Nobel decision paves way for advanced research centre

The three major universities in Stockholm plan to form a new research centre for advanced studies following the decision by the City of Stockholm to give the go-ahead for a Nobel Centre to be built on its waterfront.

University leaders and representatives of the Nobel Foundation and the two funding foundations said a planned research centre, to be located inside the new Nobel Centre, would be “an institution of the highest international rank”.

It would build on the city’s strengths as a dynamic research area and would give the region the opportunity to “compete with academic seats of honour such as Oxford and Cambridge”.

Two private foundations – the Erling-Persson Family Foundation and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation – have secured up to SEK500 million (US$62 million) for the Nobel Centre, and Stockholm city and the Swedish government are prepared to co-fund.

According to a website established for the project, the centre will invite people into the Nobel Prize’s “unique world of natural sciences, humanities and peace efforts and become a meeting place that inspires curiosity and creativity”. It will be a place for "exhibitions, media productions and educational activities” telling the life stories of the Nobel Laureates.

The proposal to build it had provoked controversy because of objections to the architecture. It will be located on the waterfront at the Blasieholmen, central Stockholm, where many argue that the design – with a shimmering brass-clad glazed façade that opens on to a new city park – does not fit with the traditional architecture of the surrounding buildings.

But prior to Monday’s vote of the city council, the rectors of Karolinska Institute (Karin Dahlman-Wright), Stockholm University (Astrid Söderbergh Widding) and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Peter Gudmundson), together with the chair of the board of the Nobel Foundation (Carl-Henrik Heldin), a board member of the Erling-Persson Family Foundation (Sigbrit Franke) and the executive director of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (Göran Sandberg), issued a joint call in support of the proposal via a jointly signed article in the major Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

They said the three major universities in Stockholm plan to form a new research centre inside the Nobel Centre.

“With a fully established programme for exhibitions, youth activities, scientific conferences and a research programme in a research institute centred around environment, climate and human rights, a Nobel Centre could become a central place for scientific discussions,” the six writers argued in Dagens Nyheter.

“A high-quality research programme could further strengthen Stockholm’s position in research, education and innovation. Such institutions are established in Princeton, Berlin, Harvard and Stanford universities,” they said.

The centre will focus on the grand challenges that have been identified in the Lund Declaration, and become a meeting place for researchers from a broad spectrum of sciences, from Nobel Prize holders to young researchers, doctoral students and post-doc candidates, they said.

“Every thematic research group shall include scientists from both Swedish and foreign research institutions and special focus shall be on the inclusion of researchers from growth countries,” they added.

“The Nobel Prize gives Stockholm an opportunity to contribute in the frontline of scientific discussions and the aim of the Nobel Centre is to realise this potential,” the six argued.

Nobel Foundation Executive Director Lars Heikensten said that the process towards deciding on the building for the centre had been an open competitive process where 145 of the world’s leading architects had competed, and that the political process had been transparent and that the major political parties are in favour of the project.


Critics of the plan for the building have included the National Property Board of Sweden (administering more than 2,000 historic buildings across Sweden), the Swedish National Heritage Board and Stockholm City Museum.

In the face of public objections, the architect had reduced the scale of the proposed building. But on Monday, before the vote, a thousand people gathered outside the city hall to protest against the plans for the Nobel Centre. “Too big. Too expensive. Wrong place," was their message.

City Commissioner for Finance Karin Wanngård from the Social Democratic Party presented the proposal stating that a city that wants to grow has to change, and that it cannot be a museum. Since Stockholm aspires to become "the smartest city in the world”, a Nobel Centre can be "a valuable asset”, she said.

City Planning Commissioner Roger Mogert, also from the Social Democratic Party, said the Blasieholmen is a central and beautiful place and hence a worthy place for the Nobel Centre. Concerning the architecture, he stated that “our time has to be represented in Stockholm”.

Several Swedish celebrities gave speeches outside the city hall, including popular historian Christopher O’Regan who said that "the power elite now are as colourless grey as the concrete they have poured down all over the city” and described the politicians as “intellectually and morally featherweights”.

City council vote

The city council then voted 53 versus 43 to build the Nobel Centre at Blasieholmen.

Professor Kåre Bremer, former rector of Stockholm University, who is also a board member of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which is financing the institute, told University World News: "There is much controversy around the new Nobel Centre. I think even in its reduced form it is too brutal and different from the architecture where it is placed.

“But I do think that it is good that the Nobel Centre is built.”

He welcomed the fact that the Wallenberg and Erling-Persson foundations “are supporting the activities with the financing of an institute for advanced studies driven by the three universities – my hobbyhorse has been that the three universities should merge, so all steps in that direction are positive.”

Lena Adamson, an associate professor of psychology at Stockholm University, gave a guarded welcome to the decision. She said: "Global challenges are thematic in nature and must be handled and resolved on the basis of thematic and multidisciplinary approaches – to invest in these matters is essential for our future. But research itself does not change society. People do.

“Therefore I hope that this new institution takes education as seriously as research. I still believe that students may be our most effective change agents, if educated right. And, as someone said 'No innovation without education’."