Henning Larsen imagines a sylvan house of worship in Copenhagen with Ørestad Church

Henning Larsen imagines Ørestad Church as a timber clad, “modern monument” for Copenhagen, referencing a grove of trees with a clearing; the proposal is expected to be realised by 2026.

by STIRworldPublished on : Oct 20, 2022

Can places of worship become architectural landmarks and lively congregational spaces within a modern urban landscape?

Danish architectural studio Henning Larsen has revealed its design for a place of worship, in what is considered to be the happiest city in the world, Copenhagen, which will be welcoming its first new church in over three decades. Known for its dynamic cultural and educational projects, the firm imagines the church built in wood, emerging as a "modern monument" and landmark for Denmark’s capital. To be conceived in timber and wood shingles, the 2,100 sqm Ørestad Church will evoke a meeting place at a clearing in the trees, imbibing the nature of Ørestad district’s open landscape, embracing the community and its surroundings. The church complex will conjure “the sensation of standing under a canopy of trees in a forest” with its domed structure characterised by a series of trapezoidal, wooden roofs, through which natural light cascades in abundance.

The Ørestad Church imagined by Henning Larsen features a series of trapezoidal roofs of varying heights and slants | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
The Ørestad Church imagined by Henning Larsen features a series of trapezoidal roofs of varying heights and slants Image: Courtesy of Vivid Vision, Henning Larsen

An intended interplay of light and nature remains at the heart of Henning Larsen's design philosophy and remains so for this project as well. "Drawing on a Scandinavian ethos, we develop context-driven, sustainable designs that provide lasting value to users, local communities, and cities," shares the design team. Construction on the sylvan structure, with its neat cluster of edge-to-edge volumes topped with roofs of varying heights and slants, is expected to start in 2024, with the church being consecrated two years later.

"Tasked with designing a building that lingers in your mind, we have chosen to create a building that sits in complete harmony with its surroundings,” says Jacob Kurek, Global Design Director of Henning Larsen, an international studio for architecture, landscape, and urbanism with design hubs in Copenhagen, New York, Hong Kong, Munich, and Oslo.

The district of Ørestad in Copenhagen where the church is set to take residence within a verdant, open and common landscape is known for its expressive architectural fabric. Imagined as a “modern monument”, the church architecture will feature an “inverted” facade design with a bark-like skin forming protrusions within the deep church walls, becoming an “extroverted” space for the community at large. Its conspicuous, sculptural roof will further the new sustainable building as a landmark status, built with an aim to also segue as a natural congregational place for the locals.

The dynamic roof design of the Ørestad Church will channel natural light deep inside the wooden structure | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
The dynamic roof design of the Ørestad Church will channel natural light deep inside the wooden structure Image: Courtesy of Vivid Vision, Henning Larsen
The intention is to create a church that can command attention, untouched by the bustle of the city, filled with spaces of distinguished simplicity that offer residents solace from their everyday life. – Jacob Kurek, Global Design Director, Henning Larsen

"Filtering the light of nature to grace a sacred space"

The chapel will be bathed in daylight filtering in from above, owing to the wooden roof domes that also open up views to the sky, driving the eye towards the heavens. "The church hall becomes a clearing in the forest, where light is refracted in many ways throughout the day and year. The light of nature, together with the height of the hall, creates the grandeur and atmosphere for diverse civic, cultural, and spiritual programming," the design team elaborates.

"Stepping into the church, the connection to nature will ignite people’s spirituality. The chapel is bathed in light from above and opens up the view of the sky, drawing people’s gaze. The hall is the clearing in the forest, where the light is refracted in a variety of ways throughout the day and year. Building in wood and harnessing the power of the light was the obvious solution, for the climate, for the context and for the community,” Kurek continues. 

The rough façade of the Ørestad Church is akin to tree barks, and will in a similar fashion, change and transform character as well as aesthetics through passing seasons. The drawing board project will remain connected to its surroundings by means of a continuous brick floor of various tones and glazing, referencing fallen leaves of mixed colours, sizes and textures. This floor will rise imperceptibly, transitioning into benches, sitting niches and podiums within the warm, sunlit bathed interior design. The path from the city and the common lead directly into the landmark architecture, the Danish architects relay.

The church complex will also encompass a chapel, a shielded courtyard, a church office, as well as informal cultural spaces | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
The church complex will also encompass a chapel, a shielded courtyard, a church office, as well as informal cultural spaces Image: Courtesy of Vivid Vision, Henning Larsen

"We have great expectations that the new church will become a meeting point for both the parish and the community in Ørestad. It has been our goal to create a sustainable church that is completely its own and contributes to Ørestad's tradition of experimenting with the built environment," says Nina la Cour Sell, Design Director, Henning Larsen.

"Our vision for the new church is inspired by the light of nature, the changeability of the forest and the open space of the community. Ørestad Church is a new kind of church that opens like a forest edge from several sides, evoking a meeting place at the clearing in the trees that invites, protects, and welcomes people in,” Henning Larsen elaborates.

  • Concept diagram | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Concept diagram Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen
  • Axonometric diagram of the church’s façade that will resemble a rough tree bark | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Axonometric diagram of the church’s façade that will resemble a rough tree bark Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen

The design team relays that designing a new church also presented them with an opportunity to embed modern concepts of social sustainability at its core. “Community consultation has informed the types of programming the building will house,” they say.

Conceptual diagram | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
Conceptual diagram Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Apart from the main congregational and altar space, where the former is designed to be adapted to hold a range of services and ceremonies, the wooden architecture also encompasses — a chapel, a shielded courtyard, a church office, as well as informal cultural spaces that can host activities such as communal eating, small concerts, yoga, dancing, lectures, and more. The landscape design will take shape with the inclusion of grasses, herbaceous perennials and cherry trees inspired by the nearby Amager Fælled, a protected natural area.

  • Section | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen
  • Extended section | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Extended section Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Ørestad Church also references cloister gardens, its arboreal volume protecting the green courtyard, in tandem with channeling natural light from above. The shadier corners lead to a tranquil garden where visitors can sit for quiet reflection and contemplation. The inverted façade is activated on all sides of the religious architecture, forming an urban shelf with seating niches, a book exchange, a drinking fountain as well as tables to play games like chess on.

South elevation | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
South elevation Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Henning Larsen’s design proposal emerged the winner over those from Lundgaard & Tranberg, Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter, Konsordium OOPEAA:WE, and Cobe, delivered in collaboration with Platant and Ramboll. A judging panel consisting of both professional judges and members of Islands Brygge Parish Council selected Henning Larsen as the winner of the competition. The firm brings decades of rich experience in designing and conceiving churches and religious buildings in Denmark. Some recent ones are the Højvangen Church (set to open in 2024), the Herlev Hospital's Center for Contemplation and Faith, and the Enghøj Church and Ringsted Communal Crematorium.

  • Sections of the church room (L); Section of the garden room (R) | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Sections of the church room (L); Section of the garden room (R) Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen
  • Ground floor plan | Ørestad Church by Henning Larsen | STIRworld
    Ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Project Details

Name: Ørestad Church
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Area: 2,100 sqm
Client: Islands Brygge Parish
Architect and Landscape: Henning Larsen
Engineer: Ramboll
Community Engagement: Platant
Sustainability: DGNB Gold

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