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Competition: Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

A competition is being held for a £17 million overhaul of Strängnäs Cathedral in rural Sweden and its surrounding precinct (Deadline: 27 November)

Open to everyone, the anonymous two-stage competition seeks conceptual proposals to upgrade and expand the landmark 13th-century building, which dominates the small city of Strängnäs next to Lake Mälaren.

The project, backed by the Strängnäs Cathedral Assembly, aims to transform the hilltop cathedral complex into a ‘living meeting place’ with enhanced facilities for cultural, community and religious activities. 

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

Source: Image by Thrór

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

According to the brief: ‘The cathedral is a living church, the nucleus of both parish and diocese, and a potential hub for all of Strängnäs and the region at large. Several years ago, Strängnäs Cathedral Parish with Aspö began to formulate a vision for Strängnäs Cathedral and the cathedral hill.

‘By carefully adapting elements of the cathedral and its environs to meet the present and future needs of our parish, diocese and town, we want to create an environment in which the cathedral hill once again becomes a place for all the activities of life and where many different actors can meet. We hope that our work in and around Strängnäs Cathedral will be an inspiration for other church environments in Sweden.’

Strängnäs is a picturesque lakeside cathedral city of 18,000 residents, around 60km west of Stockholm. The hilltop cathedral was built between 1291 and 1340 and gradually expanded throughout the medieval era.

The European Brick Gothic-style building is recognised as one of the best-preserved medieval cathedrals within the Baltic Sea area. Nearby landmarks include Aspö Church and the St Petri Chapel in the south cemetery.

The competition focuses on the cathedral hill itself along with several surrounding streets, squares, a jetty area and waterside park. Current issues include a lack of storage space, social facilities and heating inside the cathedral. The wider complex also lacks sufficient office and meeting areas.

The project aims to transform the cathedral and surrounding precinct into a ‘unifying, functional and sustainable flagship building of high architectonic quality’. Stage one submissions will identify flexible solutions to enhance the buildings and bring new uses to the site.

Planned upgrades include a new fellowship hall, exhibition space and café, upgraded library, improved wayfinding and landscaping, and facilities for youth and musical activities.

Five shortlisted teams will receive £28,000 each and be invited to draw up more detailed proposals in response to a revised brief in the second stage of the contest. The overall winner will receive an additional £28,000 and the design commission.

Judges include cathedral dean Christofer Lundgren, diocese assistant director Emma Hansen Dahlqvist, architect and professor Kerstin Barup, and landscape architect Åsa Ehn Hillberg.

The competition documents are available in English and Swedish but all submissions must be completed in Swedish.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 23:59 local time on 27 November

Contact details

Marie Rydén Davoust
Strängnäs Cathedral Assembly with Aspö
Bishop’s Gate 2
645 30


View the contract notice for more information

Q&A with Christofer Lundgren

The jury chair and dean of Strängnäs Cathedral Parish with Aspö discusses his ambitions for the contest

Christofer Lundgren

Christofer Lundgren

Christofer Lundgren

Why are your holding a competition to upgrade Strängnäs Cathedral and improve its role in the surrounding city?

Existing values, including the history of the site and its green spaces and views, can be refined, emphasised and enhanced, and new values created, matching both the needs of today and tomorrow. We create for the future and hope for many challenging and exciting proposals.

The overarching objective of the competition is that the entries should address the cathedral hill as a whole, and the task is to create a unifying, functional and sustainable flagship building of high architectonic quality. The task also includes planning the use of existing buildings and the design of the surrounding areas. The goal is to bring together the various activities in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral and identify synergy effects on the cathedral hill by better using existing buildings and coordinating functions in the best possible way.

The contest is arranged by the Cathedral parish, and connects to some of the strategies of the city. We think that the project is interesting enough to bring international participation to it. Since it is a project with many aspects to consider we would like to see a range of suggestions for solutions.

What is your vision for the new cathedral hill complex?

A living cathedral is our vision for the Cathedral Hill, with the sincere hope that the cathedral and the cathedral hill should express our belief in “a church near the people.” People of all ages should again fill the park. The cathedral environment should reinforce its role as a centre for education and social and spiritual leadership. It should be a place for joy and celebration, retreat and rest.

