BIG, the name says it all. One of the most famous and well-renowned names in the genre of contemporary architecture. The mastermind of iconic projects and future vision such as Hyperloop in UAE, VIA 57 in New York, need no introductions. Starting from the calm soothing Scandinavian city of Copenhagen to the scorching hot Gulf, The Bjarke Ingels Group is really BIG.

In the glamorous glimpse of revolutionary form and iconic designs, there are only a few projects that sit silently and still make a magnificent impact with the minimum chaos and subtle representation of glory. One such project is here to tell a story of Denmark’s maritime history.

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet1
Aerial view of Helsingør harbor_©

Architects: Bjarke Ingels Group
Location: Helsingør, Denmark
Area: 5000 m2
Type: Cultural
Year: 2013

The project was assigned to Bjarke Ingels Group as their entry nominated for the implementation after the competition. The proposal was shortlisted as it responded to the surroundings with maximum impact and respecting existing cultural significance of the site. The immediate context of the museum is the Kronborg Castle known from Shakespeare’s play ‘The tragedy of Hamlet’, and is one of Denmark’s most famous and important buildings. And on the other side, a new ambitious cultural centre. 

The Danish National Maritime Museum is also a great example of Adaptive Re-use. The museum itself is constructed in and around the 60 years old concrete dry dock walls previously used by the harbour for shipbuilding and maintenance works. As a responsive effort, 2.5m thick floor and 1.5m thick concrete walls of the old dry dock were preserved by cutting it open and reassembling. Then the modern building is constructed with new museum facilities.

Conceptual Development

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet2
Conceptual design process diagram _©dezeen

Conceptually, the BIG’S idea was to keep the whole museum below the ground level. Therefore, they used the surrounding to accommodate galleries and kept the walls of dry dock as it was. Then installed the steel bridges connecting various galleries.

The overall form of dry dock is still maintained and one can easily recognize it just by looking at it. To create interior amenities, the surrounding space is used and most of the space inside the basement floor is kept open for Exhibition space to cater outdoor activities.    

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet3
Image of under-construction museum _©Pinterest

Contextual Response

The museum is placed in the old dry dock within 500m UNESCO preservation line from the castle and right next to the street food market. The newly constructed museum has to impart its own identity & also has to respect the cultural importance of the historic castle. Hence, the museum structure is built underground providing a seamless panoramic view of the landscape where the iconic Kronborg Castle emerges as it was from Aeon without being obstructed from a newly constructed museum. Furthermore, Bjarke Ingles has symbolically placed a bridge that is axially pointing directly towards the Kronborg Castle.

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet4
The Krongorg Castle in the backdrop from bridge _©

Design Development

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet6
Longer section & first basement plan_©dezeen

The whole museum structure goes two floors (approx. 7m) below the ground floors. The staircase at the rear end takes visitors directly to the lowermost level where the floor space is kept open to feel the gigantic scale of shipbuilding. The zigzag bridges go gradually down and connect exhibition spaces with other amenities like the auditorium, classroom, offices, café and the dock floor within the museum.

Internal Spaces 

In the shadows of the old restored bridges, the new built interior spaces display modern materials such as glass, steel and wood. Lights were used effectively to guide visitors and create contemporary ambience. The continuous strip of light along the bridges guides the visitors towards the interior spaces. Many small but elegant elements such as iron anchor chains underneath the bridges, the ship bollards on the ground floors to keep cars away from the edges. The creative use of street furniture also acts as a place for social hangouts and it has a hidden message in morse code (dot and dash) for the visitors.

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet7
street furniture and approach towards the museum_©Photograph by Rasmus Hjortshøj

Internal walls of the display area were also representing the Nordic sea where the contemporary sculpture-like pedestals has the relics of the historic voyage and displays showing Danish involvement in global shipbuilding industries in the present day.

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet8
Exhibition area inside the museum _©Photograph by Thijs-Wolzak

There is a café at the rear end lowermost basement level, below the harbour promenade. It has a full-height ceiling and glass façade on the other side, where a visitor can feel the huge scale of the dry dock surrounded by the old concrete wall sitting on a table having their meal.          

Danish National Maritime Museum by BIG: Dock within the Dock - Sheet9
Café at the rear museum_©dezeen

Overall, the Danish National Maritime Museum is a good example of Adaptive Re-use, where a whole new set of infrastructure is installed and wrapped with the old reminisce of maritime history. The Cultural importance of the site is maintained and the significance of the newly built museum is achieved by keeping the architectural interventions inside the box with the Bjarke Ingels Group’s impactful ideology of thinking out of the box.



The new age Architect, an emerging writer & graphics designer. He worked with college magazines as Assistant Editor. An optimist who believes that the architects are the creators of the batter world. He narrates his ideologies with whimsical humour. Priyank is fascinated by the historic work of pioneers in the art & architectural jargon.

Write A Comment