The Golden Cube

The Nobelhuset wants to put Stockholm on the global map. A posh new building shall house “nobel rock stars like Einstein, Hemingway and the Dalai Lama”, provide a global stage […]

Nobel House Design (c) Chipperfield Architects

Nobel House Design (c) Chipperfield Architects

The Nobelhuset wants to put Stockholm on the global map. A posh new building shall house “nobel rock stars like Einstein, Hemingway and the Dalai Lama”, provide a global stage for research, connect natural sciences and culture with social issues and become a grand platform for societal debate. Very noble, but unfortunately many Stockholmers don’t like the big “shiny box”.

During the recent EUSJA study trip to Stockholm, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nobelhuset AB, Susanne Lindh, presented the design to European science journalists. The dream of having a special venue goes back to the year 1900, she said. Alfred Nobel and later the Nobel Foundation wanted to have a proper place for the nobel ceremony. Because of the lack of a better location, traditionally the laureates were received in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

Nobel venue for more than a century, Stockholm's Concert Hall (c) Wikimedia Commons, Andy Eick

Nobel venue for more than a century, Stockholm’s Concert Hall (c) Wikimedia Commons, Andy Eick

Now the old dream is getting close to fulfillment. In April 2014 the British architect David Chipperfield won the competition for the Nobel House design. The new venue, if built, would go up right at Stockholm’s waterfront, next to the National Museum and in the close vicinity of Royal Castle.

Ms. Lindh, former director of the City’s Planning Commission, showed an impressive structure of steel and glass, eight stories high and with a capacity for a few thousand visitors. The brass gives the rectangular structure a golden shine which prompted one of the onlookers to call it to a “golden cube”. The costs of around 100 million Euros seem to have been raised and if everything goes according to schedule, the Nobelhuset would be inaugurated at the 2019 nobel award ceremony.

Nobelhuset CEO Susanne Lindh presents design to EUSJA study trip participants (c) Goede

Nobelhuset CEO Susanne Lindh presents design to EUSJA study trip participants (c) Goede

Principally, the venue would become a huge science center with exhibitions, seminars, lectures and debates. It shall reduce the distance between citizens and scientists, promote research as an intellectual engine, draw regular people and tourists. If they sit down in the restaurant, they may feel like attending a nobel ceremony, when they order the menu which is being served at the nobel banquet.

Apart from very popular features, there is a special emphasis on education and schools, Susanne Lindh continued. The ambitious plan is that every Swedish child visits the new nobel house once in his school time. That, of course, shall make the students curious about science, inspire them and pave the road for scientific careers. A small country like Sweden with a population of less than ten million counts on science as an important economic driver. Already the city is making great efforts to establish itself as a European center for digital health and life sciences.

Current picture of the site: The old Customs Building in front  needs to be demolished for the Nobel House (c) Kaianders Sempler

Current picture of the site: The old Customs Building in front needs to be demolished for the Nobel House (c) Kaianders Sempler

Many renown people are backing the project. One of them is Gunnar von Heijne, a professor for theoretical chemistry, who in a youtube video comes out with some highly convincing arguments. In the tradition of Alfred Nobel, to create a better world with the most creative and innovative ideas,  the new Nobel House could reframe natural sciences, humanities and peace efforts and bring them together, he believes. In this scheme, they would be linked more closely with culture and, essentially, social issues. This truly transdisciplinary approach would be unique in Heijne’s mind “and does not exist anywhere else”.

In other words, for the first time a feedback system between natural and social sciences would be generated under the cultural umbrella with exchanges into both directions. When asked whether the Nobel Foundation would consider a broader portfolio and also honor breakthroughs in the social sciences, Susanne Lindh shook her head. She responded that the Nobel operation is very conservative and would not change the setup. However changes are contemplated and currently it is being discussed whether climate change should be included as a novel theme.

Golden Cube for scientific enlightenment (c) Chipperfield Architects

Golden Cube for scientific enlightenment (c) Chipperfield Architects

The construction plans could proceed properly and make Nobel a global brand, if Stockholmers weren’t against the architecture of the venue. Since the first release one year ago, there is a rising opposition. Citizens and environmentalists claim that the building is oversized, dwarfs the surrounding structures, some of which even need to be demolished and just does not fit into a historically evolved urban landscape made up of masonry.

“The Nobelhuset sticks out like a sore thumb” or “looks like a UFO”, some adversaries have charged. Most recently they received support from Stockholm politicians. Rasmus Jonlund, a Liberal and vice chairman of the city council’s cultural environment committee, is quoted as dismissing the design as an oversized “shiny box”.

“I believe there is a fifty to fifty chance for construction or dismissal of the design”, says Kaianders Sempler, science journalist and resident of Stockholm. The Nobelhuset has become a prestigious project to promote the science-based industries, he explains, “and many Stockholmers don’t get what it is needed for”. But you never know, he cautions, “after a while we might get used to it”. Another option is that the scheme is being altered before scrapping it altogether.

Stockholm resident Kaianders Sempler: It stands 50 to 50 (c) Sempler

Stockholm resident Kaianders Sempler: It stands 50 to 50 (c) Sempler

Perhaps Chipperfield only needs to adjust the light flow. A less glossy shell could reconcile the Stockholmers and would put the extraordinary content into the limelight.

References

www.nobelcenter.se
http://www.nobelcenter.se/voices-on-the-nobel-center/
http://www.archdaily.com/497459/chipperfield-s-stockholm-nobel-centre-faces-harsh-opposition/
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/david-chipperfield-architects-controversial-designs-for-a-125m-nobel-center-in-stockholm-could-be-scrapped-10165752.html
http://totallystockholm.se/more/nobel-cause/
http://www.architectural-review.com/opinion/nobel-centre-why-build-a-100-million-building-for-an-event-that-happens-once-a-year/8662081.article
http://www.dn.se/sthlm/det-ar-vad-nobelcenter-gor-breder-ut-sig/

 

About Wolfgang C. Goede

Wolfgang C. Goede is a science journalist based in Munich, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Science Writers TELI.