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Photography: Erik Lefvander.

A Living Room With a View

Before Artur von Schmalensee’s city hall in Kiruna was demolished last year, the city preserved parts of the building. The civic space was known to many as the living room of the city. As part of the exhibition ‘Kiruna Forever’, ArkDes has erected a full-scale replica of parts of the city hall. This is the story of how this iconic place came to be.

Competition proposal for Kiruna City Hall (1958). Architect: Alvar Aalto.

The design that lost
When the minucipality of Kiruna decided to build a new city hall in 1958 they announced an international competition among some of the most prestigious architects of the time. The competition was strong but, in its final stages, two finalists were selected: the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and the Swedish architect Artur von Schmalensee. In the end, both proposals ended up taking shared first place, but it was von Schmalensee’s proposal that was eventually realised. Aalto’s proposal, with the motto Aurora Borealis (referring to the northern lights), comprised a tall building which closed to the north with a facade made out of copper and ceramics. Facing the south, the building opened up to a square where the people of Kiruna could meet. The shape of the building interacted with Loussavaara Mountain, situated next to the town hall. The jury described Aalto’s proposal as “a stimulating and captivating interplay between rational thinking and romantic initiation”.

When the city announced an architectural competition for a new city hall in Kiruna in 2012, the city wanted to realise Aalto’s old competition proposal. Ultimately, the new building was designed by Henning Larsen Architects A/S.

Kiruna Town Hall (1963). Architect: Artur von Schmalensee. Photography: Erik Lefvander.

The city hall that won
One reason as to why Artur von Schmalensee won the competition for a new city hall in Kiruna was due his decision to design a warm and welcoming entrance space. He wanted this room to minimise the distance between the decision makers and the people. Given that the space was described as “the living room of Kiruna,” the architect seemed to have succeeded with his intention. The room has been used for performances, dinners, exhibitions, and was also the place where mine workers held their meetings during the great miners’ strike of 1969. Although the building was the demolished last year as a result of the expansion of the mine, it’s memory will live on. Parts of the interior have been preserved such as the railings in the entrance hall and part of the wall tiles, now temporarily exhibited at ArkDes. 

Kiruna City Hotel (Ferrum), 1965. Built in 1969. Architect: Artur von Schmalensee.

A hotel with a view
In addition to the city hall of Kiruna, Artur von Schmalensee was also hired to design the city’s hotel. The hotel, which was later renamed Ferrum (meaning “iron” in Latin), has undergone many changes over the years. The wonderful views that the hotel offers are still there to be experienced, however. The design itself shares several similarities to the City Hall, particularly in its material qualities and in von Schmalensee’s great care for detail. Like the City Hall, the hotel will soon be demolished as a result of the ongoing relocation of Kiruna but, according to some rumours, the legendary Mommas Tavern, which has existed since when the hotel first opened, will be remade with a new design in the new city hotel designed by SandellSandberg.