by STIRworldJun 23, 2022
It is forever delightful to come across architecture that is bold in conception yet gentle in being, and wholly respectful of nature, as is the case with the Skamlingsbanken’s new visitor centre that lies embedded into a glacial Danish landscape of rolling meadows underneath clear skies. CEBRA architecture conceived the subterranean building as an architectural portal to the site‘s history of democratic events, where everything, from the overall structure down to its details, is designed as a natural and integrated part of the undulant terrain, where visitors will be able to experience “an architecture that finds its origin in Skamlingsbanken's unique nature and history,” the Danish architects inform.
The 500 sqm visitor centre - gently tucked into the grassy landscape - serves as a location for different events and houses an exhibition about Skamlingsbanken’s history, nature, democracy, and the power of speech. The green dune wraps itself around the structure almost completely and imperceptibly, rendering it almost invisible unless you are viewing it from certain angles from the air or standing face front to it, so that, from the outside, all one sees is the softly rolling meadow covered in grass and bushes, with sentient local trees for company. One might even be able to walk over the roof of the visitor centre without even realising it.
Skamlingsbanken in Denmark essays a core cog in the timeline of Danish history as a common ground for democratic culture, in the past, present, as well as for the years to come. Over the years, the rolling site, with its soft hollows and hills naturally grew as and into a congregational point sheltered from the wind, hosting civil gatherings and festivals, as well as becoming a setting for debates and discourses centred around pivotal topics of democracy, the border country and the women's suffrage.
"Skamlingsbanken connects the past with the present and the future, and one of the project’s main ambitions has been to actualise the place’s remarkable history and nature into a contemporary context. The new visitor centre is a modern arena for democratic culture and recreates Skamlingsbanken as a setting for important debates and education about the things that concern us, most importantly, climate change ,” says Carsten Primdahl, partner and architect at CEBRA. “Today, nature and the ecosystems of our planet are challenged as a consequence of human activities, and it is a shared democratic task to protect and maintain the planet as a safe habitat for nature, animals and humans. At Skamlingsbanken we have created a place where visitors will gain knowledge about our democracy and nature through a diversity of experiences,” he elaborates.
Serene and introverted, the green roofed Danish architecture seeks direct inspiration from Skamlingsbanken’s quietly picturesque landscape that was created during the last ice age, blooming radiant with variegated nature and made distinct by rolling hills and immense meadows peppered with frail flowers. The landscape is elevated along two circular cuts to subtly insert the exhibition space underneath, blanketed and cosy as a form under a softly curving hill. The underground architecture lies dormant near the 16-metre-tall memorial column made of 25 stacked granite blocks, dedicated to 18 people who contributed to the Danish cause in Schleswig-Holstein on Skamlingsbanken's highest point, the Højskamling.
"The visitor centre is an architectural interpretation of the glacial landscape. It is not a destination itself, but part of an overall narrative. The building is a portal – to the significant history and the local nature - and forms a natural starting point for hikes in the area, where a network of paths flows through both building and landscape. From here visitors are guided into the landscape or inside the centre to the exhibition, the teaching facilities, or the café,” says Primdahl.
The main attraction at Skamlingsbanken, according to the architects and apparent in the proposal, is nature itself. Visitors tread a circling, slim pathway leisurely accompanied by the vast green-carpeted terrain and magnificent, sunny skies. The highest point of the hill opens like a mouth slightly agape to form the entrance to the exhibition area, marked by a strip of concrete, where one is immediately transported into a hobbit-home like setting, moving and breathing through the hill and its many layered, concealed stories. Further venturing opens up the design, with glass walls wedged within metal frames and a bare faced porch with rounded, wooden outdoor furniture to welcome guests.
The softly cavernous interior design too has been kept introverted, the dimmed exhibition space culminating with a stunningly panoramic view of the Little Belt Strait. The insides stay connected to the elements through the slanted, semi-circular openings that bring in natural light and ensure ventilation. The corrugated back wall is plastered with clay, and the rest of the interior is characterised by local materials of warm wood, simple terrazzo with field stones and calm, earthy colour tones.
CEBRA also explains how the contextual design preserves and develops local nature, being built in a protected area, where the landscape and biological values have been prime focal points. The Danish architecture studio with offices in Copenhagen, Aarhus, and Abu Dhabi also worked in close collaboration with the clients, foundations, landowners and the Danish Society for Nature Conservation to expand the protected area around the underground visitor centre from 35 hectares to 128.
The site rests on the highest point in Southern Jutland and consists of an old grazing landscape, where it was deemed crucial to protect the several but rare native species of flora and fauna, during the development of the visitor centre. “In collaboration with the biologist, Mette Keseler List, from Kolding Municipality, a special grass mixture based on local species was developed and spread on and around the building. The mixture provides optimal conditions for the local herbs, and together with the reuse of natural peat from the building site, the project thus supports the continued development of the unique local nature and biodiversity,” the design team shares, highlighting one of the many sustainable features of the project.
CEBRA shares that the Skamlingsbanken visitor centre was inaugurated in May 2021, and in September 2021, was honoured with Kolding Municipality Architecture Award 2021. Currently, they are working on a project that will further develop the experience for visitors at Skamlingsbanken with an exhibition project in the landscape surrounding the visitor centre, which is expected to be realised within the next few years.
The architectural gesture of disappearing into the earth, much like the Organic House by Javier Senosiain, has seen a surge in the recent built history of contemporary architecture. It can be deemed another modest and effective response to building for and with the site, as opposed to just on it, without distorting the natural landscape jarringly and ensuring its continuation, where the structure exists as the blur between the built and the natural.
Name: Skamlingsbanken visitor centre
Location: Skamlingsbanken, Vejstrup Parish, Jutland, Denmark
Area: 500 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Kolding Municipality, Skamlingsbankeselskabet, Klokkestablen
Engineer: DRIAS, Dansk Energi Management
Exhibition designer: YOKE