Sara Kulturhus: Pioneering wooden architecture, home to bold cultural expression
By Nina Bressler | Photos: Jonas Westling
When Sara Kulturhus opened in 2021, it quickly became a global phenomenon. One of the tallest wooden structures in the world, it proved that a different approach to building at scale was possible. The house, which honours the ideas and legend of the spirited local writer Sara Lidman, has quickly become a popular destination in the region, which also boasts leading art museums and concert halls, restaurants, a city library, theatre and hotel.
Sara Kulturhus is located in the northern Swedish city of Skellefteå – a place bursting with innovation and grand future plans. “Skellefteå has become a hub for leading industrial companies that are paving the way in the green transition, and we needed a cultural hub to match that expansion. The idea for the building was floated in 2015, and in the spirit of the writer Sara Lidman, who the house is named after, we chose to go bold and do something unique. Sara Kulturhus is a statement on sustainability not only for the city, but for the planet. If we can do it, so can others,” says Anna Jirstrand Sandlund, CEO of Sara Kulturhus.
Local material for a future-proof building
With its 20-stories built entirely from wood, the structure was destined to make headlines. Meanwhile, it’s energy self-sufficient – and a leading example of how green buildings might look in the future. The building, designed by architectural firm White, runs on solar power, stored in batteries located within the building, the temperature of which are regulated according to AI algorithms. The house is carbon positive, meaning it uses less energy than it creates and can therefore share its excess energy with neighbouring buildings.
All the wood used in the project was collected from within a 120-kilometre radius, which significantly reduced emissions during its construction. What’s more, every tree has been replanted, exemplifying the project’s circular approach to production. “The house binds 9,000 tons of carbon. That’s equal to 13,500 flights from Stockholm to New York. We take colossal pride in our home and the nature that surrounds us, and by bringing Sara Kulturhus to life, we have brought the forest into the city in a ground-breaking way,” says Jirstrand Sandlund.
Cultural activities for everyone
The house quickly became a hub for locals and visitors seeking entertainment, enlightenment or simply a dynamic space to meet. The building consists of two different art institutions, Skellefteå Konsthall and Museum Anna Nordlander, with one joint exhibition hall. Västerbottensteatern, the regional theatre association, is also housed in the building, and puts on a range of theatrical events for all ages. There are seven stages in total, where concerts featuring national and international stars are frequent. The city library is open for everyone from morning until late evening. Meanwhile, three restaurants – Paolo’s Restaurant, Restaurant Mandel and Miss Voon – offer varied cuisines to satisfy all tastebuds, and The Wood Hotel by Elite provides the perfect stay, complete with a spa, for visitors to the town.
“We have marvellous forests and nature on our doorstep, and we want to complement this with an extraordinary cultural offering too. Sara Kulturhus is an embodiment of this town – a combination of our nature and our spirit, a vibrant addition to the city pulse,” says Jirstrand Sandlund.
Creative encounters in any shape or form
The house is in a constant state of creative activity, bustling with events and exciting exhibitions. Have you heard of Solar Egg by Bigert & Bergström for Riksbyggen? This is a unique art project, oval and clad in gold, placed on one of the terraces overlooking the city. It forms a key part of the exhibition The Broken Greenhouse. Not only is it a thought-provoking work from the outside, but the inside reveals a sauna that is open for everyone to enjoy until the end of April.
The concert diary is jam-packed with musicals, beloved Swedish artists, cultural personalities and international talents. The Danish pop band Lukas Graham are performing as part of their European tour, one of only four gigs in Sweden. Carola, Petter, Lisa Ekdahl and Joe Labero will also be performing during 2023, with new names constantly being added to the schedule. Authors’ talks, improvisations, guided tours, art workshops and after-work events mean that there is something for everyone. “Everything is made in a spirit of fearless expression – one that is courageous and creative. The house is as bold as our inspiration Sara Lidman, a boldness reflected in the activities that happen inside. We can’t wait to show what we have in store for the future,” Jirstrand Sandlund concludes.
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