Towards a brighter future: How Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

People take something with them when they leave their home. Some travel light, wanting to start from scratch, while others take everything they can carry. Residents of Swedish Kiruna move with the city

The correspondent of “Around the World” visited the Swedish Arctic and made sure that there is no new without the old.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

In the blackness of the sloping tunnel, my companion Fredrik Bjorkenvall and I plunge, slowly overcoming meter by meter. Even time seems to freeze: only the road markings phosphoresce outside the windows and small pebbles rustle under the wheels of the jeep.

Suddenly, bizarre machines emerge from the darkness – massive drilling rigs. They gleam their smooth sides like whales, drift past us and disappear. Jeep headlights illuminate the mark on the wall: minus 450 meters. We are in the heart of Mount Kirunavara.

In the depths of the Lapland ores

One of the world's largest iron ore deposits is located in the Arctic, beyond the Arctic Circle. Mining here does not stop 365 days a year. Almost 75,000 tons of ore are produced per day.

– Six Eiffel Towers would be enough, even more,  – says Bjorkenvall. He has been working for the Swedish mining companyLKAB (LuossavaaraKiirunavaara Aktiebolag) for the fifth year now: responsible for public relations at the local branch. Fredrik's love for the mine is hereditary: his grandfather was a driller.

From the inside, the mine resembles rather a small city. It catches Wi-Fi. There is a clothing store and a canteen. Films on the history of mining are shown in the conference hall with a built-in cinema.

— We have our own microclimate here: +18 °C at any time of the year. Such an oasis, – says Bjorkenvall. -Even if there is frost and a snowstorm above, it is still warm here …

Snow in these latitudes can fall for a record number of months: from late August to early June. In winter, the temperature sometimes drops to -40 °C.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

The Swedish field is one of the leaders in the industry. It accounts for 90% of all ore mined in Europe. Products are delivered by rail to ice-free Narvik in Norway and Luleå in Sweden.

Recently, LKAB has been doing well, according to Fredrik. In 2018, net profit amounted to 492 million euros (in terms of crowns). Salaries at the mine are high, even without special knowledge, you can earn about 4,500 euros per month. There is only one but.

“We are burrowing deeper and deeper into the earth. Now production is being carried out at around 1365 meters, – explains Fredrik. – The vein lies at an angle of 60 degrees. Because of this, voids occur during mining. The soil is sinking. If Kiruna doesn't move, the mine will simply swallow it up.”

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Race with mine

Kiruna is the northernmost city in Sweden. It is only a couple of kilometers from Kirunawara. When the settlement was first founded in 1900, the first Managing Director LKABHjalmar Lundbum found the location to be a good one because the miners didn't have to travel long distances to work.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Ironically, Kiruna is now moving because of this decision. Its entire historical center is on wheels. Dozens of administrative and cultural buildings are removed from their places: a fire station, a first-aid post, a radio station, the former headquarters of the Salvation Army. They are transferred four kilometers to the east.

The example of Kiruna, despite all its unusualness, is far from being the first in the world. Exactly a century ago, the city of Hibbing in Minnesota moved for the same reasons—because of iron ore mining. Nevertheless, the move of Kiruna is perhaps one of the largest in modern history. About 6,000 people leave their homes, more than a quarter of local residents.

The mine approaches Kiruna at a speed of 11 centimeters per day, that is, 40 meters per year. The first cracks in the streets appeared in 2003. If you leave everything as it is, the mine will “devour” the city. There is only one way out: to collect your things and take off, turning either into a giant centipede, or into Ron Herron's Walking City.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

A sketch with this name was created by a British futurist in 1964. At the same time, he depicted not even a city, but a whole colony of “wandering metropolises”, similar to huge May beetles. Above – “elytra” of solar panels. Below long steel telescopic legs, cheerfully transferring cities from place to place… However, Herron's architectural utopia has not gone so far from reality.

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“Nomadic” houses

— Five kilometers per hour. With such a speed, a single house moves to a new center,” says 41-year-old Rasmus Nurling. The curator of local monuments is my cicherone in old Kiruna.

The native Stockholmer moved to Swedish Lapland in the spring of 2018. By training, Nurling is a specialist in cultural geography: “It's almost like anthropology, only with a geographical bias.” He fell in love with the Arctic at first sight with the fjelds, the boundless Scandinavian tundra. In Kiruna, Nurling deals with the transformation of the cultural environment.

