Södertälje’s new city hall

A proud city hall

The Swedish city of Södertälje is not just one of the country’s most multi-cultural communities. Sweden’s most modern city hall was also inaugurated here last autumn – a place for meeting, information and culture which strengthens the city’s profile and vision for the future. A building that breathes openness and democracy.

TV cameras from all over the world were focused on the Swedish municipality of Södertälje in spring 2008. Because the city alone had accepted more Iraqi refugees than the USA and Canada combined. City mayor Anders Lago was invited to the US Congress to persuade the whole world, including the USA, to be involved and take responsibility for all those who were fleeing war-torn Iraq, and to report on how the city of Södertälje was handling the refugee influx. Södertälje is located a half hour drive to the south of Stockholm and has just under 85,000 residents.

No fewer than 40 percent of them are of foreign background, so it’s not surprising that the city is marketed as “the international capital of Sweden”. And the needs of the citizens represented a strong argument for building a completely new city hall. The municipality’s services had previously been spread out over no fewer than seven different locations around the city. So the opportunity was seized to bring together the municipality’s administrative employees, all 450 of them, in a single modern building designed to reflect openness and democracy. Accessibility was another key element, seeing that the new city hall had to welcome and be usable for everyone. Consideration was given to older people, families with children and people with various disabilities so that the building became one of the most accessible in the world.

Special details and flexibility
In connection with the move, plans were also made for a completely new and more efficient way of working in open-plan offices, which meant a major adjustment for many employees. The interior fittings were subject to open tender according to Swedish law, and Kinnarps was one of the companies who responded to the tender. Marcus Bagstevold, head of Kinnarps Interior Södertälje, was responsible for the project together with his colleague Peter Karlsson.

“The interior designers had prepared long lists specifying the furniture they wanted – a mix of both Swedish and foreign manufacturers. It is prohibited to have any contact with the customer during the actual tendering procedure, but as soon as we won the tender we built up and presented a prototype of the workplace that the interior designers had specially drawn up for the Södertälje municipality. We had to work hard to meet their specific requirements and got a lot of help in sorting out the details from architect Rune Karlsson at Kinnarps headquarters. Altogether we finalised many special details, including specific paints for the desk frames, quieter rails for the cabinet doors and highly soundabsorbent fabrics from Ludvig Svensson on the screens, so I really think we showed great flexibility,” points out Marcus Bagstevold and adds that although
Södertälje municipality had worked together with Kinnarps for about the last 30 years, that this was absolutely the biggest project so far.

Interior architect Marco Checchi from BSK Arkitekter, the company that designed both the building and its interior, testifies to Kinnarps receptiveness. “We really appreciated the fact that Kinnarps showed such enthusiasm in meeting our special requirements and that they came with so many of their own clever ideas and detailed solutions.”

Pride is important
Because the construction work was delayed, the ten installers from Kinnarps had to share their workspace with 150 construction workers all in full swing. In only two weeks, we succeeded in delivering and installing the 450 workplaces, which meant only a short interruption in the employees’ work schedule.

Already a month after the inauguration in November 2008, the number of visitors had broken all records. Apart from Södertälje’s residents, many visitors from other municipalities came along – Sweden has not had a new city hall for 17 years! “There was great interest, maybe largely because of the Swedish government’s targets: its action plan says that the whole country will be adapted to assure full accessibility by the year 2010. But it’s certainly easier to do this from scratch than to apply it in an existing building,” says procurement manager Anders Kuylser at Södertälje city hall and continues: “What is nicest is the pride that all feel in being privileged to work in such a modern and inspiring environment. The resulting ambience creates solidarity and shows that Södertälje is an innovative and forward-looking municipality!”

 SUSANNE HELGESON