Kalmar Castle is a 13th century castle in which architecture was used to as means to emphasize royal grandeur. Prior to the accessibility project, the possibility to welcome people with disabilities and older persons was especially poor on the upper floors. Main attractions of the castle are located on this level, such as the chapel and the Green Hall, often used for concerts, christenings, lectures, weddings etc. The Access to and egress from these spaces were a constant issue that had to be addressed. By introducing an elevator, most of these problems have been solved, and a high level of accessibility has been achieved. Today, Kalmar Castle is physically accessible for everyone regardless of age or disabilities.
Kalmar Castle is located at the fringe of the city of Kalmar located in the south-eastern part of Sweden, with a population of 40.000 people. The municipality of Kalmar has 70.000 inhabitants.
Principal access interventions
The access interventions involve the removal of obstacles that limit the access to the castle from the city, as well as obstacles within the castle itself :
- Levelled walkways of the exterior parts of the castle
- Installation of elevator to grant access to part of the royal chambers and halls.
- Improving emergency evacuation conditions for people with disabilities visiting the castle.
Kalmar Castle is a national heritage building, situated on a small island close to the city of Kalmar. The castle is one of the best preserved buildings in any Nordic country. It is open all year round for individual visits and guided tours. It accommodates museum exhibitions, events as well as the possibility for dinners, conferences/meetings, concerts, weddings, christenings, etc.
Find out more
- the Kalmar Castle website (new tab)
Authors of the article:
- Marlene Bergström, Customer manager of SFV – Statens fastighetsverk (the National Property Board of Sweden).
- This text has been compiled by the use of several sources and informants. I would like to thank, Isabella Tiziana Steffan, at Studio Steffan – Progettazione e Ricerca, Milano for hinting the possibility to participate in this project, as well as her help with elaborating this text. I would also like to thank Jonas Andersson at the Swedish Agency for Participation (Myndigheten för delaktighet) for good advice and support during the elaboration of this text.
In 1397, Eric of Pomerania was crowned king of Sweden, Denmark and Norway at Kalmar castle. In 1544 Gustav Vasa, king of Sweden has the ramparts strengthened. His sons transform the castel into an elegant Renaissance castle. The castle looses its strategic value at the peace of 658 with Denmark. Il received it curent silhouette in extensively 19th century renovations by Helgo Zetterval.
Heritage significance and attractiveness
Kalmar Castle is part of the Swedish cultural heritage. It is managed and preserved for future generations by the Swedish National Property Board. The castle is one of the most well preserved buildings that can be found in any of the Nordic countries. The castle is in Renaissance style, although some of the buildings date back to the 18th century restauration.
Kalmar castle welcomes 305.000 visitors each year, of whom 145.000 bring income that benefit the keeping of the Castle. The castle is open the full year for individual visits and guided tours. It accommodates museum exhibitions, events as well as possibility for dinners, conferences/meetings, concerts, weddings, christenings etc.
Before 2004, the castle had no accessible entrances to the areas of the castle that are open to the public. The access to the castle from the city centre and across the wooden bridge was uneven and not functional for the visitors.
The entrance to the castle was inadequate with small areas and no accessibility for visitors with a disability. The royal apartments on the first floor were completely inaccessible.
Due to the use of architecture as means for royal grandeur, the staircases were not usable for many people, since climbing the steep steps requires a substantial effort.
Conditions for safety in case of emergency and evacuation of the upper floors of the building were inadequate.
By the end of 1990s, accessibility in the original staircases was improved by a new staircase with a steel frame mounted on top of the original staircase to facilitate the access from the ground floor to the 2nd floor.
The Swedish building code of 1967 introduced demands on accessibility for people with disabilities, mainly for wheelchair users. These were expanded in the 1975 building regulations, in which accessibility for people with mobility difficulties or difficulties in wayfinding was introduced.
Since the Swedish signature of the UN convention on rights for people with disabilities in 2008, Swedish building regulations impose that new and older buildings shall comply with requirements for accessibility and usability, so that everyone regardless of age or disabilities may have access and safe egress in buildings.
