New Nobel center sparks royal outrage, political outcry

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The waterfront building in an upscale part of Stockholm was meant to showcase one of the world’s most famous prizes.

A general view of the new Nobel Center building is seen in an undated artist's rendering from the David Chipperfield Architects. David Chipperfield Architects/Handout via Reuters

Instead, plans for a new Nobel Centre have sparked royal outrage, political spats and objections from a Swedish business tycoon that it spoils his view.

“It looks like a brass-coloured nuclear power plant,” said Lotta Edholm, who heads the opposition Liberal Party in Stockholm and who voted against the decision to approve the 130 million euro ($146 million) building because of its design and cost.

The Nobel Foundation centre, designed by British architect David Chipperfield, is intended to host exhibitions, seminars and probably the prize ceremonies. It is to be built on the site of an 1870s customs house and other historic sites in Stockholm’s old harbor.

Stockholm City Council approved the plans but has since faced uproar and appeals against the 18,000 square meters building, which is partly financed by the Wallenberg business dynasty.

In June, King Carl XVI Gustaf, who presents the Nobel prizes each year in Stockholm, triggered controversy himself by criticizing the building as too big in a rare public foray into Swedish public life.

“It need not be so gigantic,” he told Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “It could be downsized..... And why get stuck in trenches and say it has be located right here? It could also be moved.”

Queen Silvia called for a referendum on its construction. Some politicians accused the king of meddling in politics.

The centre will dominate an area featuring some of Sweden’s most emblematic and historic buildings like the National Museum, an area with an aristocratic air of traditional restaurants, harbour-side bars and shining yachts.

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Original plans for the building have already been reduced in size and a brass facade has been changed to brass colored steel to adhere to environmental standards.

The cost will be met by donations, including from Swedish icons like the main owner of retail giant Hennes & Mauritz as well as the Wallenberg family.

But another business tycoon is on the opposite side of the conflict.

Fredrik Lundberg, often referred to as Sweden’s Warren Buffett, has objected to the scale of the building, citing concerns about the sea view of his nearby offices and the value of their century-old properties.

A Lundberg real estate company that owns a neighboring building has threatened to launch a claim for damages for hundreds of millions of crowns if the Nobel Centre is built.

Another neighbor is the National Museum, owned by the National Property Board, which filed a rare appeal over the plan, saying the proposed building had a negative impact on the surrounding areas.

Susanne Lindh who is heading the Nobel Centre project said criticism was to be expected.

“I would have been more surprised if it had not been debated, and in this case it has also helped to make the building better,” she told Reuters.

The 8 million Swedish crown ($964,797) prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

($1 = 0.8894 euros)

($1 = 8.2919 Swedish crowns)

Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Richard Balmforth