Malmo: Sweden with a Twist

Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo, is getting a new landmark: the Turning Torso, a tower-shaped residential building rising 190 meters into the air. It consists of nine cubes on top of each other, gradually twisting up to 90 degrees on their way up, symbolizing a man twisting his torso to behold the world.

Malmo and the Danish capital Copenhagen make up the center of the so-called Oresund Region, made possible by another landmark, the Oresund Bridge. With a population of 265,000, Malmo is the little sister in this co-operation, perhaps the reason why a sculpture of Santiago Calatrava inspired them to construct a skyscraper in the Western Harbour. This twisting spectacle will certainly make the Danes turn their torsos to take an envious look.

Not particularly drawn to dizzy heights or endless panoramic views, I soon set out for Malmo Old City inside the canals to search for a cosier spot; one that is more manageable in size and still offers lovely views in every direction.

Turning Torso

Turning Torsomodel by Samark Arkitektur AB

The first square, Stortorget, Big Square, impresses me but doesn’t measure up to the adjacent Lilla Torg – Little Square – reassuringly small and intimate, lined with beautiful facades in pleasant colours.

Little Square dates back to the 1590s, and centuries of refinement have turned it into a true gem. It’s even basically square in shape. Standing on its cobblestone floor at noon, the low spring sun makes the shadow of my body serve as a compass needle. With only a slight deviation, the sides of Little Square actually match the points of the compass, making it easy to find one’s bearings.

Around the Compass

Little Square

Little Square
photo by Jan-Erik Andersson

The northern side is dominated by an elegant brownish beige office building of six floors, the tallest one on Lilla Torg. It makes an orderly impression, appropriate for the many lawyers who run their practices from here. The south side is different in that it is lower and more original. Most striking is the half-timbered Hedman Estate, also brownish and with a gate to more lopsided idyll. Next to it, there is a yellow building containing a very old-fashioned shop, Hokeriet, abounding in long since discontinued brands.

The west side is a mix of old and new; a half-timbered wing followed by two small houses in pastel shades of blue and yellow, the tallest one only three floors high. The opposite eastern side has an eye catcher in reddish brown, a slim beauty surrounded by comparatively modern buildings in light colours, one of them with blue awnings over its windows. The maximum height is four floors. All buildings, around the entire compass, are really well kept. Three trees have been decorated with yellow Easter eggs and matching feathers while anticipating fresh green leaves.

Not surprisingly, Little Square is a rendezvous for hungry, thirsty and sociable people. On the northern, western and eastern sides, the ground floor of all the houses, except one, has got at least one cafe or restaurant. As the sun is already warming things up, the owners are busy furnishing the square with tables and chairs under white canopies, and gas heaters for those sensitive to the cold. Customers are not a long time coming, equipped with coats to keep them warm in the shade, or short sleeves to enjoy the sun.

More Little Square

More Little Square
photo by Alex Brandell

Between 12 and 1, the square is invaded by office people. Swedes have a long lunch break and always go out to eat. The majority determinedly head for Saluhallen in the northwestern corner, a dark red market hall. Apart from a fishmonger, the shops have by and large been substituted by eateries. To make the best use of limited space, food is served at long counters and tiny tables. Every taste is considered: local meat and fish, sushi, Italian, Greek and mixed Asian.

My own favourite is B & B, a traditional lunch restaurant right at the entrance. The owner, Mr. Lino, is such a well-organized man that two minutes after my ordering, a plate with meat balls in cream sauce lands on the counter. He’s so sure of an influx of customers that he opens bottles of light beer and mineral water before people arrive. Many of them indicate with fingers in the air how many seats they need while continuing their lively conversation.

Twisting Little Square

Although I can’t see it from here, the Turning Torso is still at the back of my mind, perhaps because there are certain similarities between its cubes and Little Square: the size of their base, the square shape and the five floors, almost equal to the height of the tallest building. If putting a roof over Lilla Torg and turning its sides outwards, it would also become a cube, with an upper part made up of the blue sky on three of its sides.

This alternative cube could be multiplied and nine of them put on top of each other, then slightly twisted until the uppermost cube has been turned 90 degrees, imitating the Torso. The multiple reproduction of Lilla Torg’s facades would from every angle be a twisting eye-catcher, causing the Turning Torso to pale with its whiteness and rows of identical windows. Extra windows could be added in the new cubes’ sky section, at night shining in competition with the stars.

My skyscraper – to be named Twisting Little Square – deserves a unique position and I know where to look, in the green areas of Malmo, indeed a city of parks. I traverse the outskirts of two of them when heading westwards, the Castle Park and the adjoining King’s Park. All the while, a tower of scaffolding keeps me company on the right; the unfinished Turning Torso which has by now reached 39 floors out of 54 in total.

Summer in Malmo

Summer in Malmo
photo by Jan-Erik Andersson

After a 15-minute walk, the lovely Ribersborg Beach lies before me, with huge green spaces and the Oresund Bridge to the left. On the opposite side of a nearby canal, the Turning Torso emerges from the Western Harbour, a modern residential district. An elderly lady, out walking her little dog, is quite enthusiastic about the Torso and reveals to me who has bought the top floor apartment. I’m curious to know what she thinks of Lilla Torg. “It’s wonderful!” she says, which means my project has already one supporter.

In my mind’s eye, I see Lilla Torg leave its anonymous position and rise into the air, adorning a residential skyscraper, set on a background of green fields and the blue sea. It’s going to be visible from everywhere – from the elderly lady’s balcony, from the Oresund Bridge and from Denmark on clear days, and the airplanes will no doubt circulate round it to get a total yet twisted picture of Malmo’s Little Square.