The northernmost town in Sweden, Kiruna, is being relocated approximately two miles to the east because of the risk posed by expanding mining operations. The town is on the move, building by building. Learn more about the Swedish mining town on the move.
Since Kiruna was first settled in the 1800s, the community has in fact been settled on top of its iron ore mine and has become the largest underground iron ore mine in the world. Rather than shutter the mine, in 2018, the state-owned mining company LKAB paid 22.3 billion Swedish krona (or about $2 billion), to move the entire town. LKAB is producing 80% of the EU’s supply.
LKAB’s first managing director Hjalmar Lundbohm founded Kiruna adjacent to the mine. There was logic behind this location, as the nearby mountains provided protection from Arctic winds. What would have been his thoughts if he had known that 100 years later, the only way to continue the lucrative operations would be to relocate all the buildings above his chosen location for Kiruna?
The old, cozy terracotta-colored church was once voted the most beautiful building in the country. Its fairytale rooftop points is designed to resemble a hut of the indigenous Sami People. The church was inaugurated in 2012 with almost no religious symbols and has been described as “the living room of the community”.
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The Kiruna clock tower was moved in 2018 and the total Gothic Revival church, one of the largest wooden buildings in Sweden, is slated to be moved by 2026. The entire 600-ton wooden building will be loaded on to trailers and moved to a spot near the local graveyard three kilometers (1.9 miles) east of the old town.
Altogether, 20 historical or heritage buildings will be moved in the next decade. Kiruna is moving because subsidence from the local iron ore mine is threatening to swallow the town. Cracks have already appeared in the hospital and a school is no longer safe for its pupils. The town has a population of about 18,000.
Some of the buildings will be lifted and relocated while others must be dismantled and reconstructed. In September last year, officials cut the ribbon on Kiruna’s temporary new town center. By 2035, some 6,000 residents will have moved into 3,000 new homes. The move was voted on and approved by the residents.
An exhibition at Stockholm’s national center for architecture and design (ArkDes) put the eyes on this rare urban relocation project.
The project will include several phases across a two-decade span, with Gällivare also benefiting from the addition of facilities such as a new sports center and schools.
“People are really affected, both positively and negatively,” says Annika Fredriksson, the CEO of the Swedish Lapland Visitors Board, and added, “It’s hard to get a grip on it. But it’s a vibrant time and a vibrant moment.”
Centuries before LKAB began tearing up the earth, Sami people were herding reindeer throughout the Arctic lands. Now they fear that way of life – already threatened by the climate crisis, which is making it harder for reindeer to find their main winter food source, lichen.
LKAB is now aiming to be at the forefront of Europe’s green industrial revolution and drive for autonomy in natural resources, in response to the climate crisis and alarm about Europe’s dependency – often on autocratic foreign governments – on vital metals and minerals.
The first fossil-free sponge iron was produced in 2021, by replacing coal with hydrogen produced from green electricity. In addition, it recently announced that it was sitting on the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in Europe, metals that are vital to produce electric car batteries and wind turbines.
“Sweden is literally a goldmine,” the deputy prime minister, Ebba Busch, who is superintending climate and business, told reporters inside the mine, 500 meters below ground. “Europe needs to learn the lesson, to not be so highly dependent on one single country for gas in the way we were on Russia.”
However, Kiruna isn’t the only town in Swedish Lapland on the move. The town of Luleå is the Swedish destination that started this town-moving trend. Back in 1649, the maritime settlement was forced to relocate about six miles closer to the shoreline. It was not mining operations that were the culprit here, but the waters of its bustling harbor became too shallow. The result of a process known as glacial rebound was the reason which moved the community.
After moving homes, businesses, landmarks, and all Kiruna is now ready to welcome back visitors.
Swedish Mining Town on the Move, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Photo: Kiruna, September 2017 by Wikidata.