Kengo Kuma and Associates pays homage to the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen

In a conversation with STIR, principal on the project, Yuki Ikeguchi, elaborates on how she transformed the textual concepts explored by the Danish writer into architectural spaces.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Mar 25, 2022

HC Andersen Museum, the garden and Tinderbox cultural centre is located in the heart of the city, in Odense, Denmark, where Andersen the Danish author was born. There is a timelessness to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales, many of which have been immortalised through cinema and animation. These stories continue to connect different generations through the act of retelling. The HC Andersen Museum design by Kengo Kuma and Associates, in addition to being a homage to the prolific writer’s work, also acts as a stitch between the traditional wooden homes and the newly developed urban area in Odense. As a museum, the structure was designed to play a key role in the new urbanscape of the city.

View from within the museum complex | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
View from within the museum complex Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

While Andersen's narratives were written, the stories told by the museum are to be experienced. Sensed through physical spaces in the museum, each enclosure in the structure tells a tale, from the exhibition area to the different gardens. Andersen’s writing exhibited ideas and concepts of duality; real and imaginary, natural and manmade, human and animal, light and dark. The architectural language is a reflection of this particular essence of his work and can be seen in the architectural and landscape form of the structure. The building itself is also located at the juncture of two dualities of the city of Odense.

  • Site Plan | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma and Associates
  • Ground Floor Plan | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma and Associates
  • Basement Level Plan | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Basement Level Plan Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma and Associates

The museum is composed of a series of circular forms that are linked together by a carefully landscaped garden. A meandering path and hedge garden emphasise the human scale of the project. This is a particularly important quality when you consider how human-centric Andersen's stories are. The museum has two storeys, the ground floor and a basement level. The landscape design features sunken gardens that act as light wells for the spaces below, and are conceptualised as portals between two worlds. The hedge is a continuous curved linear green wall that expands and traces the underground space and defines the garden and paths above ground. It meanders both above and under the ground throughout the site.

The duality of the architectural and landscape design | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
The duality of the architectural and landscape design Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

There are four distinct ideas of how the gardens are conceptualised - the Urban Garden, the Architectural Garden, the Scenographic Garden, and the Secret Garden. The Urban Garden becomes an active public area that people pass through daily. The hedge acts as a green threshold between everyday life and the fantasy world of Andersen. The Architectural Garden consists of the entrance, the café and the Tinderbox, which are planned above ground in the form of small pavilions. The architecture ideas here echo the elements of a garden, while the surrounding buildings are characterised by their timber frame. The Scenographic Garden is a series of intimate outdoor spaces, created by the hedge that traces the wall of the exhibition spaces underground. The Secret Garden is a large, deep garden positioned in such a way that it becomes a backdrop for all the programs above ground and as a circulation for the visitors.

  • Site section indicating the sunken garden | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Site section indicating the sunken garden Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma And Associates
  • Site section indicating the built space volume | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Site section indicating the built space volume Image: Courtesy of Kengo Kuma And Associates

The built form is experienced as a maze made up of trees and nature. Yuki Ikeguchi, Partner at Kengo Kuma and Associates, speaks with STIR about the ideas behind the duality of the HC Andersen Museum and how the landscape and architecture can illustrate a connection between the fairytale world and ours.

Devanshi Shah: Could you elaborate on the parallel between the narrative of The Tinderbox, and the conceptual ideas of the project?

Yuki Ikeguchi: The Tinderbox projects the complexity of HC Andersen’s fairytale, the duality, coexistence of the opposite matters, non-linear journey, and contradictions. It is more explicitly reflected in the architectural design for the children's creative studio, the former "Tinder Box" which is currently named "Villa Vau". The timber structure of this pavilion is like a tree trunk, growing from the underground fairytale world out to the above-ground world, timber beams are branched out radially to support the roof. The slow steps revolving around the tree structure connects the two worlds. It relates to the story of the Tinder Box, unexpected encounters and magic revolving in and around. We position this pavilion adjacent to the symbolic light tree that has been existing at the corner of the site to make it legible and easily accessible to the public.

07 mins watch Yuki Ikeguchi on the H.C.Andersen Museum | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma and Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
Yuki Ikeguchi on the H.C. Andersen Museum Video: Courtesy of the H.C.Andersen Museum

Devanshi: The project is fairly large and consists of many different aspects including an overground structure, an underground museum and a landscaped element. Could you tell us more about how these three different aspects were interwoven together?

