UMEÅ – Umeå, Sweden is currently one of two European Capitals of Culture. The distinction, given to one or more cities each year by the EU, has historically been a catalyst for cultural growth and urban regeneration. Umeå is no exception; the city has concentrated redevelopment efforts on waterfront sites in an attempt to revitalise the area along the river Ume. Several blocks formerly dedicated only to parking now form a riverside park with an architectural centrepiece designed by Snøhetta and local architects White Arkitekter.
The building is a cultural centre that occupies a waterfront block and another lying just to the north, creating a link between the existing street grid and the redeveloped river walk. It houses, among other things, a library, a black box theatre, a conference centre, and a hotel. The designers have called the complex Väven after the Swedish word meaning ‘weave’, a fitting metaphor for the confluence of so many distinct programs under one roof.
Uniting a diverse range of cultural uses was a challenge that, according to the designers, was ‘achieved by “wrapping” the manifold functions of the building in one homogenous façade’. The façade, they continue, is a ‘strong graphical reference’ to the familiar, local texture of birch trees. Väven’s gently meandering bands of glazing not only evoke peeling birch bark, but also seem to predict their own reflection in the river below.