Sweden has put an exclamation mark on the world map, Turning Torso, a twisted residential tower in the city of Malmo. The full story bears a less pretentious title: Western Harbor – from industrial area to an oasis of modern living, education and commerce, with IT as a subtitle.
The citizens of Malmo are recapturing the sea after contenting themselves with views of ferry terminals and city canals in the past. That’s how city planners put it, knowing the Swedes have an innate passion for the sea. Its color is reflected in their blue eyes, in their flag too, and the sea inspires them to sing sentimental sailors’ ballads. Their ultimate quality of life would be to live, study and work by the sea.
Malmo is strategically situated in southwest, where the Baltic narrows into the straits of Oresund before merging with the North Sea. Its neighbor opposite is the Danish capital Copenhagen. The two rivals are in our days connected via the Oresund Bridge and cooperate increasingly to build a strong Oresund Region. This part of Sweden was Danish until 1658, which Malmo’s 270,000 inhabitants do their best to get back at, by invading Copenhagen on every occasion.
When not busy racing across The Sound, the Malmo citizens may climb a wooden platform outside the Central Railway Station in the port, to follow another mega construction project: the City Tunnel, in a few years allowing the trains to reach the Oresund Bridge south of town faster, and thus be more competitive. Reduced transportation time promotes integration between Malmo and Copenhagen, not least for the centrally located Western Harbor.
The name Kockum remains on several buildings, a nostalgic reminder of a shipyard adventure; it started in 1870 and lasted over a century. From a business of tobacco and snuffboxes, Kockum developed into a major producer of railway carriages, but first of all into a world-leading shipyard. After 1974, it was assisted by the largest gantry crane in the world, the Kockum Crane, Malmo’s white landmark with Kockum in blue letters visible from afar.
The Crane is in Korea now and what’s left of Kockum, some construction and development work, belongs to a German group. Something remains though and that’s all the sand that over the years was filled into the sea to meet Kockum’s needs for expansion. Western Harbor was practically made for Kockum. One way to go there is via a bridge nicknamed the Small Oresund Bridge followed by the green Klaffbron, a gem of a bascule bridge at present being reinforced to serve the City of Tomorrow, also called City of Knowledge.
The sea front appears occupied on this side, due to the complex of Dockan, The Docks, replacing the Kockum Crane. Apart from the many balconies facing the harbor entrance, the 6-storied residential blocks make an anonymous impression, but it changes when seeing them from the other side, each opening up onto a yard with a garden and sizeable balconies viewing a canal-shaped marina, once a spacious dry dock. Similar blocks will soon cover the opposite quay and the locals can hardly wait to open a new cafe scene with a marina at their feet.
A dance theater and Malmo University have taken over nearby buildings, one of them still named Submarine Hall. Assembly halls for Saab cars were long since converted to Malmo Fair, while an old slipway is waiting for a renaissance in a coming Youth Park, part of which is a skateboard arena where young people already take off from a sculpture-like curvy surface, made of concrete. Their twisted bodies seem to imitate the adjacent Turning Torso’s 190-m trunk: nine twisted cubes atop each other in such a strained position that a corset of huge iron bars is necessary.
Turning Torso appears secretive and unapproachable. A moat-like pond around its basis suggests that this castle of slanting windows and walls is impregnable, contradicted by its own cracked reflection in the glass building of Malmo Fair. An incredible seaview compensates for the odd shapes of things, too bad for the apartments without a seaview. The rounded main door suddenly lets out a young lady in bermudas, walking a little dog. She lingers at the entrance awhile, apparently adjusting to the forms and right angles of the outside world.
Village in the City
The Torso is a monument to technical daring and two men’s persistence: Santiago Calatrava who had a sculpture, and a housing company manager who had an idea of using the sculpture as a model for a residential tower, a drama of technical difficulties, budget overruns and a manager who lost his job. Less dramatic is the strip of land between the Torso and the sea: an underwood of new homes, so far only called Western Harbor, started in 2001 as a housing exhibition and still expanding.
This district is like a village complete with alleys, canals, parks and tiny private gardens. The seaview has here given way to neighborliness. Variation is the key word: a multitude of shapes and proportions, surprising details wherever you turn, never going higher than four or five floors, terraces on the ground or on the roof, even a couple of houseboats, colors variable but matching. Potential residents must not forget to look up into the sky to see what the omnipresent Torso does to the view and the daylight.
Toward the sea, the village is discreetly dominated by glass and off-white facades along the Sound Promenade and the Dania Park; a mix of squares and cafes, sunbathers and small boats. In the west, there is the endless Ribersborg Beach with stretches of green and a bridge to a bathing house dating back to 1898: Ribban, open for nude-bathing in Oresund regardless of season and temperature. The panoramic view from its sauna includes the Oresund Bridge and Copenhagen, not forgetting Turning Torso; from this perspective, it could well be mistaken for an unopened white lily.
A retired sailor, with wrinkled tattoos on his tanned skin, proceeds slowly through the Scania Park beyond the village, steering a walker. His weak legs have qualified him for an apartment in Western Harbor. He is not impressed, like an outsider tends to be, by the Swedes’ capacity for spectacular projects, perfectly exemplified in Western Harbor; an alternative city district where small is beautiful, except for the Torso, and sustainability is part of the philosophy.
The eye-catching Turning Torso is already a landmark more well-known than the Kockum Crane. While Western Harbor in general has a common touch, the Torso signals an affluent lifestyle, which threatens to become the image of the whole area. The authorities could prevent that by giving preference to disabled old sailors and Kockum workers as future residents in Western Harbor. The local lifestyle might benefit from their modesty and physical slowness.