By Mette Kynne Frandsen, CEO & Partner at Henning Larsen Architects
When travelling abroad, I am often asked, ‘How does the work of Danish architecture practices differ from the work of foreign practices?’ Allow me to answer using the typology of cultural buildings as the example:
The typology of cultural buildings has undergone a considerable change over the past few years: Gone are the days where cultural buildings were the icons for society, designed with the sole aim of creating spectacular forms. It is no longer about creating buildings that reflect cultural or elitist superiority. Today, we see a demand for cultural buildings that become durable parts of their particular surroundings and add new value to a specific place and community.
Last year, Henning Larsen Architects completed the Moesgaard Museum of Natural History just outside Aarhus, Denmark. Since the opening, the museum has witnessed a record number of visitors. World-class exhibitions have been staged and I believe we have succeeded in creating some magnificent spaces, bringing ethnographic history to life in a new way.
However, not all visitors have bought a ticket. Instead, they have experienced the thrill of a toboggan ride down the museum roof during the winter. Come spring, the museum has been the starting point for sunny forest walks, and this summer the outdoor terrace has served as an excellent picnic area for nature lovers from near and far. The roof even served as a mountain bike racetrack in a recent sports event! Thus, Moesgaard is much more than a museum: It has become a point of destination.
Another example of this transition is the new community centre and mosque at Dortheavej in Copenhagen, which is currently in progress. It is to be located in one of Denmark’s most densely populated areas – an area that has benefited very little from the urban redevelopment initiative that has improved much of Copenhagen in recent years. An additional architectural and cultural improvement can support a stronger neighbourhood identity and sense of community – even across religions. As such, our strategy has been to create a design so inviting that even people with no religious affiliation to the centre will feel inspired and welcomed.
This focus on community building is something we take with us when working abroad: In China, we are working on the Hangzhou East Lake Opera, which is part of a cultural centre that also includes a theatre, an art museum, and an art school. The client calls it a People’s Project as the complex’s overall design focuses on bringing the citizens of Hangzhou a diverse and lively neighbourhood that includes a wide range of architectural experiences and public spaces – some grand and breathtaking, some human scaled and intimate.
At the KADK, where I have the pleasure of sitting on the board, the students are asked to apply their architectural skill sets to respond to concrete challenges within an urban space or a community and create a design that addresses the needs of the area in question. Through this long-term project work they learn to understand the characteristics and needs of a community from a holistic perspective. This competence of local engagement combined with strong design skills is paramount when creating the cultural buildings of tomorrow – buildings that go beyond being objects of design and instead become positive drivers of community now and in the future.