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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.105 Santiago ago. 2020 

Works & projects

Kiruna Forever

Carlos Mínguez Carrasco1 

1 Curador en jefe, ArkDes - Centro Nacional de Arquitectura y Diseño de Suecia, Estocolmo, Suecia.


Iron, a key mineral for the industrial revolution, refuses to be replaced. Its extraction continues active, to the point of forcing the city of Kiruna - in Sweden - to be moved in order to allow the expansion of a mine. This case turns into a prism that allows us to observe how, at a time when climate change is a reality, the productive and extractive dynamics inherited from the 20th century resist to disappear.

Keywords: resistance; city; urban planning; community; exhibition

Source: © Jessica Nildén

Figure 1 Photograph taken on August 31st 2017, on the moving day of the engineer’s village - Ingenjörsvillan. This building is LKAB no. 39 and was built in 1900. 

Kiruna, a city located in the Swedish Arctic, is undergoing one of the most important urban transformation projects in recent Swedish history, being relocated due to the expansion of the iron mine around which it had been built. A third of the population needs to leave their houses; both housing blocks and heritage buildings are being demolished or relocated, while a new city center is being built. All this happens in a land that has been inhabited for centuries by the region’s indigenous population, the Sámi.

Kiruna Forever2 examines the relocation of the city presenting more than one hundred works by architects, urban planners, and artists, who have transformed the community since the first industrial settlements to the present day.

Source: ArkDes Collections

Figure 2 The architect Hakon Ahlberg and the photographer Lennar Olson in front of Kiruna’s Iron Ore lifting and separation plant. Silver Gelatin photograph, 1960. 

Kiruna’s relocation is not only important because of the complexity involved in moving a city - how do you move an entire city? - but because it pushes issues of global relevance. What is the limit of natural resources? What happens to the identity and security of residents when their homes are demolished? How permanent are the cities in which we live? These questions combine transcendental reflections on the old and the new; on what must be demolished, preserved or rebuilt; on who owns the land and who has the right to define the future of a city. Questions about loss and hope, displacement and attachment. The Kiruna city relocation project requires a reconciliation between the different needs of the communities living in the region, some of them struggling to separate themselves from a historical servitude to the mine and, others, fully opposed to the land exploitation.

There are numerous works in the exhibition that relate to Kiruna’s relocation process as a form of resistance. Joar Nango’s piece, for example, is paradigmatic. Nango is one of the few members of the Sámi people who have graduated academically as an architect. His work focuses on rethinking the role of Sámi architecture in the contemporary cultural context. His Girjegumpi project is a mobile library with more than 200 titles, addressing indigenous architecture, its forms of resistance, and its decolonial positioning (Figure 3). The library is temporarily moved to different locations, and hosts workshops, conversations, and debates on the role of Sámi architecture tools and techniques in a constantly changing world.

Source: © Astrid Fadnes

Figure 3 Girjegumpi, Joar Nango, 2017. The Sámi Architecture Library is a bank of mobile resources and a social platform that aims to give more visibility to indigenous architecture and to the history of colonial architecture. The collection is composed of more than 200 books that cover diverse topics, from ancient ethnographic records to more contemporary and political ideas and theories, such as feminism, anarchism, decolonization and land rights. The project has been functioning for the last 3 years, developing several craft and design workshops for each new destination as part of the initiative. 

Source: © Iwan Baan

Figure 4 The Global Kiruna, 2020. Authors: Iwan Baan, Anne Dessing, Michiel van Iersel. This project follows the journey of iron ore around the planet, from its origin in Kiruna, its transport by train and by boat, to eventually being part of various objects, from pavements and pipes to the steel construction in buildings around the world. 

Source: © Iwan Baan

Figure 5 The Global Kiruna, 2020. Authors: Iwan Baan, Anne Dessing, Michiel van Iersel. This project follows the journey of iron ore around the planet, from its origin in Kiruna, its transport by train and by boat, to eventually being part of various objects, from pavements and pipes to the steel construction in buildings around the world. 

Source: © Iwan Baan

Figure 6 The Global Kiruna, 2020. Authors: Iwan Baan, Anne Dessing, Michiel van Iersel. This project follows the journey of iron ore around the planet, from its origin in Kiruna, its transport by train and by boat, to eventually being part of various objects, from pavements and pipes to the steel construction in buildings around the world. 

The work presented by the Territorial Agency (John Palmesino, Ann-Sofi Rönnskog) entitled North anon: almost-, semi-, post-, neo-, quasi-colonial (2020) proposes the relocation of the city of Kiruna as one more node in the extensive network of the North’s current transformations. They argue that the Arctic, beyond evidencing climate change, is an extreme laboratory for exploring alternative forms of governance.

Source: © Johan Dehlin

Figure 7 Kiruna Forever, ArkDes. 

Source: © Johan Dehlin

Figure 8 Kiruna Forever, ArkDes. 

Another example is the piece by the artist Outi Pieski, who usually works with traditional Sámi techniques and whose 2014 installation Ruossalas Bálgát (Crossing Paths) is available at the entrance to the exhibition (Figure 9). The installation is intended to be crossed, being understood as a portal, a meeting place between different cultures and different opinions, evoking the possibility of a space of understanding. In THE VIEW (2013), Agneta Andersson - artist based in Kiruna - represents the view she has from her studio in a hard black and white: a street that in a few months will disappear due to the demolition of its buildings.

Source: © Johan Dehlin

Figure 9 Outi Pieski Ruossalas Bálgát (Crossing Paths), 2014. Materials: rowan saplings and Sámi shawl tassels. 

