Between towering trees on Sweden’s Bothnian coast, a new skyscraper bucks the trend of the traditionally carbon-heavy construction industry.
The 20-story, 75-meter-tall Sara Cultural Center – named after a popular Swedish author – opened last September.
It’s yet another wood frame to adorn the streets of Skelleftea – a city tackling the climate crisis one new build at a time.
“Everyone thought we were a little crazy proposing a building like this in wood,” says Robert Schmitz, the architect behind the construction.
“But we were quite pragmatic, so we said if you can’t make everything out of wood, we can at least make some of it that way. But during the design process, we all came out and said it was more efficient to build everything out of wood.”
How can construction be less damaging to the environment?
The cultural center houses six theater stages, a library, two art galleries, a conference center and a 205-room hotel.
Everything is built from more than 12,000 cubic meters of wood – harvested from forests located just 60 km from the city.
The design is part of a wider effort in Skelleftea to wean the local construction industry from environmentally harmful materials.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, construction work was responsible for more than 38% of global energy-related carbon emissions in 2015 alone. Cement production, on the other hand, is the largest single industrial CO2 emitter in the world.
In contrast, wood sequesters carbon dioxide, binds it to the atmosphere, and stores it for good.
Those behind the Sara Cultural Center – the second tallest wooden tower in the world – claim the Skyscraper will capture nine million kilograms of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
But the building is sustainable orientation don’t stop there. It also has solar panels capable of powering the building and storing excess energy in the basement.
How does this skyscraper communicate with those around it?
The designers say the cultural center can “communicate” with nearby structures and distribute excess energy as needed.
“It analyzes the energy consumption of the building and can make decisions on how we should operate it based on available energy levels,” says Patrik Sundberg, business unit manager at local energy company Skelleftea. Kraft.
Sundberg says that over time, the skyscraper will “learn” the building’s energy needs.
“We have an AI system to help the skyscraper make these decisions every minute, 24/7.”
A city built from the forest
Timber construction is nothing new to Skelleftea, which relied on the abundance of nearby forests to construct its buildings as early as the 18th century.
From an impressive wooden bridge crossing the local river to a newer three-storey car park in the town center, everything at Skelleftea feels like it was made from the trees that surround it. In most cases, it really is.
And with the city’s population set to increase in the coming years – from 72,000 to 80,000 by 2030 – locals are keen to carry on this green tradition for a new generation.
“In all of these changes that we’re going through, with all the new people moving here, we feel safe to have this new environmentally friendly material,” said Evelina Fahlesson, deputy mayor of the city.
“If we didn’t have this tradition, what would become of the city? What would become of the municipality? A whole other thing.
The Swedish construction company Lindbacks specializes in prefabricated wooden buildings. He is currently working on a new project of wooden apartments to accommodate newcomers to the city.
“The great thing about timber framing is that you can change it over time, which you can’t do with houses,” says the firm’s business manager, David Sundstrom.
“Forestry and wooden houses have been around for a thousand years in Scandinavia. We have lived in wooden houses, which have the advantage of being able to change the walls and modify the layout of the building.”
This is another advantage for carbon sequestrant wood, which currently accounts for more than 20% of all new multi-storey buildings in Sweden.
Tomas Alsmarker, head of innovation at Swedish Wood, says the country has seen a huge shift in building materials over the past five years.
For more than a century, Sweden had banned wooden houses over two storeys. Today, it is the material of choice in the country with the highest percentage of forests in Europe.
“For all buildings up to eight stories, the question is not whether it is possible to do it in wood. You have to ask why it should not be done in wood.”
Watch the video above to learn more about the Swedish wooden town.