It was sad to see the old town hall tonight. The building has been ripped apart, everything of value has been removed and its occupants settled elsewhere.
We were there for the sale of a few remaining items, which turned out to be mainly desks and cabinets. It was the first time we’d seen the rabbit warren of its office corridors, and it felt almost indecent to be prowling around previously private areas. But there wasn’t much to see – anything of interest to us was already marked as taken. We bought a coffee dispenser and left.
A few days ago we went to the official opening of Kiruna’s new town hall. Known by the unlikely name of ‘Kristallen’ (‘The Crystal’), the exterior looks like a giant soap dish with something rather unpleasantly yellow sitting on the top. I was rather dreading seeing the inside, but we went to the opening because it was a landmark event for Kiruna’s new town centre – the only thing so far that has been built there.
The King was there the day before, along with a crowd of others, identities unknown. I couldn’t find any report of the event. I’d hoped, perhaps, for an extract from the King’s diary: ‘went to Kiruna yesterday, very far north, popped into some rather dull building they were opening, wonder what it’s for?’
We approached the building’s truly unspectacular entrance. The doors were office-like, and seemed out of sympathy with the delicately carved Sami handles that came from the old town hall. But then the ground floor opened up in front of us with all the feeling of open space we remembered from ‘Kiruna’s living room’ (as the old town hall was known). Kiruna was already making itself at home: free ‘fika’ (buns and coffee) was on offer. We left the crowds behind and took the lift to the top floor.
In the middle of the open space hung giant chunky-looking golden blocks. At first they appeared to obstruct the view and the space. Then as we walked around the galleries circling the inside of the building at the top we found ‘bridges’ stretching intriguingly into them, leading into more private spaces with views right down through all floors of the building. It was like finding a room behind a secret door – a hidden world in the middle of a public space. This is a building to walk around and experience rather than just look at. The detail is both human scale and inspiring at the same time. Kiruna’s new town hall is a work of art, and I couldn’t have wished for more.
Actually, not true. I could have wished to have seen the art that I used to enjoy so much on the walls of the old town hall – but I appreciate they may not have looked so good here. The compensation for this was supposed to be three rooms of art galleries, creating a new ‘Art museum of the North’ (managed by ‘Konst i Norr’). On opening day, all three galleries were taken up with one exhibition. Disappointingly, all the artists displayed were from cities far away from Kiruna, and the art did little to inspire. It was hard not to yearn for the wonderful paintings of local artists, like Alvar Jansson, that used to illuminate dark corners of the old town hall.
I tried to be positive. As I was passing through a gallery I took an interest in a rack of postcards of the exhibition, thinking that by taking one home with me I might (just might) learn to like what was on offer here. I just was choosing between a landscape of a lake or a mountain, each with some nonsensical words (in English, naturally) printed on it, when I was approached by a young woman. Eyeing me cautiously she pointed out that the postcards weren’t for the taking – the rack was, in fact, she said, ‘a work of art’.
The shock lasted a few seconds. ‘Ah yes,’ I replied, ‘that’s OK. So am I.’