Kiruna is not like any other city built around extractive activities. Since its official foundation in 1900, it has become the place where Sweden’s leading architects and urban planners have envisioned the future of the Arctic, building some of the most important Nordic architectural works of the 20th century. Along with this, the city is a key part of an urban network started in the late 19th century - known today as the ‘Norrbotten mega-system’ - composed of mines, industrial settlements, power plants, and railway lines spanning from coast to coast across the Scandinavian peninsula and which have defined the urbanization of northern Sweden for the past 125 years.

Source: © Johan Dehlin

Figure 10 Kiruna Forever, ArkDes. 

No other Swedish city embodies the 20th century in the same way as Kiruna. From its enlightened belief in progress, its hope for the future, to its struggles to improve working conditions, the city’s development represents the value of community building and the pursuit of social emancipation. However, it also symbolizes the capitalist tendencies of the Swedish welfare state during the second half of the 20th century. We cannot see the development of the city, its buildings, and the infrastructures that are part of Kiruna, Malmberget, and Svappavaara as neutral projects. On the one hand, they represent the highest ambitions to serve society, responding to local needs and producing spaces and urban landscapes of democratic and social value. But, at the same time and contradictorily, the buildings themselves serve as tools to legitimize colonial-minded settlements.

Source: © Björn Strömfeldt

Figure 11 Hans Ragnar Mathisen. Sábmi map with only the names of Sámi places written, 1975. Digital print on paper, courtesy of the author. Hans Ranar Mathisen has dedicated his artistic life to mapping Sápmi, the lands where the Sámi have lived since ancient times, between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The map presents the Nordic region with no borders and marked exclusively with Sámi names for cities, towns and villages. In addition to the 1975 map, Mathisen has made more than 50 maps of Sápmi regions, as well as other indigenous peoples, which is a reminder of the multiple ways in which Kiruna (‘shred’ in Sámi) has historically ‘relocated’ beyond the buildings and the built environment. 

Because here is the biggest dilemma: Kiruna is not only being relocated three kilometers away, it is relocating when Sweden and the planet’s northern regions are facing fundamental change. Started in 2004, beginning to define its shape in 2020 and planned until 2100, the relocation, construction, and definition of this ‘new’ city in the Arctic embodies, at best, the dreams and aspirations of contemporary Sweden. Kiruna confronts us with the need to rethink our values regarding global warming, to redefine the notion of attachment in a world of forced and unforced migration, and urges us to renegotiate the definition of sovereignty with indigenous peoples. Finally, the relocation of the city forces us to recognize the ways in which we privilege economic growth above everything else.

Source: © Liselotte Wajstedt

Figure 12 Still from the film Bromsgatan, 2020 

Source: ArkDes Collections

Figure 13 Ralph Erskine in front of Ormen Långe, Svappavaara. Silver Gelatin photograph, 1963. 

Source: ArkDes Collections

Figure 14 Ralph Erskine, architect. Lars Harald Westman, illustrator. An ecological city in the Arctic, 1958. Gouache and pencil on print. 

This is where experimentation in architecture and urban development becomes urgent. It is the responsibility of architects and planners to imagine alternative futures, where things are done in other ways, building other forms of collaboration and mutual support. We are seeing Kiruna’s relocation take shape - a challenge started 15 years ago. The first buildings are built, and the new city center begins to become a reality. But we should not consider the project as finished. Kiruna embodies the hopes and dreams of the 21st century, teaching us the tools we need in order to face, here and elsewhere, the challenges that lie ahead.

Source: © Lennart Durehed

Figure 15 Kiirunavaara, 2019 

Kiruna Forever

Curator: Carlos Mínguez Carrasco

Assistant Curator: Sujy Lee

Producer: Johanna Fogel

Exhibition design: Pernilla Ohrstedt

Graphic design: Magdalena Czarnecki

Institution: ArkDes

Exhibitors: Lara Almarcegui, Agneta Andersson, Iwan Baan, Anne Dessing, Michiel van Iersel; Per Bifrost, Alexander Rynéus; Fanny Carinasdotter, Anja Örn, Tomas Örn; Design Earth, Henning Larsen Architects, Erik Lefvander, Ingela Johansson, Kjellander Sjöberg, Hanna Ljungh, Åke Jönsson, Britta Marakatt-Labba, Hans Ragnar Mathisen, Murman Arkitekter, Emil Myrsell, Joar Nango, New Mineral Collective, Outi Pieski, Sandellsandberg Arkitekter, Adolf Sotoca and Mar Esteve; Lena Stenberg, Studio Folder, Territorial Agency, Klaus Thymann, Tirsén & Aili Arkitekter, Liselotte Wajstedt, Wilhelmson Arkitekter, White Arkitekter with Ghilardi+Hellsten Arkitekter, Spacecape

Source Material: Hakon Ahlberg, Rolf Dahlström, Sverre Erixson, Esaias Hackzell, Per Olof Hallman, Ralph Erskine, Hjalmar Lundbohm, Örjan Lüning, Kristina Negga-Wallström, Barbro Nilsson, Helmer Osslund, Börje Rönnberg, Artur von Schmalensee, Nils Nilsson Skum, students at Kiruna Praktiska Ungdomsskola (KPU), Axel Törneman, Gustaf Wickman, Carl Wilhelmson

Source: © Hufton + Crown, Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Figure 16 The new city hall pulls like a magnet the next phases of Kiruna’s bold move to the east. 


Carlos Mínguez Carrasco Architect, Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona (2004). Master of Science in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture, GsaPP, Columbia University (2012). Chief Curator, ArkDes (Swedish National Center for Architecture and Design). He was associate curator at Storefront for Art and Architecture (2012-2018) and curator, along with the After Belonging Agency, of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennial. His publications include After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories of the Ways We Stay in Transit (Lars Müller Publishers, 2016), OfficeUS Manual (Lars Müller Publishers, 2017), Bodybuilding (Performa, 2019) and Kiruna Forever (ArkDes, 2020).

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