Aarhus Town Hall
By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006
The friendly town hall
When the City Council of Aarhus arranged a competition for a new town hall, it was the first time since the building of the Copenhagen Town Hall around the turn of the century, that a large Danish city was to have a new town hall. And it was a new era. With the introduction of new electoral legislation, the king was barred from appointing mayors, and women were allowed to vote and run for seats. In general, there was a feeling that the barriers between citizens and politicians had to be broken down. Modern local politicians were no longer to exercise their powers from fortress-like colossi, but administer their powers in open and inviting buildings.
Lots of light and soft lines
The new tendencies left their vital marks on the town hall in Aarhus. The building appears light, friendly and inviting - the “openness” is specifically expressed in the many windows and glass sections which literally throw light and air into the public administration.
It is significant that the most pompous element is the building’s impressive, high-ceilinged hall with room for 800 people. The hall was intended as a meeting place for the people and their elected politicians. The building is also characterised by its soft lines. All details are rounded: from balconies, columns and staircases and all the way down to the light fixtures. Wood and brass dominate the interior and give the rooms a warm, golden colour. The result is an esspecially pleasant and “soft” atmosphere.
Last town hall tower
The building was originally designed without its characteristic tower. Towers were the power symbols of church, king and nobility and did not belong on a building that was to serve democracy. The citizens of Aarhus protested, however. They wanted a building that looked like a town hall. After heated debate, the City Council demanded a tower, and that the building should be covered with marble in order to add a more monumental character. But it was the last town hall tower that was erected in Denmark.
Did you know?
The architect Arne Jacobsen had to add a tower to Aarhus City Hall after popular pressure. He has said about the final result: "We proposed, as a compromise, to make the tower as a campanile, which was inside the town hall, close to the town hall of course, but you would not have it either. It in the slightly desperate way and jocks with his legs straight down the roof. It can't be said to be the luckiest architectural solution."
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Architecture, 2006
Aarhus City Hall is an inspiring example of early functionalism, coloured by a particular Nordic sensibility. The building is strategically located, so that it presents a street facade towards the city, thus protecting most of the old cemetery, which is integrated into the landscaping. The city hall is divided into 3 offset blocks which overlap and define different functional sections. Facing the city are the representative front porch, vestibule and city hall, which open towards the park and the cemetery’s preserved avenue of lindens. The office wing flows into the porch, with a panoptic central corridor that rationally and systematically creates the necessary office space. There is also a lower building with an expedition office that stands out slightly with its vaulted roof and exposed concrete structure.
Aarhus City Hall is a friendly and humanistic building, which was, however, considered to be too modern, too democratic and non-monumental upon construction. So, changes were made. Among other things, the tower and marble cladding were added to the project. The great qualities of the City Hall can be seen in the interaction between the internal open spaces that integrate the natural surroundings and which open up the interior’s refined details. At every level, special attention has been paid to the importance of detail, and the careful working of precious materials provides contrast and counterbalance to the cool and subdued monumentality of the facades.
Today, Aarhus City Hall is a beautifully patinated building complex, which is not only one of the country’s most extrasensory buildings, but also a major work, which marks the transition in Denmark to a more regional interpretation of modernist architecture.