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Olafur Eliasson’s first building is marvelous

The Danish-Icelandic artist’s studio has built its first building, for the heirs of Lego founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen.

The highly popular, large-scale installation works of Olafur Eliasson are often described as mind-bending, perceptual, and phenomenological—and for good reason. The Danish-Icelandic artist’s otherworldly creations have included everything from New York City Waterfalls, four artificially constructed, 90-foot-tall waterfalls beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, to spatial interventions that play with our senses, like The Weather Project, a monumental installation that simulated a sunny, misty environment in the main turbine hall of London’s Tate Modern.

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Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann [Photo: David de Larrea Remiro]
Highly structured spaces set the stage for Eliasson’s experimental and interactive creations, so it only makes sense that he, his studio, and Sebastian Behmann—the architect and longtime collaborator with whom he founded Studio Other Spaces in 2014, as a counterpart to his main artistic practice—have ponied up to design an entire building, and it’s truly a Gesamtkunstwerk. It opened June 9 in Vejle, Denmark, a harbor town at the head of Vejle fjord, the Fjordenhus will serve as the headquarters of Kirk Kapital, the business and investment holdings company owned by family members of Lego founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen. While Eliasson and his team have previously designed building facades, lighting, and even a bridge, Fjordenhus marks their first complete building project.

[Photo: David de Larrea Remiro]
“A lot of the things I’ve been working on in art have been spatially based, though art installations aren’t very often meant to stay up, as in an exhibition. With this project, it was great to check or challenge and test the experiments of artistic ideas in an architectural framework,” Eliasson told Fast Company. “My only role is to navigate the artistic questions,” he added, of the largely collaborative effort led by Behmann and their collective studio teams, which include 25 architects among a staff of well over 100.

In the case of Fjordhus, the driving artistic question was: “What type of experiential framework is in fact supporting an atmosphere that keeps challenging you a little bit? Instead of allowing you to be a pacified consumer of the space,” Eliasson says, “I think a great space actually has an element of friction that demands from you your subtle and slight attention, maybe consciously or subconsciously.”

[Photo: Anders Sune Berg]

Rising from the harbor and accessed by footbridge, the elliptical structure is made from four cylindrical structures, clad in more than 970,000 unglazed bricks laid in complex torquing contours and archways. The bricks are a subtle nod to local tradition and industry, turned way up to achieve a complex form that engages with reflections in the water’s surface. Inside, views are equally stunning: Eliasson’s team also created site-specific artworks, furnishings, and lightings specially made for its interiors, while grand, multi-story windows look out onto the water.

“I am very thankful for the trust shown by the Kirk Johansen family in inviting me, with my studio, to conceive Fjordenhus,” said Eliasson by statement. “This allowed us to turn years of research—on perception, physical movement, light, nature, and the experience of space—into a building that is at once a total work of art and a fully functional architectural structure.”

The project is among the town’s first developments to extend into the harbor, and as such, also serves to enhance the community from a public-facing perspective, said Behmann. Sited at the end of a waterfront promenade and plaza, “[Fjordhus] tells the story of the city in relation to the water and the fjord and their surroundings,” the architect added, sharing that he even took a nice swim around the building in the days leading up to its inauguration this past weekend.

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It’s a stunning building, and hardly the last to come from Behmann and Studio Other Spaces, which is currently developing projects elsewhere in Paris and Addis Ababa. This past month alone, Eliasson and his studio also announced an Ikea collaboration with his solar-power company Little Sun, and mounted three exhibitions in Munich, Los Angeles, and Beijing. This all comes ahead of several larger shows next year—the details of which they’ve yet to announce, though Eliasson does share some summer plans in the immediate: “A few contemplative months ahead, involving a lot of landscape and a trip to Iceland. What do you call it, ‘recharging,’ I guess? I’ll be recharging my batteries.”

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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