Side-by-side: Mixing culture and community

When designing a cultural center, it’s essential to create an inviting public space between the different cultural functions, says Robert Schmitz, partner and lead architect at White Architects.

He is part of the team that designed the award-winning Skellefteå Cultural Center to be a model for sustainable design and construction where all forms of culture live side-by-side.

In the Swedish town Skellefteå, located just below the Arctic Circle, the residents are looking forward to a grand new cultural center in the heart of their community.

Once it is completed in 2021, Skellefteå Kulturhus will not only contain a 19-story hotel, a regional theater, a museum, an art gallery and the City Library. It will also serve as a common meeting place where the inhabitants can come in from the Scandinavian cold and darkness to find a warm and inviting public space waiting to be shared and used by the entire community.

A shared space

The cultural center, which will cover 25,000 square meters and be constructed primarily of wood to pay homage to the regions tradition of timber building, is designed by White Architects and has been shortlisted in the category Best Futura Project in the prestigious MIPIM Awards. While designing the project, the architect team enhanced the common spaces between the individual functions to bring people together.

– With the cultural center, Skellefteå Municipality wanted to revitalize the city center and attract new residents. It was important to create a common meeting place that was more than just the sum of the individual cultural functions like the art gallery or the library, says partner and lead architect Robert Schmitz from White Architects.

Timber and glass

Drawing on their experience from other public projects, including the cultural center Väven in Umeå and the Royal Pavilion in Southend, White Architects explored the foyer and the stairs in the building to create a natural flow and connect the building to the surrounding streets. This was done using large glass sections to create transparency and exposed timber to create atmosphere and improve the indoor climate. They also employed different scales and variation of space, mixing large and lively areas with smaller ones which invite concentration.

– When working with public projects, the main challenge is always to bring people together and create natural places for people to meet and interact. The auditorium is fantastic, but it does not bring life to the surrounding cityscape. By enhancing the spaces between the functions, making sure they are properly climatized and have good light and acoustics, we create common areas that invites co-function and allow people to meet and interact. We did not want this to just be a high culture building that people would feel reserved about entering, says Robert Schmitz.

An environmental edge

The use of timber is not only a homage to the regional building style and extensive forests. The municipality also specifically requested that the building should have an environmental edge and a reduced CO2 impact. This made wood a natural choice for the main building material.

– The use of timber has been key to reducing the CO2 impact, as it is the only renewable material we have right now. It is well suited to withstand the harsh climate and also a good insulator, which helps keep the building’s energy use down. We not only focused on the construction phase, but on the entire life-cycle of the building, and also use renewable energy, solar panels and natural ventilation, says Robert Schmitz.

Facts: Skellefteå Cultural Center

  • Project: Skellefteå Cultural Center housing the Västerbotten Regional Theatre, Anna Nordlander Museum, Skellefteå Art Gallery, as well as the City Library and a hotel and conference center.

  • Architect: White Architects, Sweden

  • Client: Skellefteå Municipality

  • Location: Skellefteå, Sweden

  • Status: Completion expected 2021

THEME: Multi-purpose cultural centres