Brutalist twin towers in Stockholm

Can skyscrapers exude warmth and comfort? Yes, take for instance the unconventional apartments in the Norra Tornen residential towers by Reinier de Graaf and O.M.A., scheduled for completion in 2020.

The second tower is currently being built right next to the eight-lane motorway in the heart of Hagastaden, the new district in the north of Stockholm where the Karolinska Institutet is situated that awards the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Renowned international architectural firm O.M.A. (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), founded by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Rem Koolhaas, is at the helm of the Norra Tornen (Northern Towers) project – a pair of skyscrapers that will be the highest residential buildings in Stockholm city centre.

300 residential units

The east tower of the Norra Tornen – named “Innovations” – was opened in 2018, is 125 metres tall and consists of 36 floors. Its little brother, the west tower called “Helix”, will be completed in 2020 and will be 110 metres and 33 floors high. In total, the complex will consist of 300 residential units. The high-rise building was designed by Dutch architect and O.M.A. partner Reinier de Graaf.

Norra Tornen in Stockholm

Norra Tornen at night

This was O.M.A.’s first project in Sweden. The company also won the architectural competition for the KaDeWe project in Vienna. Here, a traditional department store with a modern flair is being built on the site of the current Leiner department store, offering a combination of shopping, restaurants, cafés, hotels and consumption-free zones.

Norra Tornen - lots of glass

Norra Tornen - clear view

Gateway to Stockholm

According to the client, Oscar Properties, once the two towers have been completed, they will represent a kind of gateway to Stockholm. The two building shells were, in a manner of speaking, inherited – former city architect Aleksander Wolodarski had originally planned to build two towers in this location but the project was put on ice, not least because funding dried up.

Norra Tornen extend high into the sky

Norra Tornen extend high into the sky

Residential diversity

In spite of criticism being levelled at the planned building height at the time, Reinier de Graaf intends to make them even higher, with terraces nestled in between protruding living rooms. This not only lends the building a vertical segmentation but also a second, horizontal one, which in turn gives the façade a homogenous look.

Close to the motorway

Norra Tornen as the gateway to Stockholm

Measuring between 44 and 271 square metres, the apartments face in several different directions and have unique floor plans and many square metres of windows – something that is of no little importance in a country with limited daylight. The material of choice – ribbed, coloured concrete with exposed, multicoloured stone chip mixture – calls to mind “brutalist architecture”, an invention that the Swedes like to attribute to architect Hans Asplund.

Tetris-like modular system

O.M.A. uses prefabricated concrete slabs in the construction process. Particularly in the cold north, this means that construction work can continue even when temperatures are below the 5°C limit for in situ concrete pouring. Another advantage is that the precast parts reduce construction costs considerably. However, given that the design aims to create the greatest possible diversity with a limited number of “prefab parts”, you would have to look very closely to see that the building is prefabricated.

Terrace Norra Tornen

Interior Norra Tornen

The residents will not only be able to enjoy the outdoor spaces – Stockholm has the fourth-highest air quality of any major EU city – but will also have a cinema room, a dining room for parties, a guest apartment and a fitness studio complete with sauna and relaxation area at their disposal. Retail space will also be available on the ground floor.

Stockholm long ago
the two Norra Tornen towers

Stockholm now
Norra Tornen individual elements

Text: Linda Benkö
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Images, plans: Laurian Ghinitoiu, Ossip van Duivenbode, O.M.A., Bloomimages