Sara Cultural Centre (Sara Kulturhus), a state-of-the-art cultural venue and hotel in Skellefteå, Sweden, has opened its doors to the public for the very first time. Designed by Swedish architecture studio White Arkitekter, the new building stands 75 metres tall and features a structure made entirely of timber. An international showcase for sustainable design and construction, the venue is also one of the world’s tallest timber towers.

Named after 20th century Swedish literary icon Sara Lidman, Sara Cultural Centre houses the Skellefteå Art Gallery, Museum Anna Nordlander, Västerbotten Regional Theatre, and the new City Library, alongside The Wood Hotel, restaurants, spa and conference centre. The building references the timber building heritage of the region with Skellefteå having a long tradition of wooden buildings as well as a flourishing timber industry.

"One of the biggest challenges of the project was convincing people to build something that hadn't been built before. But with the will and ambition to break new ground in wood architecture and sustainable construction, we have now realised the project with a full timber structure," White Arkitekter lead architects Robert Schmitz and Oskar Norelius said.

Featuring different volumes to suit the building’s different purposes, the cultural centre has been designed with flexibility in mind so that the premises can be easily adapted for future needs.

The mixed-use programme called for a range of innovative solutions in mass timber construction. In collaboration with structural engineering company Florian Kosche, two different construction systems were developed for the project – one for the cultural centre and another for the hotel.

While the 20-storey hotel is made from prefabricated 3D-modules in cross laminated timber (CLT) stacked between two CLT elevator cores, the lower rise cultural centre consists of a timber frame with columns and beams made of glue laminated timber (GLT), along with cores and shear walls in CLT.

The characteristic trusses above the grand foyers are composed of a GLT and steel hybrid that enables a flexible, open-plan space that can adapt to different uses over time. The glass façade wrapping the building reveals the spectacular exposed timber-framed ceiling, which is a recurring motif throughout the venue.

The project represents an important milestone for White Arkitekter who envision that all of their architecture will be carbon neutral or better by 2030; timber construction is an important element in the studio’s transition to net zero.

The timber structure of Sara Cultural Centre sequesters more than twice the carbon emissions caused by operational energy and embodied carbon from the production of materials, transportation, and construction at site. Combined with a ground-breaking energy system developed by Skellefteå Kraft and ABB, the timber design reduces the energy use of the building. Solar panels on the roof produce renewable energy that together with the timber structure, more than compensate for the carbon emissions caused by the building. All the wood is sourced locally from the region’s coniferous forests.

“Sara Cultural Centre is realised with timber as a massive, structural material, not just a surface layer on top for show. It's solid, warm, and human and you can feel it. Solid columns, beams, slabs, and walls shape the rooms and give them their own unique expression,” the architects explained.