The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has completed its latest cultural offering in its homeland: the Danish Maritime Museum in the city of Helsingør. Located a mere 1,600 feet from the historic Kronborg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the museum honors Denmark’s historic and contemporary role as a leading maritime nation. Faced with the challenge of establishing a fitting facade while preserving the views from the nearby castle, BIG principal Bjarke Ingels tucked the 65,000-square-foot museum 23 feet below grade by carving out space around an existing, decommissioned dry dock.
“By wrapping the old dock with the museum program,” Ingels explained in a statement, “we simultaneously preserve the heritage structure while transforming it to a courtyard bringing daylight and air in to the heart of the submerged museum. Turning the dock inside out resolved a big dilemma: Out of respect for Hamlet’s Castle we needed to remain completely invisible and underground—but to be able to attract visitors we needed a strong public presence. Leaving the dock as an urban abyss provides the museum with an interior façade facing the void and at the same time offers the citizens of Helsingør a new public space sunken 16 feet below the level of the sea.”
Through this creative scheme, the BIG team managed to create a sculptural museum filled with the jarring angles and raw materiality while maintaining the discreet sensibility and downplayed scale appropriate for the historic site.
Inside the museum, a continuous series of exhibition spaces loop around the dock, sloping downward as they showcase over 600 years of Danish maritime history. The dock itself serves two new roles, one as the centerpiece of the museum, demonstrating the scale of shipbuilding and Denmark’s industrial heritage, the other as a new public open space for Helsingør, accessible by two descending staircases.
Three, two-tiered bridges zigzag across the dock, add a dash of dynamism to the museum’s otherwise low-key outward appearance. The southernmost bridge provides access across the sunken space to the nearby castle and housing the museum’s auditorium within, while the other two direct visitors to the museum’s entrance and provide shortcuts within.
Exhibition design was lead by Dutch specialists Kossman.dejong, while KiBiSi designed the above ground seating. Drawn from the form of ship bollards, the benches and stools beside the museum are arranged to contain a secret message written in Morse code.