The University of Aarhus
By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006
University at eye level
In 1931, a brand new university was to be built in Aarhus. But the time of monumental and awe-inspiring buildings for institutions of higher education had come to an end. A new, modern architectural style was advancing, promoting light and clean lines. It was essential that all details were carefully thought through, in order that the buildings would function well for the people who were to use them. The result was the university we see today. It has been extended continually ever since the first buildings were finished in 1933.
Simplicity is a virtue
The University of Aarhus is built around a gorge and a beautiful, hilly landscape reaching down towards the sea. The buildings are scattered over a large park-like area which gives the compound the campus-like quality we know from foreign, particularly American, universities. The style of the first buildings has been maintained in all the buildings which have been added over the years: a simple and strict expression; straight lines; all in yellow brick and roof tiles giving the buildings a homogenous character.
The birth of functionalism
The project was part of the movement that has later been dubbed “functionalism”, in which form is secondary to function, and where unnecessary decoration and ornamentation has been cut away. With its beautiful and simple mode of expression and respect for the people who were to use it, the University of Aarhus founded a school for Danish architecture that reigned until the mid- 1950s.
Did you know?
The buildings were used during the Second World War as the Gestapo Jutland headquarters, and were therefore bombed by the English at the end of the war. The architect, C.F. Møller was buried under the rubble during this attack, but after a few hours he was rescued and later he stood for the reconstruction.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Architecture, 2006
Aarhus University signals brighter times for the city and the country in relation to construction in the thirties. Its architecture is modern, immediately anti-monumental, an organic interpretation of the open campus in the middle of the city, and a distinct and robust testimony of how beautiful and human a large structure in an urban context can be developed over more than 70 years.
The university buildings are located in a valley. They are rhythmically displaced and of appropriate length – adapted to the terrain, such that the valley remains undeveloped. All of the wings are constructed of one material – yellow brick is used for the facades, roofs and claddings, meaning that the structures appear homogeneous, simple and prismatic, with simple saddle roofs without eaves. At its highest point, the main building ends with the assembly hall facing Ringgaden, using a more expressive design language, in contrast to the sober touches of the individual faculties.
Aarhus University is a tribute to brick as a material. The brick weaves the buildings together in a dialogue with the landscape and creates a subdued monumentality with a regional Danish character, which is most evident in the assembly hall building, the gables of which preside over the valley. The amphitheatre’s terraced landscape is in contrast to the assembly hall’s brick courtyard, from where the entire university’s unifying thought process is revealed. This unique integration of landscape and buildings is enhanced by the park’s characteristic oak clumps, which highlight the topography and enhance the landscape. With the fullness of time, an imposing landscape with an almost pastoral form is accentuated, while remaining classical and regional.