Location: Kiruna, Sweden.

Architect: Henning Larsen.

Kiruna, a town situated 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is facing a threat to its existence due to the ground breaking and splitting into deep rifts, putting the buildings of the city center at risk of damage or collapse within the century. The town exists in relative isolation, with the closest neighboring town, Gällivare, being 75 miles away. The town is sustained by the fact that it sits on top of the largest iron ore mine on the planet, which provides 90 percent of Europe’s iron ore. The mining firm LKAB has proposed a direct solution to the threat, which is to move the town. Since 2004, the company has planned to shift the town of 18,000 citizens some three kilometers east. However, this relocation is a challenge of identity, as it uproots generations of local heritage, interrupts tight-knit neighborhoods, and erases multigenerational family stores. LKAB is preserving and relocating 21 buildings from old Kiruna, but the rest of the city will be built anew. Henning Larsen has designed the new Kiruna Town Hall, named Kristallen, or “The Crystal,” which is a tribute to the town’s history and a framework for emerging communities. The building draws physical inspiration from the angular geometry of iron minerals. The building’s dual roles of community and civic benefit are supported by distinct inner and outer building volumes. The inner core of these angular metallic volumes makes space for community functions, such as public exhibition rooms, workshops, and social common spaces, ensuring the building’s vital function as a community hub. The outer volume covers the inner metallic crystal with a sleek circular glass and natural stone façade, housing staff offices for various municipality departments. The circular exterior forces wind to move around the building, ensuring that the winter’s heavy snowdrifts will not settle against the façade. The building encourages equal access to all and serves Kiruna beyond civic logistics and local governance, as it is a space for old friends and longtime neighbors to meet within the new city center, supporting a sense of social unity during the transitory period of Kiruna’s relocation.

Photo credit: Hufton + CrowPeter Rosen.