This isn’t the first time they’ve moved a city because of a mine

Cities don’t often decide to pack their bags, get up and move down the road. But that’s exactly what Kiruna, an Arctic town in northern Sweden, is having to do – to avoid being swallowed up into the earth.

“It’s a dystopian choice,” says Krister Lindstedt of White architects, the Stockholm-based firm charged with the biblical task of moving this city of 23,000 people away from a gigantic iron ore mine that is fast gobbling up the ground beneath its streets. “Either the mine must stop digging, creating mass unemployment, or the city has to move – or else face certain destruction. It’s an existential predicament.”

The Czechs did it to Most, a place 20 clicks or so from where I’m sitting now. There it was coal instead of iron ore.

A closer look at the plan shows the new town bears little relation to the original Kiruna at all. The current town is a sprawling suburban network of winding streets, home to detached houses with gardens. White’s plan incorporates a much higher-density arrangement of multistorey apartment blocks around shared courtyards, lining straight axial boulevards, down which the icy winds will surge.

It is an opportunity, say the architects, for Kiruna to “reinvent itself” into a model of sustainable development, attracting young people who wouldn’t have stayed in the town before, with new cultural facilities and “visionary” things such as a cable car bobbing above the high street. But it is a vision that many of the existing residents seem unlikely to be able to afford.

But that’s exactly the same. The Czechs took down a perfectly decent Bohemian town and rebuilt it as stack a prole worker flats (panelaky here, Brezneviki in Russian, fucking Ronan Point style tower blocks in English). Why in fuck all architects want us to live in such monstrosities I’ll never know. They themselves never do, do they, preferring that Georgian Rectory for their little darlings to enjoy.

38 thoughts on “This isn’t the first time they’ve moved a city because of a mine”

  1. It is an opportunity, say the architects … for us to win awards and make a name for ourselves. The poor sods who have to live there afterwards? If they mattered, they’d have done architecture at university!

  2. So Much for Subtlety

    They have often moved towns because of mines. Usually to the mine rather than away from it. The American West and much of the British Empire is littered with former mining towns that are now empty.

    I assume that architects mainly hate ordinary people. Perhaps they were bullied in school. But it wouldn’t matter if their buildings were not so cheap to put up. It is a vicious nexus of their arrogance and conceit together with a short term money grubbing attitude from the builders. The sensible thing would be to lay the roads and pipes and then give each new resident a cash grant to build what they like.

  3. The Georgian rectory was, I think, the designer of Milton Keynes (no doubt others as well). I remember his obituary when I lived briefly near there.

  4. It’s not always a Georgian rectory, an estate agent friend worked in north west London and found it impossible to sell flats in the Alexandra Road estate (Rowley Way) due to its terrible reputation for crime. The only people eager to buy were architects, who were a little bit in love with its, apparently, seminal planning.

  5. The likes of Paris and Bath have very nice flats; nothing like the tower blocks in the former communist bloc. So it can be done well.

  6. Kiruna is a hell hole in the middle of nowhere. They can build however a nice city they want but it’s not going to bring mass occupation because for most people there is nothing else interesting for hours and hours, it’s freezing cold and half the year there’s no sunlight.

  7. Ronan Point is hardly the place architects think anyone should live. It was built to the lowest budget possible, with zero spent on architecture.

  8. Not quite the same as he occupies the penthouse but Ian Simpson lies in the Beetham Tower in Manchester.

    Germany does multi-dwelling units quite well, but you don’t get prizes for utility.

  9. What Bloke with a Boat said.

    And what’s happened to our favourite troll? That was almost sensible. Although I would note that the construction of “sprawling suburban networks of winding streets” generally do not use much, if any, structural steel.

  10. Kiruna iron ore was used for many of the German tanks of WWII – it was one of the few major iron ore mines that the Germans could import from.

    It was also partly responsible for the German invasion of Norway, as Lulea (the Swedish port that Kiruna exports from) was (and is) ice-bound in winter, so exports went via Narvik in Norway for six months of the year. Exporting iron ore to Germany was the way that Sweden managed to preserve its independence and neutrality during WWII – it would certainly have been invaded otherwise.

    The Iron Ore Line (the railway from Lulea to Narvik via Kiruna) is one of those legendary, Victorian-era construction projects that is still in use. There are a few passenger trains along the line, and it’s well worth the trip; the views are spectacular.

