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Kiruna | The town that looks for a new “home”

March 1, 2010

Kiruna is located in the north of Sweden, 145 kilometers north of the Arctic circle. The city centre is built on the Haukavaara hill at an altitude of 530m, high above the Torne river to the north and the Kalix river to the south. Kiirunavaara is an iron ore mine that is the town’s primary economic resource. Luossavaara is a former mine and now used as a skiing slope. Its centre is in danger of sliding down a hole left by the iron ore mines which put this Arctic outpost on the map a century ago, so they have decided to move the city.

As reported by the Swedish Association of Architecture, time is running out of Kiruna. I’s a fact that from ore mining allows parts of the heart must be abandoned within two years. Moving the city center and building memories is a unique architectural detail – but first we must agree on one thing: Where should the city go?

In March 2004, LKAB applied for changes in the detailed plan of Kiruna C, due to the effects the expansion of their mining activity has on the ground. Changes in the detailed plan require in turn changes in the comprehensive plan of the city. A comprehensive plan sets the frame for city planning, for example where to locate residential areas and where to locate industrial estates.

At their latest report, we can read:

It comes as no surprise that the mining activity affects the ground. The residential area called Ön (The island), close to the mine, was already phased out during 1960- 1970´s and is now a part of the fenced-in industrial estate. Part of the lake Luossajärvi has been drained and the road to the LKAB industrial estate has been relocated due to deformations in the ground.

It is estimated that around 10 % of the population in Kiruna C (pop. 18 000) will be directly affected in a 30-year period because they must leave their homes.

The new Pelletizing plant KK4 in Kiruna

The 30th of November 2009 the municipal executive committee took the decision to  look over the comprehensive plan from 2007 again to see if there are other options for the location of the new city centre/downtown. The reasons are new LKAB-facts in the northwest (Luossavaara) about the ground and about new iron ore deposits.

The first actual work on moving the town was done in November 2007, when work on the new main sewage pipe started. In the same week, first sketches for the layout of the new part of the town became available. The sketches include a travel centre, the new locations for the city hall and the church, an artificial lake and an extension of the Luossavaara hill into the city. The location of the new section of the E10 is still uncertain, as is the location of the railway and the railway station. Now, the news are on the move again as the dates of the moving plan are getting closer.

Since the mining company continues to extract the ore that slants underneath the city, deformations, mainly cracks, will develop and evolve towards the built areas. That the ground cracks and collapses is nothing new. The residential area of Ön (the Island) and the now-drained part of the lake Luossajärvi have already disappeared to become a part of Kiruna’s history. The cracks are caused by the mining method itself and the slant of the ore body. When the ore is mined and removed, the remaining bedrock collapses into the cavities. This in turn results in settling, which at the surface makes the ground crack.

Around 2013, the first families living in flats at Ullspiran must also find another homes. Somewhere around 2023 the city centre, a couple of schools, the fire station and additional flats and houses will be affected. By the year 2033, the municipality is looking at having to relocate about 1900 people away from the cracking zones.

Most of the buildings in Kiruna will simply be torn down and rebuilt at the target site. However, the Kiruna city hall, the most architecturally significant building in Kiruna, will be cut into four parts, each of which will be transported whole to the target site and reassembled there. The move will require an extremely flat and level road tens of metres wide and will be extremely slow.

Exactly what the future of Kiruna will look like is unknown. The idea is that it will be planned in detail at a later date when everyone agrees about the general outlines. There is an interesting report on How do you move everything in a city? here.

How will this “architectural and urban experiment” end? Thomas Nylund [Kiruna municipality’s architect] says, “Now no one believes that something will happen in 2010. Although normally it takes at least a year to develop a revised detailed master plan. All uncertainties Kiruna face makes it even harder to sprint up a detailed master plan.”

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