— One of the first to be transported was Hjalmar Lundbum's estate. Then the engineer's villa and the miners' houses, – lists Nurling. – They were placed about three kilometers to the west, at the foot of Salmon Mountain.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Initially, the new center was planned to be built there. However, later the project had to be revised. LKAB Corporationreported that large ore reserves are likely to lie under the chosen site. Then it was decided to move Kiruna to the east.

—How exactly does the house set off? — I ask.

The nomadic cities of Herron reappear before my eyes: how they are in small “flocks They walk briskly, each on three pairs of legs. They go until they get to the connection to electrical and information networks.

“This is not an easy job,” Nurling says. “First, the building is de-energized, disconnected from communications. The pipes leading to it are being dismantled. Then the basement and foundation are manually dismantled: a whole team is working on this. Support piles are inserted into the resulting voids. With the help of hydraulic presses and steel rails, a multi-ton structure is very carefully, shifting only a few centimeters at a time, transferred to a mobile trailer platform.

After that comes “the most spectacular”, according to Nurling, the stage: the house at the speed of a pedestrian sets off. Nearby are observers and employees of technical services. Sometimes the procession stretches for several blocks, gathering hundreds of spectators.

Kiruna forever

According to the Kiruna 4-ever project, the creation of a smart city will be completed by 2033. Scenarios for the development of New Kiruna have been worked out until 2100.

Energy supply
Waste heat from the mine will be used to heat houses for at least four months a year. A wind farm of almost 100 generators will be launched 2.5 km from the city. Lighting of streets, squares and parks will change dynamically depending on weather conditions, seasons and the activity of the population at specific hours.

The emphasis will be on bus transportation. The city will also open a special parking lot for snowmobiles.

Water supply
Reservoirs will be built within the city to collect atmospheric precipitation and groundwater. Water will be used for irrigation of green areas.

Park areas will be located so that the distance to them from any residential development does not exceed three blocks.

Recreation areas
Public spaces are conceptually developed in at least two versions: summer and winter . During the cold months, they will be adapted for skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling, and in the warmer months they will be suitable for cycling and jogging.

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Church on Wheels

Talking about “nomadic” houses, Nurling leads me along his favorite route. Past a cozy wooden wreck, the Safari Cafe, with a peeling deer on the pediment… A warehouse where old maps of Kiruna are kept… Two stylish high-rise buildings – the creations of the famous British-Swedish architect Ralph Erskine. Rasmus nods at them like old acquaintances, regretting that they “won't survive the move.”

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Near the carved wooden church, built more than a hundred years ago according to the project of Gustav Wikman, Nurling stops briefly:

– Our pride. According to the results of a popular vote in 2001, this church was recognized as the most beloved building among the Swedes, built before 1950.

In its shape, the flaming red temple looks like a conical Sami hut, goahti. The church is going to be transported in 2025 in a single array, without taking it apart.

The details of the project have not yet been disclosed. It is only known that at first the entire church furnishings and utensils will have to be removed from the temple, and these are several dozen objects. Many of them are of historical value, such as an organ.

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By for whom does the bell toll?

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Leaving the church, we stop briefly near a chapel and a small, Italian-style columbarium.     What will happen to them?     I nod at the urns of ashes. Through the semicircular windows of the chapel you can see how they turn white in the semi-darkness.

“There are almost 3,000 urns here, some over a hundred years old. To move the ashes, you need the consent of the relatives of the deceased, – says Nurling. – Now they are looking for these people. Over the past years, many people managed to leave Kiruna, they were scattered all over Sweden.

The situation with the graves is even more complicated, including the burial of the founder of the city and the first director of the mine, Hjalmar Lundbum. He rests not far from the chapel, under a gray granite stele.

Nearby, behind the mesh of industrial fencing, the lunar landscape of the construction site turns white. Previously, the old town hall towered on this place. It was demolished in the spring of 2019. Due to the size and brickwork, which could not be recreated elsewhere, the building was not moved.

It left majestically and for a long time. One of the last to disappear was the stairs. For several months, the sharp corkscrew of its steps screwed into the low Scandinavian sky…


The history of the 20th century knows many cases of moving individual buildings and other objects from place to place. One of the largest engineering and archaeological operations in the world was the relocation of the temples of Abu Simbel in Egypt in the 1960s in connection with the construction of the Aswan hydroelectric complex. The record distance was overcome by the London Bridge, which moved in 1969 directly from London, from the Thames, to Lake Havasu City (Arizona, USA), to the Colorado River. Entire cities also moved:

    Hibbing(Minnesota, USA), 1919–1921. Moved 3 km south due to iron ore mining.