Equal access to cultural heritage buildings and national parks is an important part of the Swedish disability policy. Improving conditions for equal access for all is a motto that aims at granting full participation of people with disabilities and older people in society.
Our intention was to find an elegant and simple way to integrate modern equipment in a historical space. The detailing of the elevator shaft had to have as plain as possible. Its was to add new value to the historical building.
On the left, the original niche before the construction work began. Typically for the castle, there is a difference of approximately 0,9 m between such floor levels. The design of the window sill is also a 16th century feature in the castle, in which benches for looking out of the window has been integrated, also used as a small space for conversations.
On the right, the construction work has begun by removing the limestone slabs that covered the 16th vault in brickwork.
On the left, the metal frame for the new elevator that cuts through the 16th vault. On the right, the metal frame painted white.
On the left, the glazed shaft for the new fire safe elevator. It has permission to be used for evacuation from the upper floors of the castle. On the right, the new passage allows access horizontally on the upper floor.
A global approach of accessibility
Levelled walkways of the exterior parts of the castle
Flat limestone slabs were integrated into walkways that lead to Kalmar Castle and inside the courtyard.
Installation of elevator to grant access to parts of royal chambers and halls.
Although in breach with most theories on how to integrate accessibility in an old building, the chosen solution solved several problems with the existing floor layout of the old castle. Consisting of several older and separate buildings, the 19th century reconstruction focused on shaping these buildings into a single building in Renaissance style. The access points to the different buildings were linked to the courtyard, but not necessarily linking the floor levels into horizontal storeys. The elevator which pierces the vault, brought the additional benefits of creating horizontal passages between different floor levels.
Improving emergency evacuation conditions for people with disabilities visiting the castle.
Besides increasing the level of accessibility in Kalmar Castle, the new elevator is a fire safe construction that is allowed for evacuation purposes. The elevator is among the first fire safe elevators allowed in an evacuation in route in Sweden.
We have learnt to integrate modern solutions and techniques into a protected heritage building, for the best use for both visitors and the property manager, while respecting the castles heritage value.
What started out as rather « small » changes turned into a complex project that many experts initially deemed as impossible. The democratic use of these public areas has come to be a highly appreciated value. The project is an exemplary model with high architectural standards.
We also managed to avoid the possibility of these areas no longer being open for public use, since they were not accessible and, therefore, excluded people who were not able mount climb the stairs. In our mind, we have put the principle of universal design into practice by creating equal access and egress in a building with an incredible historical past.
Players and processes
The work of making the Kalmar Castle more accessible and useable for people with disabilities, but also improving conditions for safety started in 2009. The project team worked together for approximately one year with different solutions. The elevator was opened in 2011.
- Tommy Josefsson, manager safety and maintenance Kalmar castle Destination Kalmar AB
- Wikerståls Arkitekter AB through architect Erik Wikerstål who also was appointed castle architect by the Swedish National property board.
- Richard Edlund in charge of heritage assessments, Kalmar läns museum
- Cecilia Ring archeologic expertise, Kalmar läns museum
- Per Lofteskog, Mikael Gustafsson, projectleading and supervisors, Ingenjörsfirman Mikael Gustafsson AB
- National Property Board
- Anders Magnusson, area manager
- Marlene Bergström, administrator
Oringally, a cobbled path outside Kalmar Castle and in the courtyard provided access. In 2004, a central part of the access route was reset with large even slabs of limestone that are even.
The main solution for solving most of the problems was the installation of an elevator. Four possible locations were selected and presented to SFV for guidance on the selection.
The selection criteria used the most dignified place for welcoming visitors and, simulataneously the most useable location for the property management.
Hence, functionality was prioritised over cultural heritage. All possible locations had an impact on heritage preservation considerations. Yet, the location offering visitors and property management the best conditions had the highest impact on heritage values, since it required he elevator to cut through vaults dating back to the 16th-century.