Aarhus City Hall

Community Highlights Europe Aarhus City Hall

The Aarhus city hall is very much a icon of the city of which the people are very proud. I'd heard a little about it, but did not know much of its history, so I decided to take the guided tour.

The decision to build a city hall was made in 1937 with architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller winning the competition to design a new city hall. I'm sure most of us are aware Denmark is well know for its concept of 'Danish Design' , and Arne Jacobsen is probably the most renowned, and respected, Danish architect and designer. In Australia, of course, we have our own Danish contribution by Jørn Utzon with the Sydney Opera House.

The respect for Arne Jacobsen was expressed often by our tour guide by noting the various design elements of the building, and his determination that only the best materials be used in order to present a building that the city would be proud of. She noted that even the copper ash trays were designed by him. As they are considered part of his building they have not been removed, though no longer in use as smoking is prohibited in the building.

The new building was inaugurated on 2 June 1941. It is made of concrete, but plated with 6,000 m² of grey Norwegian marble. Initially the plans did not include a tower. However, the people of Aarhus were not at all happy as they thought that the city's most important building should be 'monumental'. So a 60-metre rectangular tower with six balconies and two clock faces was added to the plan, which is how it stands today. To complete the pleasing effect, the building is surrounded by parkland.

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This website offers an excellent overview of the design elements of the building, and great pics. Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller’s Modernist City Hall in Aarhus

However, one of the most interesting aspects is that all of this was done during World War II, while under direct Nazi occupation.

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As imagined by the designers, the interior is beautifully designed from quality materials. From the parquetry flooring made from peat-bog oak, to the ceramic tiles in a variety of designs, the full length glass wall showing the building to best effect, the light beech timber wall lining, and the furnishings uniquely designed to fit the building .. these details are very effective in providing an aesthetically pleasing effect.
Note: The improvement in glass manufacture which enable glass walls of this size was a new development at this time. Jacobsen saw it as a symbol of power to have such a feature.

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I cannot remember the name of the artist who was commissioned for the art work in the new building, but this piece was designed to showcase the significant structures of the city (the university, Cathedral, city hall, and Marselisborg Palace (Royal summer palace), cultural aspects of the city (music, art and recreation), industry (harbour and port, and work environment), and the broader community of people coming together. It is very large and quite striking, and has a prominent place in the foyer of the building. The web link above provides an excellent view of the size of this artwork.

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An interesting cultural difference with Australia is that Denmark does not have wedding celebrants. A church service, or a civil ceremony (which is conducted in the city hall by a Council representative) are the only options available. Consequently the building has a special Wedding Room, three walls of which are covered with paintings of Danish flowers (depicting spring, summer, autumn). The tour guide noted that civil ceremonies are very popular, commenting (joking) that it takes approximately three minutes (five if the Mayor is available) to get married.

As I exited the building after the tour the front foyer was buzzing with a number of excited wedding participants, together with the ubiquitous Danish flag (which is proudly displayed for any congratulatory/celebratory event), with many well-wishers in attendance.

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Again I cannot remember the name of the artist who painted the Wedding Room, however he signed his work with his initials hidden in one of the paintings. If you look at the close-up below you may see 'A N' (his initials), and also a 'V' (for Victory). Remember that the building was commissioned during WWII, when Denmark was occupied. In placing the V for Victory symbol in this painting, the artist acknowledged the work of the Danish Resistance in their fight against the German occupation. Our tour guide noted that the red, white and blue of the petals reflect the colours of the flag of the Resistance Movement.

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This is the chamber where Council meetings are held. As I mentioned earlier, the furnishings were specially designed, including the table and chairs in this meeting room, and a carpet woven to show a map of the city. The walls are made of mahogany, which was shipped from Cuba, an amazing feat considering this was war time.

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We were then advised we would go to the top of the bell tower. I commented that I didn't think my knees would survive .. but thankfully, we were taken to the lift (whew!!) and up the five flights. The view in all directions was spectacular .. and a special treat to be on the tower when the clock stuck once (on the 15 minutes past the hour). It was great.

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As an extra note with regard to the Danish Resistance movement ... our tour guide noted that they used an area in the basement of the building for rifle practice. The room remains 'as is' today as a memorial to them (but is not open to the public). The Gestapo never found it. She also noted that the building was never occupied.

Denmark was the only European country to rescue all but 500 of its Jewish population of 7,000-8,000 from being sent to the concentration camps. After a tip-off about imminent roundups by prominent Nazis they were evacuated to Sweden by boat under cover of darkness where they were offered asylum. Interestingly, Arne Jacobsen was one of the Jewish Danes who fled to Sweden in 1943 where he stayed for the next two years.

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This was definitely an interesting tour to learn the story behind the construction of this iconic building at the height of the war. Quite an amazing feat.

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This featured blog entry was written by patsaunder from the blog Let's do it!.
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By patsaunder

Posted Sun, Jul 07, 2019 | Denmark | Comments