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Museum Cluster Embedded In Nature Preserve

Rendering of a World War II German bunker that will be completed with a glass enclosure matching its intended turret dimemsions
A cluster of four museum and gallery spaces embedded in the topography of a nature preserve along the coast of Blåvand, Denmark, has been planned and funds are being raised toward its completion. The site includes an unfinished World War II German bunker that will be completed with a glass enclosure matching its intended turret dimensions. © BIG

A cluster of four museum and gallery spaces to be built on the western coast of Denmark will be nestled beneath the ground and linked to a nearby World War II bunker.

April 23, 2013—During World War II, the Germans built a series of coastal fortifications known as the Atlantic Wall along Europe’s western edge. Some of those bunkers remain today, including a number built among the sand dunes along the coast of Blåvand, Denmark. The Museum of Varde City and Environs is currently raising funds to build a cluster of four museums and galleries that will be nestled beneath a hilltop at the base of one of the uncompleted bunkers. A glass-enclosed steel “wireframe” structure will be built atop the World War II relic that will match the dimensions of a gun turret that the Germans planned to build there. The wireframe turret will contain crystal-encased telescopes, also made of steel to resemble a wireframe and similarly matching the dimensions that the Germans had planned.

“The project must address three important paradoxes: two site-specific and one functional,” noted Brian Yang, an architect at the Copenhagen-based Bjarke Ingels Group and the firm’s leader for the project. Yang wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

The museum and the architects determined that the site, a nature preserve marred by the incomplete Nazi bunker and the still-visible crane foundation, had to tell the story of both war and peace while integrating both the dune landscape and foreign soil that was introduced during construction and that remains to this day. Additionally, the four museum and gallery spaces had to be accessible to one another, yet also had to be able to hold separate special events and operate on their own timetables. 

Interior rendering of the Museum Center Blåvand

The Museum Center Blåvand will include a bunker museum, an
amber museum, a regional history museum, and a special
exhibitions and art gallery. An underground tunnel will provide
visitors with access to the bunker.

The solution involves the arrangement of the four separate spaces around a central open-air courtyard, all of which are embedded in the current topography of the preserve. Trenches cut into the hilltop will enable visitors to enter the site from four different directions using the nature preserve’s existing network of trails. This strategy preserves the existing site lines of the nature preserve.

“Each of the four roofs rise up to a common central peak,” Yang said. “The ground above is to be sculpted independently from the roof structure to reflect the surrounding landscape, creating a ‘green roof.’” The lower level of each of the four spaces will be linked via an underground lobby that has been rotated from its open-air counterpart so that skylights can channel sunlight into the lowest levels.

The four spaces will be built using typical concrete box construction formed by concrete retaining walls on three sides, the fourth made of steel and glass on the upper level to provide views of the sunken, open-air lobby, and structural walls on the lower level, according to Yang. Roof beams will span between the walls and columns. 

“For the nature of the building and its exposure to a natural ground environment a structural system that can guarantee longevity with minimum maintenance is beneficial,” Yang said. “The proposed solution envisions a structure made entirely of reinforced concrete but implements hybrid construction.” Under the proposed plan, the columns and ribs will be prefabricated off-site to reduce on-site works, which enables an accelerated construction schedule, he said. The concrete soffit will then be cast on-site after all of the prefabricated elements have been installed.

Another interior rendering of the museum, this one is featuring a stark, circular stairway within the bunker

Visitors will access the museum center and bunker via the network
of existing trails in the nature preserve; a stark, circular stairway
within the bunker will rise up to its newly glass-enclosed

The Museum Center Blåvand will integrate four independent institutions into the 2,500 m2 site: a museum focusing on the adjacent Tirpitz bunker, the Denmark Amber Museum, a “histolarium” that will focus on the region’s history, and a special exhibitions and art gallery. An underground tunnel will provide visitors with access to the bunker, with a stark, circular stairway rising to its new glass-enclosed top. 

The project will be located in the resort village of Blåvand, one of the largest tourist destinations in Denmark, according to Claus Kjeld Jensen, the director of the Museum of Varde City and Environs, who wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. More than 500,000 people visit the area annually, according to material on the museum’s website.

The museums must be attractions in terms of both their architecture and their exhibitions, Jensen explained. This design offers both, while protecting the existing dunes and health of the nature preserve and adding only glass to the bunker.

“At last [Blåvand] will have a place where the fantastic histories of the west coast can be told in surroundings matching the histories,” Jensen said.

The London-based civil and structural engineering firm Adams Kara Taylor (AKT) consulted on the project.


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