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Architecture by White Arkitekter


Sweden Is Home To One Of The World’s Tallest Wooden Structures

The dramatic Sara Cultural Center in Skellefteå, Sweden is one of the tallest wooden structures in the world.

The Swedish city of Skellefteå, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, is home to a new performing arts center and hotel made entirely of wood — cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated timber, to be precise. Designed by White Arkitekter, it features a 20-story hotel that springs from the Sara Cultural Center below.

“The design is an homage to the region’s rich timber tradition that we hope to take forward with the local timber industry. Together, we can create a beautiful civic center for all — a contemporary expression that ages with grace,” says Oskar Norelius, the lead architect for the project.

Image credit: White Arkitekter

The high-rise, which houses the hotel, is constructed of pre-manufactured modules in cross-laminated timber stacked between two elevator cores that are also made from CLT. Standing 75 meters tall, the 20-story hotel offers dramatic views  over the city.

The low rise part of the structure has spaces for the Västerbotten Regional Theatre, Anna Nordlander Museum, Skellefteå Art Gallery, and the City Library. It is composed of a timber frame with pillars and beams made of glue-laminated timber with cores and shear walls in cross-laminated timber. The construction helps redistributing loads and enhances structural stability from the high-rise. The trusses above the grand foyers are composed of a GLT and steel hybrid that enables a flexible, open space that can host a range of activities and functions within. Flexibility of use guarantees the building’s long-term sustainability by allowing it to adapt to future demands.

Image credit: White Arkitekter

The building is wrapped in glass that reflects the sky while revealing the spectacular exposed timber framed ceiling inside. The wood construction is designed to endure Skellefteå’s harsh weather conditions while also remaining energy efficient. The green roof contributes to thermal insulation as well as absorbing noise pollution, enhancing biodiversity, and delaying rainwater runoff.

“We want people to witness the amount of creativity that occurs behind the scenes. From the street, people passing by will be able to see how a new exhibition is being built or how a stage set is coming along,” says Robert Schmitz, who also serced as a lead architect on the structure.

No Concrete = No Emissions

We seldom think of cement as a contributor to global warming, but in fact it contributes almost 7% of all global emissions. To put that in perspective, emissions from all the ships plying the world’s oceans contribute less than half as much. Cement-making is a really, really big source of carbon emissions, so finding ways to construct buildings out of wood instead of concrete is an important step toward taming global heating.

Image credit: White Arkitekter

According to DesignBoom, the Sara Cultural Center is made entirely of wood harvested from regional sustainable forests and processed in a saw mill only 50 kilometers away. The building sequesters more than twice the carbon emissions caused by operational energy and embodied carbon from the production of materials, transportation, and construction on site. Through conscientious design and a groundbreaking energy system developed by Skellefteå Kraft and ABB, the building will be carbon negative within 50 years. It has a design life of 100 years and features a solar array on the roof to provide renewable electricity to the structure.

Image credit: White Arkitekter

Schmitz and Norelius tell DesignBoom, “Mass timber has emerged as one of the most sustainable solutions for building structures known today. Realizing a full timber structure of a complex building with mixed uses, mixed volumetry, and a high rise of 20 storys, Sara Cultural Centre broadens the application timber as a structural material and proves that timber is a viable solution for virtually any building type. We hope that this project helps others in our collective transition towards carbon neutrality.”

All photos courtesy of White Arkitekter.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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