The contest site is the hill around the cathedral. And one challenge is that this is an area of rich cultural heritage: The town of Strängnäs and the area around the cathedral have been identified as an area of national interest for the preservation of cultural heritage. Architectural quality and sustainability are among the criteria for the jury to consider.

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

Source: Image by Ristesson

Strängnäs Cathedral, Sweden

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

This is an open international competition because we truly welcome also emerging practices and undiscovered talents. We welcome anyone who considers themselves to have the necessary competence to carry out a design in a complex area as this. Since tall entries will remain anonymous until stage two of the judging is complete, this will give all entries the same opportunity. If the organiser finds that the winner does not have the necessary experience and resources to successfully manage the commission, the commission will be given to the winner in collaboration with an experienced professional, selected by the winner and approved by the organiser.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We will have our hands full with this project for the next coming years since we expect this to be finished at the earliest of 2024. The jury may distribute a total of SEK 2 million for prizes and remuneration in the two stages.

Are there any other cathedral regeneration projects you have been impressed by?

We have looked at some church and cathedral regeneration projects, eg Domkyrkoforum in Lund and Fredrikskyrkan in Karlskrona, both in Sweden, and are thankful for their reflections and experiences we have been able to incorporate during our planning phase. 

Durham Cathedral case study: Q&A with Purcell

The UK practice discusses lessons learned upgrading Durham Cathedral in England

How did your project upgrade Durham Cathedral and enhance its connections and role in the surrounding city?

It was the intention of the project that the works to improve UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durham Cathedral, and its new Open Treasure exhibit, would provide a social and economic contribution to the local community and the region. This would be achieved through new employment, and encouraging more visitors from the local area and further afield.

Three of the four project phases by Purcell architects, led by the Durham Cathedral Architect, Christopher Cotton, are now complete, and with the inclusion of a new shop and foyer space in the west Cloistral range undercroft crypt, as well as new café restaurant and kitchen facilities within the crypt, the site is now able to welcome more visitors to its buildings and collections. A transparent glass lift has enabled previously unpresented spaces to be seen by a wider audience.

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Glazing was the most appropriate material to support much of the design – particularly in the café and new lift – allowing minimisation of visual intrusion on spaces. Purcell followed the cathedral tradition of designing the fittings and using the in-house team to manufacture the furniture. Great care was taken over lighting and new materials to ensure a fit within the historic context.

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

What advice would you have to contest participants on transforming Strängnäs Cathedral into a new religious and community hub?

Purcell learned that integrated creative fundraising campaigns are an important way of building new audiences in the local community, and ensuring the deliverability of scheme proposals. The UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund was a significant supporter of the project. Other Cathedral fundraising included an innovative campaign as part of its public appeal in support of Open Treasure – it embarked on building a LEGO model of the Cathedral where visitors donated £1 per LEGO brick and placed them on the model. Purcell was proud to be one of the sponsors of Durham Cathedral in LEGO with its staff building part of it on a corporate away day.

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

Source: Image by David James Wood

Durham Cathedral by Purcell

The LEGO project generated considerable interest from the local community, including generous donations from a number of local businesses. In addition to this, as part of the Cathedral’s outreach local schools and youth groups became involved with the LEGO build. The tangible nature of the initiative allowed the public to interact with the Cathedral in a new way and contributed £300,000 to the public appeal.

Engaging collaboratively with key stakeholders from the outset was critical to planning and delivery. The Open Treasure Project was set within the Grade I listed medieval cloistral building, which meant the formal approvals process was complex for this highly-sensitive site.

Purcell’s approach in the first instance was to establish with the Dean and Chapter, as well as the Cathedral community and department heads the project objectives, need and opportunities. They developed an informed understanding of the history and significance of the buildings and site through a conservation management plan. This enabled the development of an exciting conceptual masterplan that was consulted upon with the Cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee, the SPAB, and Historic England to gain initial agreement on the understanding of significance and the opportunities for, and approaches to, design interventions.

Once Purcell established an outline scheme proposal, the architects undertook further consultations with the approving statutory authorities. They hosted a number of collaborative consultation days with these bodies so that a consensus could be reached on the scheme proposals; without these consultations, they believe they would not have arrived so smoothly at an agreed scheme that enabled submission applications to be made and promptly approved.


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