Nov 23, 2014

A new port at the Umeå River!

To watch the developer and the architect on Friday, harbor and express their happiness after years of work was amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, I am giving you Väven!
Ten years ago I produced a film for Balticgruppen, a developing company based in Umeå. Six architects on a parallell assignment were coming up with six different visions for redesigning the Umeå waterfront facing the Umeå River. Bold, brave, beautiful and surprising. The Oslo firm Snöhetta vision was the one advocated before the City, but for reasons later discussed and debated in Umeå the vision never came true. As I documented the whole process on film, being present when it happened and later watching 16 hours of footage, I have a pretty clear opinion about the circumstances, but I will save that one for my memoirs.
Umeå has been divided on the waterfront design subject, as we should. Imagine a city agreeing on a big change! Some were relieved that first vision didn’t come true, some were disappointed. I was among the latter part. Disappointed and sad. So was Balticgruppen, Snöhetta I am sure, and parts of the City Hall.
The idea of redesigning the waterfront turned into a Sleeping Beauty for quite some time, but what the City could agree on was that something needed to be done. For the same reasons as the redesigning of the Seattle waterfront: turning the city towards the water and making something ugly and deserted into a welcoming and beautiful spot for people to relax, meet and have fun. Building a new front porch.
Somewhere along the line the City and Balticgruppen started looking at an option for a main attraction on the 9 block stretch between Gamla bron (the Old Bridge) and Kyrkbron (the Church Bridge), called Staden mellan broarna (the City Between the Bridges). To make a long story very short they agreed on a building for cultural arts and invited Snöhetta as the architect along with the local White office.
Through the ten years passing since the six visions being like a love story between the City, Balticgruppen and the leading architect firms within the Nordic countries, there has been a lot of grief and frustration, even feelings of hopelessness. Therefor, the opening of the building for cultural arts Väven this weekend is an amazing milestone some of us, at times, never thought we would reach.
Väven (The Weave), where various forms of cultural expression will be woven together, harbors a new city library, the Women’s history museum, a black box, two movie theaters and much more, coffee shops, restaurant, a conference floor and two hotels within the Väven block.
The black and white glass exterior of Väven is inspired by the graphics of the birch stem, an Umeå signature. So, if you like the new building you say it’s woven into Umeå. If you utterly dislike it, your opinion is that the building looks like a cruise ship, is totally out of proportion and ruins the familiar Umeå character.
Myself, I have loved every minute of watching an ugly parking lot, an eye sore, facing the Umeå river change into a bold and beautiful building. Then, of course, I am emotionally attached to the project since my documentary ten years ago. And the fact that I am now producing a different film, where Väven is one of the main characters, makes me very grateful.
At 1PM Friday, Väven was officially opened. The vision which the Balticgruppen developer and owner Krister Olsson and Kjetil Thorsen, founding partner of Snöhetta had been carrying for years was now for real. During the weekend the people of Umeå has taken possession of the two men’s dreams, drawings, renderings, models and fantasy about a weave of arts and people at the shore of the Umeå River. The way it was a weave of people and cultures when the river was deep and the very same place was a vibrant ship port.
For me to watch the two men meet and happily hug in the middle of the Friday crowd, only minutes after the doors opened in the building they created, was a big moment. Through my films I have been allowed being an eye on the inside of this ten year process. I can’t say how grateful I am being there the historic day of the opening.

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