Sara kulturhus, Skellefteå

One of world’s tallest timber buildings is carbon-negative

Sara kulturhus, Skellefteå

One of world’s tallest timber buildings is carbon-negative

Sara kulturhus is a multifunctional centre with cultural facilities and an attached hotel in Skellefteå, Sweden, and one of the tallest timber structures in the world that is also carbon-negative.

There is a long tradition of timber architecture in Skellefteå, which is located just below the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden. This heritage informed the approach taken by White Arkitekter’s and revealed in their proposal for the design of the premises, titled ‘Sida vid sida’ (Side-by-side).

The project won the International Award for Wood Architecture at the International Wood Construction Forum in Nancy, France, in April 2022.


Sara kulturhus stands tall in the heart of Skellefteå as a new public landmark.
© White Arkitekter

Within a site covering almost 30,000 m2 of gross floor area, the building integrates a hotel within this cultural complex, breathing new life into its urban precinct.


The project brings back timber as a facade material into the fabric of Skellefteå, a traditional wood centre.
© White Arkitekter

The lower levels serve as nexus for art, performance and literary organisation such as the Västerbotten Regional Theatre, Anna Nordlander Museum, Skellefteå Konsthall Art Gallery and the city library.


The cultural complex houses a theatre, a museum, an art gallery, a conference centre and the public library under one roof in the centre of the city.
© White Arkitekter

The project combines great acoustics and large flexible volumes to fulfil the ambition to become a new cultural hub for the region.
© White Arkitekter

The building’s transparency offers passersby a glimpse into its interiors. Spaces are designed to be flexible. Retractable walls, for instance, enable expansion and reconfiguration, thereby befitting a range of functions, from small exhibitions to large conferences.


The hotel’s cafes, restaurants, gym and spa have become destinations for both regional and international visitors, offering locals new revenue opportunities.
© White Arkitekter

With its higher elevation, the hotel provides rooms with unhindered views of the scenic landscape that stretches for miles in all directions.
© White Arkitekter

On its upper floors, a hotel — with restaurant, spa, conference center and rooms with scenic views — accommodates the growing numbers of tourists in the city. This provides a source of revenue for the local authority.

Embodied emissions

Skellefteå is surrounded by dense boreal forests and has a long history of building with timber. The architects felt it was important to prioritise the material in the construction of the Sara Cultural Centre, while tapping into the knowledge and technical expertise of the local work force.


Standardised floor heights allow the columns, beams, slabs and walls to be prefabricated in a local off-site factory and simply assembled on the site.
© White Arkitekter

Two different construction systems have been adopted: one for the cultural centre and another for the hotel structure.

The high-rise tower consists of prefabricated modules in cross-laminated timber (CLT), stacked between two elevator cores and resting on a structural frame of pillars and beams that are made of glue-laminated timber (GLT).


Hotel rooms are prefabricated as 3D modules complete with bathrooms, installations and finishes with the inner layer of the double-skin facade.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The podium consists of a timber frame with cores and shear walls made of CLT, coupled with a GLT frame. This combination helps distribute loads, enhancing structural stability.

The trusses above the grand foyers are a hybrid of GLT and steel. This facilitates wider spans, allowing flexible, open-plan space that can host a range of events. This flexibility and adaptability ensure the building’s longevity.

Operational emissions

The tower has a double-layer glazed facade. Between the inner layer made of high-performance triple glazing and the outer skin of glass, is an adjustable sunscreen made of GLT louvres.


A double-skin glass facade enhances the building’s insulation while revealing the timber core structure of the high-rise.
© White Arkitekter

The double-skin system encloses an insulating air space, enhancing the thermal performance of the building during Skellefteå’s cold winter months. A green roof offers added insulation and helps absorb noise pollution, promote biodiversity and delay rainwater run-off.

To further limit energy reliance, a hybrid aeration system provides controlled ventilation to the large foyers and theatre stages. This significantly reduces demands placed on the heating-cooling system.


Sara kulturhus is aimed to enrich the community and become a new destination for cultural activities.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The project team has integrated into the design a smart control unit with Artificial Intelligence that, over time, could regulate and predict energy consumption.

The building is connected to an urban heating and cooling smart grid that relies on hydroelectric power. It also has 1,200 m2 of solar panels and a geothermal heat pump.

The embodied emissions of the structure arise from its use of certain materials such as steel, its construction process, including fabrication and transportation to the site.


The wood construction is designed to remain energy-efficient while enduring Skellefteå’s harsh weather conditions.
© White Arkitekter

The architects actively promotes this project at universities to achieve one of the major goals of this project of spreading the knowledge about use of timber in high-rise buildings.
© White Arkitekter

This is added to emissions due to operational energy for heating, cooling and lighting to give net emissions. This figure is offset by the carbon sequestration in the wood used in the building. The building is projected to achieve carbon negativity within fifty years, well ahead of its project lifespan of 100 years.

The project won the Bronze Award 2020-21 in Europe by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction for its fascinating display of the potential of timber through innovative construction techniques deployed to achieve beautiful spaces in a high-rise building. Read more about the project here.

Post sponsored by Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

A Frontline project is holistic, net-zero/net-positive and integrative. It protects or regenerates a combination of social, ecological, and economic systems, aiming for a ‘greater-than-sum-of-parts’ outcome.

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Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

Under the Köppen climate classification, these are ‘D’ climate types. Continental climates are typically seen in the interior of continents — 40° to 74° latitudes in either hemisphere — characterised by drastic seasonal changes.

There is no performance metrics for this project.

Client
Skellefteå Municipality

Architect
White Arkitekter

Team
Oskar Norelius
Robert Schmitz

Structural engineering
Dipl.-Ing. Florian Kosche AS (DIFK)

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Good design often reveals what we do not know we need. But such a feat depends not only on what we tweak and improve, says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, but how we re-imagine the process. The question is: where to start?
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