BIG’s Refugee Museum of Denmark captures the stories of those displaced by conflict

The new museum dubbed ‘FLUGT’ has been realised as a coiled corten steel-clad structure linking two old hospital blocks at the former site of the Oksbøl Refugee Camp in Denmark.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jul 01, 2022

In the town of Oksbøl, once home to Denmark’s largest refugee camp at the time of the Second World War, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has completed a pertinent tribute to those affected by the human tragedy of armed conflict. Named 'FLUGT' - the Danish word for 'flight' - the new Refugee Museum of Denmark unites two structures that had been part of a former hospital, which are now among the few existing remnants of the Oksbøl Refugee Camp. At a time when wars such as those in Ukraine have driven innumerable everyday citizens from their homes, sparking a refugee crisis across multiple continents, the project makes a poignant attempt to provide a voice to those who have been forced to flee their native countries and begin life anew in a foreign land.

  • The museum bridges two structures that were once hospital buildings in Denmark’s largest refugee camp following World War II | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The museum bridges two structures that were once hospital buildings in Denmark’s largest refugee camp following World War II Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • Housing 35,000 refugees at its peak occupation after the Second World War, the Oksbøl Refugee Camp was Denmark’s fifth largest city at the time | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    Housing 35,000 refugees at its peak occupation after the Second World War, the Oksbøl Refugee Camp was Denmark’s fifth largest city at the time Image: Courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group

Focusing on the plight of German refugees who sought safety in Denmark from the advance of the Red Army near the end of World War II, the project is BIG’s second venture in museum design for Vardemuseerne - a local institution devoted to archeological study and the propagation of historical information pertaining to the region. It follows the firm’s first collaboration with the organisation on the highly-publicised Tirpitz Museum on Denmark’s west coast, which repurposed and expanded a historic World War II bunker into a cultural complex.

Conceptual diagrams of the intervention | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
Conceptual diagrams of the intervention Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

BIG's Founding Partner, Bjarke Ingels, mentions in a press statement, “The Refugee Museum of Denmark explores an important part of our history and a theme that is more relevant than ever, with millions of refugees currently displaced from their homes. We have designed an architectural framework that connects the past with the present - with a new building directly shaped by its relationship to the historic hospital buildings of the WWII refugee camp.” He continues, “We went into this project with all our heart to address one of the world’s greatest challenges - how we welcome and care for our fellow world citizens when they are forced to flee. The project is a continuation of our collaboration on Tirpitz museum with Vardemuseerne and Claus Kjeld Jensen whose uncompromised design vision once again inspired our design for FLUGT.”

  • The concave volume of the new addition hosts a subtle entryway carved into its ridged surface | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The concave volume of the new addition hosts a subtle entryway carved into its ridged surface Image: Danyu Zeng
  • The corten steel exterior is understated in appearance and bold in its visual character | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The corten steel exterior is understated in appearance and bold in its visual character Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

At its peak occupation, the Oksbøl refugee camp was Denmark’s fifth-largest city, housing over 30,000 German civilians and soldiers attempting to escape the dying days of the most devastating conflict in recorded history. By bridging past and present with their intervention, BIG has sought to capture the struggles, emotions, and stories felt by those displaced from their homeland - themes that resonate universally even today. Furthermore, the decision to repurpose the existing buildings and extend their lifespan is also reflective of the firm’s ambition to minimise waste, conserve resources, and reduce the carbon footprint of material manufacturing and transport in their design endeavours.

  • Inside the structure, a curved lobby space looks into a courtyard at its centre | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    Inside the structure, a curved lobby space looks into a courtyard at its centre Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • Wooden rafters line the pitched, arcing ceiling imparting rhythm to the ensemble | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    Wooden rafters line the pitched, arcing ceiling imparting rhythm to the ensemble Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

To unite the two blocks of the hospital, the firm implanted a coiled corten steel-clad structure, which was developed in collaboration with engineers, Ingeniør’ne to replace a covered walkway that had previously served as the main circulation path between them. At the intersection between the two buildings, the new 500 sqm addition unifies the two pitched roof structures in a cohesive architectural expression. Its undulating form generates the necessary additional floor area for the museum’s program under the site constraints while also minimising imposition upon the site and creating a welcoming impression.

  • Curved glass walls line the inner side facing the courtyard, admitting light into the space | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    Curved glass walls line the inner side facing the courtyard, admitting light into the space Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • The addition serves as a bridge between the existing buildings, with a design aesthetic that complements them | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The addition serves as a bridge between the existing buildings, with a design aesthetic that complements them Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

The structure’s scale eschews monumentality - as is common in contemporary museum architecture - in favour of something more intimate, conforming with that of the existing brick structures while the rust-coloured surfaces of corten steel dressing its exterior blend quite well with the exposed brick of neighbouring buildings. An inviting visual statement is created by pulling the trajectory of the curve towards the street, its bulging face hosting an entryway carved into the ridged surface. On crossing the threshold into the 1600 sqm building, visitors will encounter a lobby and temporary exhibition space where the curved form embraces a courtyard.

