facilities are located.
Open to the public, the new building carries the legacy of the old but boasts 14,000 new square meters to finally house all the municipality’s activities under one roof. A 1,500 m2 indoor courtyard covered with a striking cantilevered dome-shaped glass roof offers an inclusive space for residents, municipality staff, and public officials to gather, and a sculptural building located within the courtyard in which the municipal council chambers and assembly hall are located, the building can now fully reflect the democratic values that drive the activities it is home to.