The qualitative attributes of two different elements – aluminum and water – present themselves idiosyncratically in this dome of beauty; a space composed by the charm of its raw materials.
How do you link a castle reminiscent of Shakespeare, an old dry dock and a cultural centre? The Danish Maritime Museum designed by BIG architects is a shiningly successful outcome of just such an endeavour. The design firm in their usual innovative and ambitious approach defies traditional architecture and chooses instead bold, daring concepts and set about doing it with élan.
Previously located in Kronborg Castle, where William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ is set, the Danish Maritime Museum was forced to relocate when the castle was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000 and the natural choice was the adjoining dry dock that had lain flooded for a long time.
Danish architectural studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), who have offices in Copenhagen, New York and China, won the architectural competition for the design of the 6000 square metre museum they describe as ‘a subterranean museum in a dry dock’.
The museum is an experience through empty spaces or ‘urban voids’ as termed by the designers. Leaving the 7 meter deep dry dock untouched, the team placed the museum galleries in a continuous loop around the dock.
An initial plan of filling up the dock and raising the level was termed as ‘architectural suicide’, and instead the BIG team decided to keep the space open. They stress, “By placing the galleries along the sides of the dock, we have preserved the rough dry dock as the centrepiece of the museum. This way the dock is an open, outdoor area that creates a feeling of being in a ship where visitors can easily experience the scale of a ship’s structure.”
Looking at the museum from the ground up one sees the glass balustrade which is present all around the dock. In the void, the only built mass is a trio of gently sloping double-level bridges that zigzag across the dock like ‘urban connections’, inviting us to embark on a journey and discover the space in our own way.
It is like a maze with many starting points, as the three bridges lead us to three different sections of the museum complex. While one is a harbour bridge closing off the dock and becomes a harbour promenade, another houses the auditorium, connecting the culture yard with the Kronborg castle.
The remaining ramped bridge helps us navigate, in stages, into the depths – first from the ground floor to the entrance and then through the numerous light-filled short cuts between the galleries alongside the dock walls.
Founding partner Bjarke Ingels points out, “By wrapping the old dock with the museum program we simultaneously preserved the heritage structure, while transforming it to a courtyard bringing daylight and air in to the heart of the submerged museum.”
A delicate spatial balance is maintained in this vacuum – the transparency of the aluminium and glass bridges pierce the harsh concrete dock, its multi-layer utility and network pattern leaving much to our independent interpretation.
Even in the galleries, the exhibitions, designed by Dutch exhibition architects Kossmann.Dejong, rely mostly on natural light, perspective and sound to guide visitors through the wall-less galleries.
The auditorium is the central point of public gathering, a concept common in BIG studio’s designs and has a unique structure. Two ramped plates, one with banked seats and the other acting as a stage for lecturers, form an ‘X’ giving the volume an intersecting configuration. There is constant spatial interaction – within the hall and within the open void seen through the transparent walls.
At the end of the ramped bridge, at the stern of the ‘ship’, is the café, from where through the many transparent layers, all the happenings of the chasm are visible.
A dramatic triangular staircase adds to the geometric drama in the volume provided by a mid-level bridge and staircases.
The Museum integrates gracefully into the surroundings, working the innumerable constraints to an advantage; the architects explain, “The Danish Maritime Museum had to find its place in a unique historic and spatial context; between one of Denmark’s most important and famous buildings and a new, ambitious cultural centre.”
The museum was a challenge successfully achieved on several fronts, as mentioned by David Zahle, Partner-in-Charge of the project, “For 5 years we have been working on transforming the old concrete dock into a modern museum.The old lady is both fragile and tough; the new bridges are light and elegant. Building a museum below sea level has seen the use of construction techniques never used in Denmark before.”
If elsewhere, BIG studio gave ‘mountain dwelling’, to the people of Helsingor, here they gave an ‘urban lacuna’ and an experience of sea travel to the Danish. The museum in its own unique architectural language links the old and new and nestles quietly into the backdrop.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Dragoer Luftfoto, Rasmus Hjortshoj,
Luca Santiago Mora, Thijs Wolzak, courtesy BIG Studio