ARKEN - the Ark

In 1988 Søren Robert Lund, a young architecture student then in his mid 20s, won a competition to design a major new gallery for modern art in Ishøj that was to be built in a coastal park on the shore of the bay, about 15 kilometres from Copenhagen to the south west of the city. A final design was agreed in 1992 and the gallery opened in 1996.

Set between lagoons, and among marinas and commercial boat yards, the building is long and relatively low and in style essentially industrial or at least not grand and obviously civic. There are some elements of art deco style from architecture of the 1930s in the large areas of plain light-coloured rendered walls and with long horizontal runs of windows on the north side and in the form of metal handrails to staircases and balconies. 

Clearly in plan but also obvious in the structure itself, the building appears to be jagged with the plan cut sharply and divided by a long high wall set at an angle and forming the spine of the building. This sharpness - with the use of angled walls - is particularly apparent when approaching the building from the west, where the original entrance was set back into the building between high walls that formed a deep open courtyard that was a potential open-air display space. 

On the south side of that spine wall - the side towards the sea - there is a long curved wall that forms a bow-shaped space, running through the building, at most 10 metres wide but over 100 metres long, with a high mono-pitch roof … a circulation and exhibition space that can take substantial works of art. It forms the main link that you keep returning to as you work your way around the galleries so it really is the spine of the building. 

To the north - on the landward side of that spine wall - is a series of high square or rectangular exhibition areas that are linked together and are generally top lit. These are relatively conventional, modern, exhibition galleries but there are marked changes of floor level between the rooms with wide flights of steps to provide interesting and flexible spaces that can be used on their own for separate small exhibitions or used together for larger shows. 

To the south of the bow-shaped space are a further large exhibition area, again down a wide flight of steps at the east end; a large lecture theatre with raked seating towards the centre; a cinema behind the entrance and shop and the gallery restaurant which is at a high level and reached by rather complex industrial or ship-style staircases.   

There are real elements of drama in the plan, with a long dark corridor sloping down from the restaurant staircase and running back down to the central bow-shaped space - so suggesting that the plan is jagged or fragmented is not in fact a criticism … simply a way to try and describe the character of the building and its spaces. 

The restaurant with long curved walls is a complex keel-shaped space that feels and looks as if it is the hull of a boat propped up, as boats are propped up for maintenance, or even, from a distance, as if it is hung from the south side of the building. Full height windows looking towards the sea have dark, hefty, closely-spaced vertical ribs that seen on an angle form shutters or vertical louvres that give the window wall a strong rhythm. This is not just structural but also dramatically filters the light and creates shadow and strips of bright light across the space that changes as the sun moves round and the strong verticals divide up the views out to the sand dunes. 

Presumably the space is also a slightly tongue-in-cheek reference to all those museums that put their cafes into a conservatory … the idea generally being to provide visitors with a break from all those dark galleries with their reverential low-level conservation lighting.

This combination of strong dark ribs and high, narrow strips of clear glazing appears to be close to the design of the original glazed wall of the entrance to the west before the entrance hall and book shop were expanded outwards. 

These days, most galleries have to have a large shop area for the income it bring in to supplement grants and money from entrance charges but, in the extended space, although the larger sheets of glass, with a thin metal glazing framework, brings in more light and opens up views to the lagoon to the west, it somehow weakens and undermines the strength of the architecture because it is much less dramatic inside and outside. By intruding so far out into the entrance courtyard, the shop area also compromises the drama of that courtyard space. The line of the original entrance front can be seen towards the back of the present shop area where there is a dramatic drop in the ceiling level.

 

Alterations and addition to the entrance were part of a major phase of work in 2008 and 2009 by the architects C F Møller when further galleries across the north side of the building were added and the education facilities of the the gallery were extended and improved.

 

the original entrance