    Hill (New Hampshire, USA), 1941. Moved more high level due to the construction of the Franklin Falls Dam on the Pemijevasset River.

    Stavropol (today's Tolyatti, USSR), 1953–1955. During the construction of the Kuibyshev hydroelectric power station, it fell into the flood zone and was almost completely transferred to a new location.

    Tallangatta(Victoria, Australia), 1956. Moved 8 km west due to the construction of a dam on the Murray River.

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In New Kiruna

The new town hall – “Crystal” – a round white building with a futuristic look. It rolls out to meet me at the entrance to New Kiruna, where I get by bus from the old center. “Kristall” gleams with aluminum accents, shines with Italian granite: the construction cost 56 million euros.

Towards a brighter future : how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

Designed by the Danish bureau Henning Larsen. From the inside, it is a complex composition of two architectural volumes. The golden parallelepiped is inscribed in a wide outer ring. Despite all its futurism, the town hall is not devoid of national flavor. One of the  American journalists who visited New Kiruna wittily compared this design with “a bar of potatoes wrapped in a slice of smoked salmon”.

Lennart Lantto, Special Advisor for Urban Transformation, meets me at the cafe on the ground floor. For more than 15 years he has worked in the municipality as a cultural secretary. Lennart readily holds out his hand to me, and I suddenly notice that the pads of his fingers are painted in dark blue.

—Uh, —Lantto is suddenly embarrassed, —I'm blueberries here collected. It turns out that this middle-aged man, in general, 66 years old, deliberately interrupted his vacation to show me the “Crystal”.

From the old town hall, the new one was inherited … door handles in the form of two Sami magic drums – as a sign of continuity and good luck. An oblong metal tower with a clock and stylized figurines was also transferred from the roof of the former municipality building to New Kiruna and installed almost close to the “Crystal”.

– Two miners, eagles, deer and a wolf,  peering into the silhouettes darkening against the sky.

Soon, the main city square will appear next to the tower. The first buildings will grow around it: a hotel, a library, a cultural center. In the meantime (in 2020 – Note is empty in New Kiruna. Nevertheless, it is already a kind of place of power. Think about it, dream about it and argue about it.

Towards a brighter future: how Sweden's northernmost city moves to a new location

If everything goes as planned, then by 2033 the construction of this “smart” city will be completed. Buildings in the new center will be made denser than in the old city. New Kiruna will be better adapted to the conditions of the subarctic climate by modeling wind loads in advance and calculating under what conditions buildings will be most effectively protected from air currents.

The houses will be placed taking into account the strength of the wind and the angle of the sun above the horizon, in order to reduce the need for heating and air conditioning. Thermal losses of buildings will be reduced as much as possible. Their external structures will be made as airtight as possible.

Not only individual buildings, but even trees will be transferred from the old center to the new one: in the Arctic conditions, gardening from scratch can take years.

In the modern In a society where activist Greta Thunberg protests outside the Houses of Parliament, and Fridays for Future movement members are demanding a “new future” for teenagers, the demand for such a “green” approach is very high. The architects managed to respond to it.

“Come visit us in five years,” Lennart advises. He smiles at me warmly as he says goodbye and hurries off to the fjelds to gather cloudberries.

Towards a brighter future: like the most Sweden's northern city moves to a new location

Sweden, Kiruna

AreaKiruna 16.53 km²
Population23,000 people
Population density 1,391 people/km²

Area of ​​Sweden 450,295 km² (55th in the world)
Population~ 10 482,000 people (87th place)
Population density 25 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSKiruna Church (1909–1912) – one of the largest wooden buildings in Sweden, Samegården Museum of Sámi crafts, ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi.
TRADITIONAL DISHES meatballs with lingonberry jam, shrimp sandwiches, marinated herring, semly – buns with almond paste and whipped cream.
TRADITIONAL DRINKSbeer, Christmas glögg.
SOUVENIRSdried venison sausages, cloudberry jam, crafts with Saami symbols, knitted woolen products.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Kiruna ~ 1610 km (from 3.5 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME < /strong>one hour behind Moscow in summer, 2 hours behind in winter
CURRENCYSwedish krona (10 SEK ~ 0, 96, USD)


Material published in magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 2, February 2020, partially updated in January 2023

Ekaterina Venkina


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