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Future memories from the deep. An open artificial system for Kiruna


The project aims to find, within the urban design field, a balance between anthropological and environmental needs working in the extreme context of Kiruna, located 140 km inside the circumpolar line in Swedish Lapland.
Its strong relevance in the contemporary panorama is represented by its perpetual floating in a condition of change, modification and movement, until the necessity for its relocation due to the mine expansion, in order to respond to the dynamics of its most important economy: the largest iron ore mine in the world.

The project intends to reform the idea of urban environment traditionally conceived, creating a more open and flexible organism for the city. Today the past model of concentric and centralized cities, typical of European panorama, have revealed their fragilities; moreover, we are facing a territory that has never had real centers but scattered communities organized on the force lines or on productive cores of the land. This dispersion is the base to elaborate the design process in its general strategy through distributed polarities capable of dismantling the dichotomy between center and periphery. We address the theme of limit, going underground, creating an unusual relationship between inside and outside, natural and artificial, using the horizontal line of the ground as the threshold between them. The design of vast, protected, air-conditioned and artificially illuminated underground infrastructures allows to solve the climatic problem (strong cold winds, accumulation of snow, daylight and polar night), to protect the existing reindeers’ migration paths, and to face the issue of soil consumption hiding architectural skeletons under the surface at the time when the mine will be totally exploited. Those massive underground organisms highlight their presence by the threshold element, by which the city communicates with the upper world through towers, skylights, gates, landmarks both new and old memories coming from the previews city.

The decision to place the new urban system ten km far away from the previous urban center was driven by the strong potentiality coming from the proximity between the two infrastructures of the E10 highway and the Torne river, which becomes a highway for snowmobiles, sleds, and skis in winter. The underground structure is a complex system of different spaces interacting each other, its potentiality and quality is to be an isomorphic “box” in which interior spaces can be modified in order to adapt itself to the different functional necessities. Taking into account the diverse typologies of inhabitants corresponding to different degrees of permanence in Kiruna, the storytelling expresses the project complexity using different points of view: scientific guest worker, tourist, local miner, Sami farmer. Each one uses those massive underground structure in its own way as well as its means of circulation: underground train, ropeway, stairs, and ramps. The project addresses the theme of inhabiting the underground working through layers. In the lower level, there are logistics and machinery, above public spaces and closer to the surface two levels of residential spaces. The two “cities”, opposed in the image and in the rhythms of life, work together in building a new model for urbanity.

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