• The residents of Kiruna are all moving down the road (Still from Midnight Sun) (Photo numrique)Source: Photo numrique
Kiruna will need to move three kilometres to the east to avoid total destruction.
Bianca Soldani

12 Dec 2016 - 1:35 AM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2016 - 10:11 AM

In the northern tip of Sweden, just inside the Arctic Circle, the remote town of Kiruna is being swallowed by the very thing it was built for.

At the turn of the twentieth century, state-owned mining company LKAB came across abundant iron ore reserves under the icy Arctic landscape, and despite the sub-zero climate and periods of eternal darkness, they began digging.

Kiruna was established in 1900 to house the mine's workers and their families, however over a century later, the activities of the mine have compromised the integrity of the ground on which the town is built, and it is now slowly and irreversibly damaging local property and roads.

For many of the 18,200 residents that live and work there, abandoning their home was never the ideal solution. Instead, the entire community is packing up and shifting about three kilometres to the east in a staggering effort to save their town.

Stockholm-based architectural firm White, won the 2013 bid to design and implement the relocation and have begun by creating a new town centre away from the compromised land.

"The Town Hall will be inaugurated in 2017 and the Civic Square in 2019," the project's lead architect Krister Lindstedt tells SBS. "Construction of some housing units has started - as well as the technical infrastructure being built on site."

One major concern residents have voiced with moving to a new site is the destruction of the cultural and historical significance of the old town centre. As a result, White have promised that “the character of the former Kiruna will be retained through the re-use of materials from demolished buildings, and some of the culturally significant built elements, including a historic church, will be relocated unaltered.”

In terms of the church, this means painstakingly demounting, transporting and relocating the structure.

The total plan spans 100 years and aims to see the town slowly “crawl” eastwards as buildings are taken down on one side and relocated on the other. Approximately 3,000 homes will need to be rebuilt as part of the process, and much of the funding until 2033 will be provided by LKAB, so they can continue to work on their mine until that time.

Nevertheless, the move is no small feat and relocating houses and businesses alike is presenting a host of difficulties.

"One of the most challenging aspects of the project at the moment is moving the commercial centre, as shops and amenities will not be moved gradually but at the same time," Lindstedt says.

"This puts an extra strain on smaller shops with lower profit margins which have been in Kiruna for so many years and mean so much to the city's identity."

"Another challenge is moving residential units," Lindstedt  continues, "LKAB is working with residents and not just in terms of monetary compensation for the inconvenience caused, but in finding ways of creating a momentum for people to be excited to move - and making the move go as smoothly as possible". 

The total plan spans 100 years and aims to see the town slowly “crawl” eastwards as buildings are taken down on one side and relocated on the other.

A unique opportunity that the township has in pulling off the mammoth move is to build again in a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way. White explain on their website that, “the new development will be designed to a carbon neutral agenda.”

“A denser more intelligent plan, equipped with meeting places and cultural amenities, will promote public life, broadening the male dominated demographic of Kiruna’s past, allowing a more diverse community to settle and thrive.”

An eerie scene for a murder mystery

Being so close to the North Pole, Kiruna experiences extended periods of 24 hour darkness in the winter, while in the summer the sun never sets. Temperatures can get as low as -22 degrees and conditions are harsh to say the least.

While the town has a rich history of its own, it has also become the setting for new Scandi noir thriller Midnight Sun, that follows the tale of a French police officer who travels to Kiruna to investigate the brutal murder of a French national.

When she teams up with a local Swedish DA and member of the Sami, an ancient, mysterious indigenous tribe of Scandinavia, they discover that the murder is just one of a string of killings linked to a 10-year-old secret conspiracy held by some of the town's inhabitants. 

The entire season of the drama is available to watch on SBS On Demand or you can stream the first episode below:

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