Fjordenhus, First Building by Acclaimed Artist Olafur Eliasson and his studio opens in Vejle, Denmark
Fjordenhus (Fjord house), the first building designed entirely by artist Olafur Eliasson and the architectural team at Studio Olafur Eliasson, opened on 9 June in Vejle, Denmark. Commissioned by KIRK KAPITAL, the company’s new headquarters offer a contemporary interpretation of the idea of the total work of art, incorporating remarkable site-specific artworks by Eliasson with specifically designed furniture and lighting.
Rising out of the water, Fjordenhus forges a striking new connection between Vejle’s Fjord and the city centre of Vejle – one of Jutland peninsula’s thriving economic hubs. As one moves from the train station towards the harbour, Fjordenhus comes into view across the expansive plaza of the man-made Havneøen (The Harbour Island), a mixed-use residential and commercial area currently in development. From here, residents and visitors can access the ground floor of Fjordenhus via a footbridge or stroll along the jetty designed by landscape architect Günther Vogt.
The building’s public, double-height entrance level is dedicated to the relation of the building to the water, drawing attention to the plane where the structure plunges beneath the surface, its curved edges framing glimpses of the surrounding shores and harbour. The building is permeated by the harbour itself, and its two aqueous zones are visible from viewing platforms. Both the architectural spaces and Eliasson’s artworks engage in a dialogue with the ever-changing surface of the water.
Formed by four interesting cylinders, Fjordenhus soars to a height of twenty-eight metres (92 feet). Rounded negative volumes have been carved from its facades of custom-glazed brick to create an extraordinary architectural statement of complex, curved, circular and elliptical forms, torqueing walls and parabolic arches. In its unique setting – a hybrid of natural and industrial urban contexts – the building highlights Vejle’ future as a centre, not just for today’s generation but also for generations to come.
Olafur Eliasson notes: “I am very thankful for the trust shown by the Kirk Johansen family in inviting me, with my studio, to conceive Fjordenhus. This allowed us to turn years of research – on perception, physical movement, light, nature and the experience of space – into a building that is at once a total work of art and a fully architectural structure. In the design team we experimented early with how to create an organic building that would respond to the ebb and flow of the tides, to the shimmering surface of the water, changing at different times of the day and year. The curving walls of the building transform our perception of it as we move through its spaces. I hope the residents of Vejle will embrace Fjordenhus and identify with it as a new landmark for the harbour and their city.”
The completion of Fjordenhus marks the shift of Studio Olafur Eliasson’s major architectural activities to a new international office for art and architecture, Studio Other Spaces (SOS), founded by Eliasson and his long-term collaborator, architect Sebastian Behmann, in Berlin in 2014. As an architectural counterpart to Studio Olafur Eliasson, Studio Other Spaces will be the vehicle for Eliasson and Behmann to carry out large-scale interdisciplinary and experimental architectural projects of a scope similar to Fjordenhus, in addition to works for public spaces. Projects are currently in development around the world, from Paris to Addis Ababa.
Architect Sebastian Behmann, Head of Design at Studio Olafur Eliasson, said: “Throughout the process, we were very attentive to the choreography and sequencing of spaces, using modulation of light and acoustics to heighten all the building’s sensory aspects. One experiences Fjordenhus as a sculptural presence in the harbour, an interaction of solids and voids. These voids – the main points of interaction between inside and outside – are the major design element and form the parabolic, multi-story windows. Our clients grasped the value of devoting the ground story of the building, alongside the plaza with its jetty, to the experience of the building’s relationship to its environment – and to the public.”
Q&A With Sebastian Behmann
Premier Construction magazine caught up with architect Sebastian Behmann to discuss the project in further detail.
The building is described as a piece of public art, but it is also a functioning building. How challenging was it to get the balance right on this project?
“It is a long process to make a building like this, in terms of all of the detailing. I don’t think it is difficult to think of a building like this as a public artwork and at the same time have it functioning as a building. But as such, the challenging part was making sure we had all of the legal parts right, such as things like fire regulations. All of the current building rules are based on an existing typology, so if you want to do anything else, you have to show the authorities that things work. Essentially you have to bring a bit of time with you to go through the process.”
Externally, the building is very interesting, unusual and stands out, so when you were approaching this did you want it to stand out in its location or tie it in to certain elements but have its own unique character?
“When we started with the project there was already a masterplan for the site to build housing, but the Kirk family wanted a new building and wanted somewhere that they could move to, and wanted an office building and a representative building for their foundation. They also wanted to do something for the city and the prominence of the city. At that point the masterplan didn’t allow for such a building, so we did this detour and designed a different masterplan to change that and we created something that allowed for a building that is radically put into the water and becomes a new narrative for the harbour.”
Would you say there is a specific feature that stands out, or is there anything in particular that you would say is your favourite feature of the building?
“For me it is the voids that form the windows. I think it is a new way of making a window. It is a space that connects the inside to the outside rather than a standard window.”
What has feedback been like since the space opened?
“I think some people are still trying to find words to describe the building because how to describe it isn’t easy. A lot of the comments we have heard are that it is spectacular, and I think people appreciate that it is public and it is an inclusive building. Some people have called it a castle-like structure and we like that! This is what we had in mind – a building that has a certain volume and validity to it, placed in a loud and noisy environment that is the harbour.”
It looks like a fantastic project, not just to have been created but to have been involved with, so what does it mean to you to be involved with something like this?
“For me, it was a unique opportunity and proves the value of a collaboration between artist and architect. Through the project we brought many ideas together into a holistic trajectory, to form the building itself. I was able to bring more of my architectural knowledge to this project, and I feel that through our collaboration we produced something that is more than just a building and more than just a work of art.”