The Art & Culture Centre will be a catalyst for Skellefteå’s next stage

Skellefteå has a new landmark. Sara Kulturhus will be a new venue for the entire region where culture establishes the preconditions for interactions and diversity. CEO Maria Ekberg Brännström believes in the Bilbao effect.
“Sara Kulturhus, or the Sara Art & Culture Centre, will help shape the city and the region’s identity.”

Sara Kulturhus, one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings, 80 meters high – 20 stories high, is being constructed in the center of Skellefteå. Maria Ekberg Brännström took over as CEO of the municipally-owned company Skellefteå Kulturhus AB in autumn 2019. Ekberg Brännström regards the task and responsibility to run Sara Kulturhus as a fantastic challenge and describes herself as a brave and engaged person who makes things happen.

Ekberg Brännström was born in Skellefteå and moved back here in 2019, after many years abroad and then the past ten years in southern Sweden. Previously, Ekberg Brännström has worked for the Ikea company for 25 years, including the setting up of its stores in Spain and development projects in India.

“As a returnee, I am struck by the spirit of ambition and courage that characterizes the city, and which paved the way for the new Art & Culture Centre.”

The opening of Sara Kulturhus will take place in autumn 2021, when the gates will open up to six stages, two galleries, a library and a foyer with an open and inviting floor plan. Responding to the increasing level of tourism in the region and its hospitality industry, the Art & Culture Centre also houses a new hotel.

The building fundamentally changes the urban landscape; it affects traffic and changes the pattern of movement in the city. The building also affects the residents of the city, perhaps it is a bit of Skellefteå’s soul? Do we like it, or perhaps not? There are a whole lot of opinions. Ekberg Brännström is firmly convinced that Sara Kulturhus will be a consistently positive force.
“It will become a welcoming place that builds community and pride.”

The building is named after the author and cultural personality Sara Lidman.

“Sara Lidman was and remains an exceptional role model for many; the name feels just right. Sara was a person who could easily say a lot in a few words. A woman who was clear, humble and funny, and who dared to stand firm with her opinions. Naming an arts and culture center after a well-known writer with strong local roots is also a way to highlight the region’s strong narrative tradition.”

Local anchoring

The project started in 2012 and construction commenced in autumn of 2018. The raw materials come from forests in the region and the short distance for transportation to the construction site has meant a low climate impact. The frame was constructed by Martinssons in Bygdsiljum and it has a total volume of approximately 10,000 cubic meters of cross-laminated timber and 2,200 cubic meters of laminated wood products.

The building has many innovative solutions; the building lacks a main entrance and a rear, instead it is open in all directions. In the interior, the wood in the floor, walls and ceiling is as bare as on the outside.

“The intention is to give it a sense of an expression of honesty and transparency. And the large open space with exposed roof construction almost creates a sense of devotion.”

Part of the building’s architectural grandeur is, according to Ekberg Brännström, its openness and inviting architecture, which creates the preconditions for participation and creativity.

“The building opens up to do things that are not normally within the framework of what culture is expected to be. To find out the possibilities, we need to be brave and dare to let loose a bit, not knowing exactly what the result will be. It’s exciting.

The heart in the bloodstream

Sara Kulturhus is being built on a site in the middle of Skellefteå that has long been intended to house a large building. According to CEO Maria Ekberg Brännström, the Art & Culture Centre will become an obvious part of community, but not only in terms of the arts and culture, but also in terms of energy. Skellefteå Kraft, working in collaboration with ABB, has developed an innovative energy solution.

“When the Art & Culture Centre generates an excess of heat, it can be utilized elsewhere. This is part of Skellefteå Kraft’s efforts to connect different parts of the city as often as possible, and in as smart a way as possible, along with utilizing local supply and demand for surplus energy.

The Bilbao effect

Sara Kulturhus will in many ways become a signature building for the Municipality of Skellefteå. Ekberg Brännström believes in the “Bilbao effect,” meaning that the building with its spectacular architecture and grandeur will significantly help shape the city’s and the region’s identity. Just as in Bilbao, where an ultra-modern and spectacular Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built. There was a bit of controversy around the construction and it gave rise to a huge debate, but the museum gave the city a huge boost.

Work is now underway to explore what Skellefteå’s new, visually spectacular Art & Culture Centre will contain, what will happen in the next step going forward. The on-going resident cultural activities will be Västerbottensteatern, the regional theater in the north of Sweden, Museum Anna Nordlander, Skellefteå City Library and Skellefteå Konsthall/City Art Gallery, each with its own clear assigned task.

“These are activities that are already doing a fantastic job, but which have lacked a physical premises of their own to take the next step, and now they are getting it.”

The Art & Culture Centre lowers the threshold

According to Ekberg Brännström, the challenge of culture is to make people want to experience things they may not have thought of, or liked before. And she is firmly convinced that Sara Kulturhus will make more people want to consume culture.

“Since the building will house everything from a library, café, galleries and stages to a restaurant, spa and hotel, I think it will contribute to lowering the threshold. It will be must easier for more people to find their way to culture.”

The project as a whole has been and remains a long and exciting journey with many possibilities and challenges that have required new ways of thinking, along with new ideas and concepts – and a lot of courage.

“If one does good foundational work, it will be good in the end. The consensus has been and remains that culture has significant importance for a community. A wide range of cultural activities not only enriches a city and the people who live there, but also attracts visitors from outside the city.”

Ekberg Brännström is convinced that the end-results will be beyond expectations.
“We are building a cultural center for the future, and that’s exactly what Skellefteå needs. Sara Kulturhus will be a catalyst for Skellefteå’s next stage.”

In brief: Maria Ekberg Brännström on the Sara Art & Culture Centre

  • “As a returnee to Skellefteå, I am struck by the spirit and courage that characterizes the city, and which paved the way for the new Art & Culture Centre.” Part of the building’s architectural grandeur, according to Ekberg Brännström, is its openness and inviting architecture, which creates the preconditions for participation and creativity.
  • Sara Kulturhus will become an obvious part of the community, but not only in terms of Art & Culture, but also in terms of energy. “When the building generates an excess of heat, it can be utilized elsewhere. This is all a part of Skellefteå Kraft’s efforts to connect different parts of the city as often as possible, and in as smart a way as possible, along with utilizing supply and demand for surplus energy.”
  • Sara Kulturhus will in many ways become a signature building for Skellefteå. Ekberg Brännström believes in the “Bilbao effect,” i.e. that the building with its spectacular architecture and grandeur will significantly help shape the city’s and the region’s identity. “We are building an Art & Culture Centre for the future, that’s exactly what Skellefteå needs. Sara Kulturhus will be a catalyst for Skellefteå’s next step towards the future.”

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