  11. bloke (not) in spain

    The big problem with architects is they’re artists, not cooks. They design from the outside in & are obsessed wit “look”. The best way to design is from the inside out. Address function first & let that drive the final look.
    It is, after all, how pretty much all of traditional buildings arose. Rooms to provide required amenity stitched together with convenient access paths. And on larger scales, areas, villages, towns, cities evolving in much the same way. The result looks “good”, not because they’re artistically “good”. They’re not. It’s because they’re good places to live & be in & we associate that look with a pleasant design.

  12. Looking at many of the estates built in the sixties, it is possible to come to the conclusion that the architects were sociopaths.

  13. Tassilo Sittmann still lives in the Frankfurt-Nordweststadt that he designed over 50 years ago. The only real planning failure (or coup if you prefer) is a massive shopping centre at its heart – one of the biggest in the country, and hence very well-frequented. As a result the Nordweststadt has zero street life. The other one is when it was built they guessed 1 car per 2 households, now its 2 cars per 1 household.

    Other than that, it’s a mix of blocks, terraced houses and bungalows, which encourages some kind of social mixing, and is otherwise a maze of alleys, paths, and the odd passable road, which in the UK would make it a criminal’s paradise.

    Not the most exciting part of the world, but functional affordable accommodation for yer ordinary folk, and nice big houses for yer not quite so ordinary folk who want a nice big house but don’t have a million euros to spare.

  14. bloke (not) in spain

    “…and is otherwise a maze of alleys, paths, and the odd passable road, which in the UK would make it a criminal’s paradise.”
    There’s a concept in architecture,(grand scale) of defensible space. Areas with limited access form tight communities. Brit planners have never really got this & put in far too many access routes. (The bridges connecting some of the old tower blocks are good example. Those alleyways connect estate closes another) It pretty well replicates villages on a flat plain menaced by nomadic bandits.

  15. B(n)iS>

    “The big problem with architects is they’re artists, not cooks. They design from the outside in & are obsessed wit “look”. The best way to design is from the inside out. Address function first & let that drive the final look.”

    Good architecture starts with function, then wraps a pleasing form around it for minimal added cost.

    Good architecture is rare as rocking-horse poo. Any idiot can design a spectacular building that doesn’t work, or make a working building look good by spending a fortune on the appearance, but it’s genuinely hard to create a building that’s functional, attractive, and doesn’t cost the earth.

    Some of the most impressive architecture I’ve seen has been low-value housing where a lot has been done with very little, to make the buildings attractive.

  16. SE,

    “It is an opportunity, say the architects … for us to win awards and make a name for ourselves.”

    The problem is that as BNIS points out (and it’s a very good comparison with cooks), the awards are for artistry. A great chef has to make his food taste amazing and look amazing.

    It’s not an accident that things like the Stirling Prize are dominated by buildings funded by the state. They’re all rather lovely looking, full of curved walls and roofs, stuff that most businesses and individuals won’t pay for because it’s expensive to do and gives little benefit (or when a business does do it, it’s normally a sign that they’re going to the wall).

    That Olympics aquatic centre might look great, but my guess is that in maybe 10-15 years time, it’ll be shut down. The maintenance cost of keeping it running will far exceed its value as a place for kids to go and splash around (normal cost – around £10m instead of £269m.

  17. bloke (not) in spain

    ” but it’s genuinely hard to create a building that’s functional, attractive, and doesn’t cost the earth.”
    No it isn’t. It’s a piece of cake.
    Which is why I chose the analogy of cooks.
    A good dish looks good, not because the grub’s a work of art but because we recognise good food looks like that.
    There’s about ten centuries worth of knowledge to draw on, what works with buildings & ten centuries of people recognising & applauding buildings that work.
    But we have architects.

  18. bloke (not) in spain

    On the Olympic Aquatic Centre
    If you wanted to build somewhere for kids to splash about – and there’s an almost inexhaustible supply of kids like splashing about – you’d model on a swimming hole on the river. Shallows for paddling & splashing & something to jump off into a deep bit for the really good splash.
    If you want to build something for a very few fitness fanatics to practice fitness fanaticism in the absence of splashing kids you build an Aquatic Centre.

  19. I tend to dispute that architects are artists, if only they were. A prominent building, whether an art gallery or a tower block, is a work – of art if we are lucky, or brutalism if we are not.

    Architects have to realise that they are putting a solid communication there – which will define its surroundings for ages.

    Seems the 60s were pure brutalism.

