Sara Cultural Centre shortlisted for three prizes at WAF

The World Architecture Festival (WAF) is one of the world’s most prestigious architectural competitions. Sara Cultural Centre is shortlisted in the category Completed Buildings – Culture, for the Best Use of Natural Light Prize and the Best use of Certified Timber Prize.

Sara Cultural Centre in Skellefteå is one of the world’s tallest timber buildings and with its 20 floors it is the city’s new landmark. The carbon-negative building has put Skellefteå on the map – and is an international beacon for sustainable architecture and construction. It was selected as number one when The Guardian’s critics ranked the best architecture of 2021 and has also been recognised by the New European Bauhaus initiative as a project inspiring positive change around us.

Sara Cultural Centre is one of the finalists in the category Completed Buildings – Culture, and the project is also shortlisted for the Best Use of Natural Light Prize and the Best use of Certified Timber Prize.

The Best Use of Natural Light Prize was introduced in 2019 and acknowledges the work of professional architects in showcasing the unique use of daylight in completed buildings. Special emphasis is put on projects that consider the impact on human well-being, performance, and joy. The shortlist is chosen from the main WAF shortlist.

With the unique daylight conditions at this latitude (64° 45′ 0″ N), daylight has been a crucial part of the building design. The large, glazed partitions overlooking the surrounding streets bring a generous amount of light into the public rooms, making them inviting and accessible to all. The interior, with vertical and horizontal timber surfaces, reflects both the direct sunlight and indirect light from the sky deep into the building.

When it comes to more private areas, such as the workplaces of the cultural centre’s staff, special care was taken to provide these spaces with plenty of natural light. This with the aim of being able to offer well daylit spaces close to the various stages, for those who work long shifts in non-daylit spaces. As workplaces were located along the façade of the building, the backstage is the frontstage of Sara Cultural Centre.

Inside the hotel rooms, located in the 20-storey wooden tower, a generous single window without partitions, offers guests a framed panoramic view over the city of Skellefteå, the surrounding Nordic landscape and the horizon.

The transparent façade towards the street connects the interior with the exterior of the building, providing a source of natural light during the day, while at night the interior lighting helps to create a safe public environment in the surrounding area. The iterative process throughout the various stages of the design, in which the whole team worked closely together, was key to the successful result.

Our aim was to provide high levels of natural light to enable spaces to accommodate different types of activities and be as flexible as possible, but above all to offer a natural environment for visitors to feel comfortable in and where they want to stay.
Robert Schmitz and Oskar Norelius, lead architects at White Arkitekter

– Maximizing the amount of daylight in the building, maintaining the connection to the outside, and bringing the infinite colours and qualities of daylight into the building throughout the seasons, are the natural complement to all the timber surfaces in the interior. Just like in the forest, the interior of Sara Cultural Centre invites you to experience the seasonal changes, and to feel the scent of wood, says Robert Schmitz and Oskar Norelius, lead architects at White Arkitekter.

Timber innovation

The regional forest industry and construction knowledge play an important role in the project and is complemented by recent developments in engineered timber (CLT) technology. The advancement of research in engineered timber has unleashed a world of previously unimagined design possibilities. Collaborating with structural engineers Florian Kosche, two different construction systems have been developed; one for the cultural centre and one for its sibling structure, the hotel.

The high rise, which houses the hotel, is constructed of premanufactured modules in cross-laminated timber (CLT), stacked between two elevator cores. Thanks to the placement and design of the cores, they can be entirely made from CLT. Standing 75 metres tall, the 20-storey hotel offers dramatic views that stretch for miles over the city from one of the world’s highest timber framed buildings with glue-laminated timber (GLT) pillars and beams.

The low rise consists of a timber frame with pillars and beams made of glue lam and cores and shear walls in cross laminated timber. The construction helps redistributing loads and enhances structural stability from the high rise. The high rise has 13 floors and consists of stacked 3D volumes of timber between two cores at each end.

The design is an homage to the region’s rich timber tradition that we hope to take forward with the local timber industry. Together, we can create a beautiful civic centre for all; a contemporary expression that ages with grace.

The characteristic trusses above the grand foyers are composed of a GLT and steel hybrid that enables a flexible, open-plan space that can host a range of activities and functions within. Flexibility of use guarantees the building’s long-term sustainability by allowing it to adapt to future demands.

Now in its 15th year, World Architecture Festival is the largest global architecture event that combines awards, seminars, and networking. At the heart of the festival sits a unique live-judged awards programme. WAF takes place on the 30 November – 2 December 2022 in Lisbon.


Do you want to know more? Please contact us!

Robert Schmitz

Robert Schmitz

Architect, Office management


+46 8 402 26 52

Oskar Norelius

Oskar Norelius

Architect, Office Management, Office management


+46 8 402 26 03

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