Stelling Building, Gammeltorv 6, by Arne Jacobsen

  1. from Nytorv, looking north across Gammeltorv towards Vor Frue Kirke with the people in the foreground walking along Strøget

  2. from the west looking across the top of the square and down the first part of Skindergade

  3. the main entrance into the shop on the corner


The Stelling building on Gammeltorv in Copenhagen has been empty and shuttered and seems to be waiting for a new tenant. Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1934 and finished by 1938, it must be one of his least well known and least recognised buildings. 

It is actually on a major square in the centre of Copenhagen - Gammeltorv - but is at the top north-east corner and most people - huge numbers of people - cut straight across the centre of the public space as they walk along Strøget or The Walking Street. 

There is only a short frontage to the square itself but a long front to Skindergade … a narrow street that continues the line of the top edge of the square on eastward. Possibly the best initial view is to approach the square along the top from the west by walking along Vestergade that runs up to Gammeltorv from the top of the main square in the front of the city hall. 

Nørregade, that runs north from the top corner of the square, is much more important as a street because it takes you from Gammeltorv to Vor Frue Kirke - the cathedral - and then on to the railway and metro station at Nørreport but it is a relatively narrow street and the Jacobsen building, with its rounded corner, is not prominent from the pavement as you enter or as you leave the square along this east side.

Nor is it, perhaps, the easiest building to appreciate in terms of its style and it is probably not a surprise to find that it was heavily criticised when it was completed - one article even implied that Jacobsen should not be allowed to design anything else in the city.

The building was designed for the paint company Stelling to replace a much older store on this site. Their new building had display show rooms on the ground and on the first floor - in part to make the most of a fairly restricted and narrow plot - and with almost unbroken glazing to the square and to Skindergade on both floors. The interiors and fittings were all by Jacobsen including unique pendant lighting made by Louis Poulsen that was used both in the windows and above curved counters in front of shelving across the back walls.

Above, there are three upper floors of offices that over sail the glass walls below and are stark and almost top heavy - faced with large plain square ceramic tiles - 53cm x 53cm -  so the weight seems to hover over the glazed void below. There is no decoration and no architectural features - such as bands or cornices - to break the severity and no architraves to the windows with only minimal frames and no subdivisions of the glass so when the rooms behind are unlit then the windows look like blank holes punched through the wall.

Should this be seen as Jacobsen designing an industrial building or at least a deliberately and obviously functional building for retail in what was then the heart of the historic centre? The main structure is in concrete and the facing of the pillars is actually iron sheet that is painted grey so the contrast with the Renaissance grandeur of adjoining and nearby buildings could hardly be more marked.

Certainly it is a building that deserves much more attention and surely the long-term plan should be to find a way to restore the interior to its original form - the original teak and mahogany counters and shelving have all been removed.

approaching the square from the north, from Vor Frue Kirke, with just the edge of the Stelling building visible on the left