The power of architecture is embedded in the DNA of Aarhus. Historic buildings are well looked after and new additions are celebrations for new possibilities.
Witnessing the city from the top of ARoS Art Museum inside Your Rainbow Panorama, designed by Olafur Eliasson, you will sense that aesthetic experimentation is conducted in Aarhus with great skill and ambition. Now the museum will also expand under the ground. A €40 million plan was revealed in 2015, where the original museum’s architects Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen are collaborating with American artist James Turrell to create a 1200m2 subterranean gallery – playing with colour and light will continue underground. Director Erlend Høyersten has been the driving force and visionary behind this grand cultural scheme.
The city’s creative flair is linked to Aarhus architecture school, which is one the highly esteemed ones in Europe. Stephen Willacy, a Brit who used to teach there and now works as Chief Architect for the city, says there is a special approach with great attention to detail in the Danish way of thinking and working. We walked around his office, the Arne Jacobsen designed town hall with beautiful interiors crafted by Hans Wegner, who started his career working for Jacobsen. In the main hall, which now hosts weekly events and exhibitions, I found rows of tables, each one showcasing a small installation by a local designer – so simple and elegant.
Over the summer the seafront has been transformed with art installations. There is the massive balloon-like bar canopy by Bjarke Ingels, and an absurdist fountain by Pulkkinen & Rautiainen, consisting of a crane, a car and a screen grab from Google Earth. The industrial harbour buildings have been converted to galleries, where you’ll find works by both emerging artists alongside superstars, such as Doug Aitken, whose ‘anger room’ has proved a hit. All these works are part of the ARoS Triennial exhibition ‘Garden’, which is one of the main events of the European Capital of Culture program. Inside the museum, the show extends to more traditional approaches around the same theme.
A short drive outside the city, surrounded by meadows and fields, you’ll find the stunning Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larssen Architects, which opened in 2014. Following its sloping site, the building’s grass-topped ceiling provides another level for admiring the countryside, while the museum spaces are carved into the hill below. Another example of Danish design, where you can see the foundation of brave and clear thought. Inside there is another highlight of this year’s art programme, a cinematic installation titled The Journey, directed by Christoffer Boe.
Aarhus is easy to explore, a compact city with plenty of cultural events this year and a strong architectural legacy. In contrast to the cutting edge art, architecture and design, Den Gamle By is a step into the past, an entire neighbourhood and open air museum dedicated to Danish architectural history of past centuries – yet another well-designed and executed site to explore.