  20. Theodore Dalrymple is brilliant on modern architects. Mind you, he’s brilliant on just about anything.

  21. B(n)iS>

    I’m not sure what the point of your cooking analogy is. Cooking simple, good, good-looking food without spending a lot of money on ingredients takes a real culinary artist. It’s pretty much the hardest thing to do in a kitchen.

    Alan D>

    ‘brutalism’

    You keep using that word, etc.

  22. I’m not sure what the point of your cooking analogy is. Cooking simple, good, good-looking food without spending a lot of money on ingredients takes a real culinary artist. It’s pretty much the hardest thing to do in a kitchen.

    Eh?

  23. UKL>

    Eh what? Anyone who doesn’t know that doesn’t know much about cooking. It’s a fairly common test for a chef one is considering employing.

    B(n)iS>

    I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re trying to say.

  24. Dave, it’s not clear to me what you think is “simple, good, good-looking food” or “a lot of money”. I cook what I’m told is “good, good-looking food” without spending what I think is “a lot of money” and I don’t consider myself to be a “culinary artist”.

  25. Latecomer but I want to support b(n)is’ comment. The Barbican estate in the City was brilliantly designed from the inside.The outside was really ugly because some guy thought that a rugged surface would prevent stains running down the concrete surface – he was wrong.

  26. @ Dave
    It is not that difficult to cook decent food with simple ingredients. I can do it: in fact my domestic happiness is partly due to my past ability to cook sponge-cakes when my (now) mother-in-law had an oven (inherited from the previous owners of her flat) which ruined cakes (my late father-in-law liked cake).
    My father once told me that he had cooked his first Christmas Dinner when he was 17: that was before my time but I do remember his cooking trout, which cost nothing because his immediate boss had caught them, for his three children; my mother was worried that we would not be properly fed while she was attending a conference for female graduates (a rare commodity in the early 1950s) and was slightly put out when one of my sisters responded that she was welcome to go away any time as we had eaten better than normal!

  27. “Why in fuck all architects want us to live in such monstrosities I’ll never know

    It’s because they are socialists

  28. @ Tomsmith
    Most architects are not socialists and enjoy vast incomes.
    The problem is that most of those commissioning housing projects for local authorities are socialists.

  29. bloke (not) in spain

    There’s an interesting dish exemplifies the way we see food. It’s a Russian delicacy consisting of fish & potatoes topped with a mixture of sour cream & beetroot. Usually made in a shallow bowl & served by the slice. The problem, from a Brit perspective is it looks remarkably similar to cake topped with raspberry icing. Until said Brit takes a mouthful. In which case, it’s better to be standing well to one side or wearing washable clothes.
    Which indicates we do, indeed, associate the taste of food to it’s appearance. And it does look that way because the ingredients & the preparation produces that particular appearance.
    And it’s much the same with buildings. We recognise a house we’d like to live in because a comfortable liveable space, in our experience, produces that outward appearance. So we find those exterior designs attractive.

    Until you get architects. And then you can never be too sure. Rather like nouvelle cuisine.

  30. So Much For Subtlety

    john77 – “The problem is that most of those commissioning housing projects for local authorities are socialists.”

    I think there is something to this. Conservatives with a small or big c tend to look to the past. Hence Prince Charles’ highly successful Poundbury.[1] Socialists tend to look to the future. Socialists of all types. Hence Corbusier sucking up to the USSR, and then when they rejected him, to Mussolini and the Nazis before taking a job with the Vichy regime.

    Although in fairness Nazi architecture tends to be pretty good. Even when modernist and concrete. Templehoff, for instance, is actually rather good.

    [1] The batsh!t insanity of British architecture is shown by Charles’ project. He wanted a semi-rural, town-in-nature, mixed use estate. But they are so popular that what he has got is a London commuter community. Only London bankers can afford them. But the only way in and out was made deliberately small. Probably Dorset’s biggest traffic jam happens virtually every morning. Notice this is despite the fact it is a two hour drive – every day. So, OK, so far so good. You have a housing estate that people not only want to live in but will pay top dollar to buy into.

    You would think that in a rational market people would copy it.

  31. @smfs

    Dorchester, a 2 hour drive from London? I don’t think so. I used to live in Blandford Forum and couldn’t do it in 2 hours to Acton on most days.

    The train from Dorchester takes 3 hours and if they drive to Sherborne, about 30 minutes, it takes 2 Hours 20 mins.

    I now live north of Dorchester and I can do Westminster in 3 hours door to door by driving to Gillingham and a similar time to get to the City on the drain.

    Londoners might be buying in Poundbury but I doubt they are commuting on a daily basis, certainly to central London.

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