A mirror pool is placed at the centre of the courtyard, with heath plantings that tie it to the identity of the region’s natural landscape | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
A mirror pool is placed at the centre of the courtyard, with heath plantings that tie it to the identity of the region’s natural landscape Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Floor-to-ceiling glazing here draws focus towards the green space at the centre of the layout, leading into a forest where the refugee camp once stood. The curving glass wall admits light into the space, adding an airiness and levity to the wood-framed structure. Wooden rafters line the arcing pitched ceiling, infusing rhythm to the spectacle as they meet similar timber slats that decorate the outward-facing wall. Inside the courtyard, the landscape design by BIG Landscape incorporates a mirror pool at its core, surrounded by heath planting that ties it to the identity of the region’s natural environment, forging a delicate sensory experience.

  • The courtyard generates a delicate sensory experience within the space, that also imparts a naturalistic element to the ensemble | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The courtyard generates a delicate sensory experience within the space, that also imparts a naturalistic element to the ensemble Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • The structure’s curved form embraces the courtyard, which becomes the focal point of the layout | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The structure’s curved form embraces the courtyard, which becomes the focal point of the layout Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Project Leader at BIG, Frederik Lyng notes in an official release, “From the very beginning of the design process, it was vital for us and our client Vardemuseerne to preserve the two hospital buildings. The buildings are some of the last remaining physical manifestations of the former refugee camp, and not only is their preservation invaluable for future generations to understand the past and the present, the buildings also directly informed our design of the extension by means of their unique elongated form, structure and materiality." He adds, "FLUGT is a great example of how adaptive reuse can result in sustainable, functional buildings that preserve our shared history while standing out architecturally.”

The pitched roof structure serves to unify the entire development as a continuous whole | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
The pitched roof structure serves to unify the entire development as a continuous whole Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Featuring an exhibition developed by the Netherlands-based experience design agency Tinker Imagineers, the two older buildings which now serve as the new wings of the museum, house the bulk of the display areas under the program. Whereas the façade design radiated a greater sense of visual weight and introversion, the interior design is far more open and light in its visual character. Defined by wooden beams and slats, white painted wood boards along the walls, and yellow brick floors the scheme ensures continuity between the design languages of both the new and old parts of the museum.

The interior features an exhibition developed by the Netherlands-based experience design agency Tinker Imagineers  | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
The interior features an exhibition developed by the Netherlands-based experience design agency Tinker Imagineers Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

In the north wing, which accommodates most of the galleries, the layout is said to follow a similar organisational flow as the former hospital. Although quite a few of the internal walls of the hospital rooms were torn down, some were retained and stabilised with the aid of three cross sections, creating larger gallery spaces. On the other hand, the south wing contains a flexible conference room, smaller exhibition spaces, and a café. An underlying sense of serenity and warmth pervades the ensemble, with understatement a core element throughout the project’s extent.

  • Wooden beams and slats, white painted wood boards along the walls, and yellow brick floors define the interior design scheme | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    Wooden beams and slats, white painted wood boards along the walls, and yellow brick floors define the interior design scheme Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • The project aims to give a voice to the struggles of refugees worldwide, both in the past and present | FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark | Bjarke Ingels Group | STIRworld
    The project aims to give a voice to the struggles of refugees worldwide, both in the past and present Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Claus Kjeld Jensen, the Museum Director, concludes in a statement: “FLUGT - Refugee Museum of Denmark will share and uncover the stories of the largest refugee camp in Denmark as well as the story of the lived refugee experiences of our time. The museum seeks to give a voice and a face to humans who have been forced to flee their homes and capture the universal challenges, emotions and nuances shared by refugees then and today.”

Project Details

Name: FLUGT
Location: Oksbøl, Denmark
Area: 1600 sqm
Client: Vardemuseerne
Collaborators: Ingeniør’ne, Tinker Imagineers, BIG Landscape, BIG Ideas, Gade & Mortensen Akustik, HB Trapper
Partners-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels, Ole Elkjær-Larsen, Finn Nørkjær 
Project Leader: Frederik Lyng 
Project Architect: Frederik Skou Jensen
Project Team: Ákos Márk Horváth, Anders Holden Deleuran, Andy Coward, Anne Søby Nielsen, Cheng-Huang Lin, Danyu Zeng, David Zahle, Eddie Chiu Fai Can, Gabrielé Ubareviciute, Hanne Halvorsen, Høgni Laksafoss, Laura Wätte, Katrine Juul, Kim Lauer, Lone Fenger Albrechtsen, Lukas Molter, Mads Primdahl Rokkjær, Marius Tromholt-Richter, Michael James Kepke, Muhammad Mansoor-Awais, Nanna Gyldholm Møller, Nikolaos Romanos Tsokas, Oliver Siekierka, Peter Mortensen, Richard Garth Howis, Sascha Leth Rasmussen, Sofiia Rokmaniko, Tore Banke, Thor Larsen-Lechuga, Tomas Karl Ramstrand, Toni Mateu, Tristan Robert Harvey
BIG Landscape: Anne Katrine Sandstrøm, Barbora Hrmova, Giulia Frittoli, Jonathan Udemezue, Kristian Mousten, Ulla Hornsyld

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