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Danish Maritime Museum, Denmark

Key Data

In 2007, the Danish Maritime Museum, which is housed at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør (Elsinore), held an open competition to design a new building for its extensive historic collection. The Danish architecture firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), won with its imaginative proposal for an 'invisible' space.

Kronborg Castle, which was built in 1574, is a UNESCO World Heritage site located on a peninsula jutting out to sea. It is the setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet and one of Denmark's biggest tourist attractions.

To preserve views from the castle, the new building had height restrictions imposed, so BIG proposed a museum below ground that is both flexible and incorporates the dramatic use of daylight.

BIG recognised that creating a new building next to one of Denmark's most important architectural icons required an equal dose of respect and sensitivity but at the same time the firm wanted to design a building that would be outstanding in its own right.

The total construction cost of the project is estimated at $40m.

Dry-dock design

While researching the site, BIG discovered an abandoned concrete dry dock, 150m long, 25m wide and 9m deep. The team knew straightaway that they had found the ideal location for their proposal. However, in order to build the Maritime Museum, the old dry dock needed to be reinforced so that it wouldn't cave in.

BIG considered a number of alternatives - either supporting the structure with an added layer of concrete throughout its interior but this would cover its beautiful old concrete walls, or by digging around the dry dock walls and creating supportive rib walls on its exterior, which would be too costly. Finally the firm proposed putting the museum on the periphery of the dry dock walls to reinforce the structure and also to serve as the façade of the new museum.

Despite not sticking to the original brief, BIG unanimously won over the competition jury because it was the best-thought-through proposal. The jury believed that the firm demonstrated the best understanding of the sensitivity of the site and the museum's needs and that it would create a world-class maritime museum for Denmark.

The new museum will be placed around the dry dock, not in it, preserving the dock as an entirely empty space. Visitors will arrive through a set of descending ramps and a series of bridges will span the dry dock providing them with short cuts to other parts of the museum. The museum includes three bridges: the Kronborg Bridge, Zig-Zag Bridge and the Harbor Bridge. All three will provide access into the museum and exhibition areas.

An auditorium also serves as a bridge providing direct access from Kronborg Castle to the harbour. The building will provide the Maritime Museum with a continuous 7,600m² exhibition gallery that will feel like the deck of a ship and will house the museum's large collection of paintings, model ships, maritime equipment and sailors' memorabilia.

In addition, this space can be transformed quickly and easily into 12 individual galleries of different shapes and sizes and with different lighting for whenever they are needed for special exhibitions and events.

Urban space

BIG says that it would have been "architectural suicide" to fill the dry dock and therefore it decided to empty it and make the space an integral part of the museum. It will serve as a centre piece - a new urban space open to the air and will provide the focus of the gallery.

"While researching the site for the Danish Maritime Museum, BIG discovered an abandoned concrete dry dock."

BIG says that its vision is to create a lively museum that, not only through its wide ranging programme of exhibitions but also its architecture, could excite people who just happen to wander by as well as those who had travelled far and wide specifically to visit the museum.

The dry dock will also be used for a range of outdoor activities, exhibitions and events that will allow the maritime museum to contribute to the cultural life of Helsingør throughout the year. And the museum building will not only house the current collection but also allows for new interactive exhibitions - possible ideas include ship simulators, an interactive map of the world's seas and time-lapse photography showing how ships are built.


Financing of the project is being provided by 11 foundations, which include A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine Mc-Kinney Møllers Fond til almene Formaal, Arbejdsmarkedets Feriefond, Augustinus Fonden, Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond, Dampskibsselskabs Orient's Fond, Den Danske Maritime Fond, JL-Fondet, Oticon Fonden, TK Foundation, TORM's Understøttelsesfond and ØK's Almennyttige Fond.


Design and feasibility studies for the museum started in September 2008. Construction commenced in September 2010 and is scheduled for completion by mid-2013.

As of August 2012, the body of the museum is being completed. The Kronborg and Zig-Zag Bridge are being made in China. Bridge sections will arrive from China to Elsinore in the middle of September 2012. Construction of the Kronborg Bridge will be completed using cranes, while the Harbor Bridge will be built on site.

Other construction activities to be taken up at the site will include laying the main cables for electricity, installing drain layers and insulating cables.


Ramboll is the consulting engineer and Alectia is responsible for project management, Kossmann.Dejong is responsible for designing the interiors, while E. Pihl & Søn is involved in the construction.

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