Copenhagen Contemporary

The former B&W welding hall is one of the few remaining buildings that reflects the story of Copenhagen as a city of heavy industry. Impressive by its scale alone it controls the entire layout of Refshaleøen, stretching almost 350 metres parallel to the harbour front. When tasked with transforming this magnificent hall into a set and scenery workshop for the Royal Danish Theatre, we approach the building on its own terms, creating a frame where robust and refined exists side by side. Today, the industrial halls are home to one of Scandinavia’s most extensive exhibition venues for contemporary art – Copenhagen Contemporary.

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From busy industrial area to thriving hub for creative and artistic life. Though Refshaleøen has been through several transformations over the years it has maintained its past industrial character which still today reflects the story of Copenhagen as a working-class city. For more than a century, the island was home to one of Denmark’s largest workplaces – the renowned shipyard and diesel engine producer Burmeister & Wain – and the remnants of the former production buildings constitute an important part of the Northern Copenhagen harbour front. Built in 1942 and later expanded in 1946 and 1951, the B&W welding hall stands as the central production line, both uniting and dividing the area.

Designed solely from a rational perspective, the welding hall was built for a specific purpose, however, it possesses a wealth of unique spatial and narrative qualities that has allowed a seamless transition from industrial production to a versatile cultural space. Its enormous scale and the dramatic, yet simple composition of the façade forms a captivating expression. Along the façade, the concrete pillars draw a calm and rational rhythm emphasising the length of the building while the materiality with the patinated brick fillings and patchwork of glass and fiberglass in the windows creates a nuanced play of colours. Any attempt to neaten the buildings appearance would weaken its cultural and aesthetic qualities. We therefore approached the transformation as part of a continuous narrative where new layers live parallel to the building’s industrial history and changes and additions are added with a broad and unsentimental brush.

Throughout the transformation, we considered the building a container for a narrative or use that is not fixed in a certain time, but continuously evolve. The building’s exterior is preserved with cracks and gaps only renovated for structural soundness. New infill sections are realised in a similar expression to the existing by the use steel or glass, ensuring that the unpolished quality of the hall is maintained. The entrance is clearly marked by a corten steel surface as a reference to the shipyard history. Inside, the building is partially separated horizontally by a single floor deck and a series of vertical, terraced structures.  This creates a spatial variation between the vast, open halls and the more intimate spaces. Large window openings on each side of the office area allows undisturbed views of the harbour on both sides and plenty of natural daylight.

By integrating flexibility, social and aesthetic value to the existing structures, the transformation has illuminated the potential of the former welding hall. As a testament to the versatility of the new structures, most of the interventions remain intact and the Royal Danish Theatres spatial requirements for large-scale productions now forms a perfect frame around the large scale, interactive and technically demanding contemporary art exhibited at Copenhagen Contemporary. Art that can be entered and sensed with the whole body.