Architecture that lasts: Aarhus City Hall

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Photo by Arkitekturbilleder.dk, Andreas Trier Mørch

Aarhus City Hall was inaugurated in 1941, four years after Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller won the architectural competition.

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Photo by Arkitekturbilleder.dk, Andreas Trier Mørch

The original design had no tower, but after protests from the public, Jacobsen and Møller added the iconic tower.

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Photo by Arkitekturbilleder.dk, Andreas Trier Mørch

Aarhus City Hall is praised for its minimalistic architecture and choice of quality materials.

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Photo by Jens Lindhe

The narrow office atrium with its four storeys of small offices.

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Photo by Visit Aarhus

Aarhus City Hall by night.

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Photo by Visit Aarhus

The city hall's tower is lit up at night.

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Photo by Jens Lindhe

The ceremonial hall accommodates up to 600 people.

Published
24.06.2015

Today we are focusing on an example of functionalism within Danish architecture: Aarhus City Hall. Designed by late Danish architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller, this major work has inspired generations of architects since its opening in 1941.

Jacobsen and Møller were awarded the contract four years earlier, after beating off the rest of the architectural competition, although their initial proposal featured no tower. Jacobsen and Møller defended their no tower design by alleging that its un-monumental simplicity evoked the spirit of democracy. However, the public protested – so they added the renowned skeleton-wrapped City Hall tower – now Aarhus’ iconic trademark. Standing 60 metres tall, the clock tower takes a classic form, but still has a very distinct modernistic touch.

Besides the tower, Aarhus City Hall comprises three interconnected blocks arranged asymmetrically in a small urban park. On entering City Hall, you immediately find the main lobby, the ceremonial hall and the city council chambers. The ceremonial hall is large enough to accommodate 600 people, while a circular staircase enhances the natural effect of the space.

The inside of the building boasts high quality wood flooring and 6,000 square metres of Norwegian marble on the façades. The entrance leads to a functionalistic office block, consisting of a split, narrow atrium with four storeys holding small administrative offices on either side and lit by a skylight.

The building’s interiors are in the Scandinavian design tradition. Traditional craftsmanship and contemporary ornamentation generate a warm-hearted environment. When designing virtually all the furniture in the building, Jacobsen – known chiefly as a chair designer – collaborated with Hans J. Wegner. Everything, right down to the doorknobs and light fixtures, was made exclusively for City Hall.

Words to describe the outer look of the building are order and simplicity. Repeatedly using the same rectangular window is just one of the ways the architects achieved its minimalistic look. In fact, the whole façade is a grid of squares and rectangles, a complementary feature to the building’s curved copper roof. Many architects and designers around the world praise Aarhus City Hall’s exterior as one of the earliest examples of Scandinavian modernism.

Recognised for its unique architecture, the building was marked for preservation in 1994, as one of just a few Danish city halls. Moreover, in 2006 it was added to the Danish Culture Canon to acknowledge the originality and quality of the design as well as to honour the contribution it makes to its city.

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