White Arkitekter wins design competition for cultural center in Skellefteå with timber framed high-rise

‘Kulturhus i Skellefteå’ is planned to be a 19-storey structure reaching a height of 76 meters

White Arkitekter has won an international design competition for Skellefteå’s cultural center and hotel, which will be completed in 2019. Located just below the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden, the city of Skellefteå has a long tradition of timber architecture, which inspired the winning proposal ‘Sida vid sida’ (Side-by-side). The design was selected from over 55 entries from 10 countries.

‘Kulturhus i Skellefteå’ is planned to be a 19-storey structure reaching a height of 76 meters. It will house the ‘Västerbottensteatern’ (the county theatre of Västerbotten), the Anna Nordlander Museum, Skellefteå’s Konsthall (art gallery), the city library and a new 16-floor four-star hotel. The 24,940 sqm BTA building will be timber framed with a glass envelope and has been designed to allow flexibility of use with retractable walls for rooms to be expanded or divided to serve a range of functions from a smaller exhibition to expansive conference facilities.

“We’re very proud to have the opportunity to create a new home for the visual arts, theatre and literature. It’s when these different disciplines meet that the magic happens,” said Oskar Norelius, Lead Architect, White Arkitekter.

“We want to engage the wider public, not only arts lovers and the building’s transparency offers passersby the opportunity to witness behind-the-scenes work, such as an exhibition or new stage set coming together,” said Robert Schmitz, Lead Architect at White Arkitekter.

Skellefteå is surrounded by dense forests and has an acclaimed timber-built architecture and construction know-how, which ranges from age-old methods to the new technology-intensive, innovative techniques
of the future. In their winning design, White Arkitekter felt it was important to harness this local knowledge and technical expertise.

“A cultural center in Skellefteå just has to be built with wood! We’re paying homage to the region’s 
rich tradition and we’re hoping to collaborate with the local timber industry. Together we will create a beautiful venue, open for everyone, which will both have a contemporary expression and timeless quality,” adds Norelius.

The glass façade will reflect the sky and, at the same time reveal the interior’s spectacular exposed wood- framed ceiling, which is an important detail guiding visitors throughout the venue. The structural framing is a hybrid of glue-laminated timber strengthened with steel trusses, which is to be sourced locally.

For the timber construction detailing and specifications, White Arkitekter will collaborate with structural engineering firm Dipl.- Ing. Florian Kosche AS (DIFK). The center is designed to endure all weathers with an efficient energy consumption record. In addition, the building will have a green roof, providing thermal insulation, sound insulation, biodiversity and rainwater absorption.

White Arkitekter plans to realize the building using two types of hybrid construction systems, rather than a single timber frame. The first brings together wood and steel, while the other pairs wooden modules with concrete slabs. The architects have worked with Norwegian engineering firm Florian Kosche to develop the hybrid construction systems – one for the cultural center and the other for the hotel tower above.

The hotel tower will comprise 
a stack of prefabricated timber modules reinforced by concrete slabs. Structural glazing will wrap the building to reveal the wooden interior. For the cultural center, a hybrid wood and steel construction will allow for a flexible, open-
plan space, able to host all of the different facilities.

The project will make use of glue-laminated timber – a strong engineered wood formed by glueing together layers of lumber. Given that it is not quite as strong as cross-laminated timber, there is a need for supporting steel and concrete structures. In the foyer, 21-meter-long beams will span the full length of the space without the need for supporting columns. Wooden struts placed perpendicular to the beams will be strengthened by a network of steel trusses.

The venue will be the tallest building using wood frame construction techniques in the Nordic countries, allowing for views from the hotel rooms which stretch for miles. With a stage located in the middle of the venue and with different functions visible from
 the outside, the center will breathe new life into the city. The ground floor will also have multiple entrances to create a dynamic lobby and contribute to life of the city center.

The project is the latest in a series of wooden skyscrapers being proposed in Sweden, thanks to recent developments in engineered timber technology, which are making these types of structures possible for the first time. The winning proposal foresees bicycle and pedestrian routes connecting different areas of Skellefteå to a new planned travel center. On the waters of the Skellefte River (which passes through the city), a stage is proposed as a satellite venue to the cultural center.

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