Yuki: We approach the design in the concept of duality, the essence of HC Andersen’s writing we found appealing to generate an architectural form and experience. The ground surface was treated as a separation between two opposite worlds; above ground being “real world” and the underground being “fairytale world”. It was also a strategic planning choice to have the garden to the fullest extent of the site, minimise the built form and create a good scenographic setting for the exhibition spaces underground. The open scenographic experiences in the garden, as well as the spaces in the museum, are organised with circular forms in a tangent manner, like a chain to create an ambiguous spatial sequence, and up and down, inside and out path, like a journey throughout. The hedges are tracing the exhibition spaces below. The sunken gardens are like a portal, apertures to visually link underground and below ground. The shallow pool over the glass skylight is installed at the Little Mermaid to create a sensation of being at the bottom of the ocean with a sense of longing. My intention is to make architecture become scenography with the effect of lights, water movement, reflections to overlay with exhibition scenographic setting with projections and colours of lights. All elements are at the end intertwined, back-to-back, in and out in an ambiguous manner. What I believe we successfully achieved in an outcome is an experience and journey rather than architectural mass as an object.

  • Exterior view from the ground level | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Exterior view from the ground level Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj
  • Photo Caption | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
    Interior view Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Devanshi: Could you tell us a little more about the process of bringing Andersen's fairytales and narratives to life? You can't talk about Andersen without thinking about the fantasy realms his works have created.

Yuki: The extraction of the essence, such as duality, blurred boundary, non-linear/non-centric structure is how I started interpreting and implementing into the form of architecture. Some moments of his fairytales, such as The Little Mermaid and Tinder Box, are captured as a scenographic background into the architectural space and elements of design.

Devanshi: What is one of the most unique features of this structure?

Yuki: One is the faceted exposed concrete slab that defines both the topography of the landscape above ground and the roof/ceiling of the underground fantasy world that is supported by a series of columns for the experience of wandering in the forest of fairytale. Another is the timber structure of ground pavilions that consist of radial beams like branches of trees, supporting CLT curved slabs and façade to softly relate to the garden and traditional façade component of surrounding residences.

The exterior and interior materiality | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
The exterior and interior materiality Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Devanshi: How does the context of the museum's location feed into the design of the museum compound?

Yuki: One of the critical focuses of planning the museum was to reconnect the old part of the city with small scale traditional wooden houses and streets to the rest that once got separated by a large road. Our proposal was to extend the garden beyond the museum site and to go over the light rail to give a feeling of one continuous ground of HC Andersen world and green public open space. Our design is also very conscious of human scale to keep the building height to the lowest possible level by burying most of the exhibition space underground.

Internal views | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
Internal views Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Devanshi: Could you elaborate on why parts of the museum are underground?

Yuki: The underground environment was also suitable for the exhibition design to work with the projections and effect of lighting to create the fantastical world.

Devanshi: Could you tell us a bit more about the materiality of the spaces and how that was developed?

Yuki: We intentionally limited the material and colour palette to the minimum and left the finish as untreated as possible. The fairytale world has mostly consisted of exposed concrete for earthy, raw texture with a dark tone of floor to give a sensation of being under the ground, while the above-ground is composed with timber on the façade, roof and ceiling to be in harmony with the garden. For the meandering descending path between the two worlds, we have applied the translucent membrane to represent blurred boundary where shadow and silhouette are visible from one side to the other. The membrane is made with PVDF.

Internal view of exhibition space | H.C.Andersen Museum by Kengo Kuma And Associates | Yuki Ikeguchi | STIRworld
Internal view of exhibition space Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Project Details

Name: HC Andersen Hus
Location: Odense, Denmark
Area: 5600 sqm
Architect: Kengo Kuma And Associates, Partner: Yuki Ikeguchi
Design team: Chief Project Manager: Miruna Constantinescu, Project Architect: Nicolas Guichard
Executive Architect: C&W architect
Project Manager : Jan Botter-Jensen
Engineer: Søren Jensen Engineering Consultants A/S
Landscape Architect: MASU Planning
Lighting Designer: Jesper Kongshaug
Exhibition Designer: EVENT Communication
Sub-consultant Architect - until January 2020: Cornelius Vöge

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