Work will start in May on some major changes at the design museum with plans for the alterations by COBE … the Copenhagen architecture and planning studio.
The museum is in an important 18th-century building that was a hospital. A cobbled forecourt with iron gates and imposing stone gate piers along the street is flanked by detached pavilions that were part of the original construction - the pavilion to the right being the hospital pharmacy - but these are not currently used by the design museum for the public.
The main building faces you as you enter the courtyard and the entrance is in the centre of the front, emphasised by a pediment. Through the door there is an outer hall flanked by staircases and with access to cloakrooms on either side and then there is an inner hall, directly opposite the entrance, with the ticket desk and information, in a relatively small square space overlooking a large internal green courtyard beyond. The museum shop is at the left-hand angle of the building currently in three rooms but also with storage space.
The ticket desk and the museum shop will be moved into the forecourt level of that right-hand pavilion so visitors will have to do a hard turn to the right as they come in through the gateway from the street into the forecourt … not difficult but then not obvious … and then, after passing through the shop and a new cafe, they will have to leave the pavilion and cut back to the centre of the main front, crossing the back of the forecourt, to enter the museum by the present door.
One obvious advantage will be that people will be able to visit the shop without having to buy a ticket and it will free up important space in the building for exhibitions and the display of more objects from the permanent collection.
This being Copenhagen, better provision has to be made for bikes for the number of visitors who arrive on two wheels so there will be a new set of bike racks between the pharmacy pavilion and the main front of the building, tucked away behind the new cafe ... most visitors seem to leave their bikes in the forecourt.
Certainly, the forecourt comes alive during major events at the museum - like the night of culture in October when there were braziers and displays out here - so, in effect, to move the museum out to welcome the visitor in, COBE have proposed that there will be several purpose-built display cabinets outside and the cobbles of the forecourt will be relaid - presumably to smooth out the fairly uneven surface there now - and there will be tables and chairs here for the new cafe.
The stone steps up to the main entrance will be removed and replaced with a long ramp for access … to replace a ‘temporary’ metal ramp there now that sits over the stone steps.
I admire the work by COBE enormously but here do have some reservations. The building has a symmetry that is a strong part of its character and a certain severity, because it was a hospital, that again is important as a deliberate and original contrast with the exuberance and decoration of many of the 18th-century palaces and grand houses in the adjoining streets.
Kaare Klint, when he oversaw the conversion of the building, to make the hospital into a museum, carefully and deliberately respected that symmetry. It was almost an obsession … the pair of staircases in the front range and the pair of staircases on the opposite side of the building might be taken to be original but were designed by Klint. Also Klint was meticulous about his choice of colours and finish … everything in the building is of a high quality and everything is properly made but it is always restrained and always stays on the right side so can never be described as mechanical … Klint pursued quality and craftsmanship but not perfection for its own sake and that gives even the plasterwork - or the cobbles - a warmth and a texture that is nowhere mechanical or cold.
That is why, perhaps, the the cobbles or setts of the forecourt should not be too regular and do the placement of large outside display cases and new trees in the forecourt possibly distract from the design of the front?
the existing stone steps up to the entrance of the design museum and the even grander stone steps at Amalienborg to show how these worked in terms of architectural rules and conventions in the 18th century and the bull-nosed moulding and the decorative tooling on the stonework are essential and typical features of 18th-century work
on the opposite side of the museum, Klint created an entrance for deliveries into the main courtyard and this was treated like carriage arches in the city with steps omitted and the cobbles running right up to the door
Sunday of the recent Easter weekend. It shows just how busy the museum is and actually this is not a sign of an over-slow ticket system ... the museum was overwhelmed and for a short time had to slow down access to let new visitors in only as people left. While I was there no one in the queue complained and no one coming into the forecourt turned away on seeing the queue so that's quite some endorsement of the reputation, success and popularity of the museum
Obviously the ramp up to the door is understandable but again there is a subtle point to be made about the original architecture. The carefully-designed and well-made stone steps up to the doorway have two functions … first to give that sense of entering - so a deliberate and important transition from outside to inside - but also the dark line of the stone has a visual role … perhaps rather subtle but it is a use of correct architectural grammar absolutely appropriate to this classical building … the horizontal line of the darker stone of the steps is almost like a punctuation mark or an underlining of the door. Take that away and it weakens the composition of the facade.
Look around the streets here and you can see how carefully architects and masons designed and made entrance steps. This does does not and cannot trump the right that visitors have for direct and easy access to the museum so one solution would be to pull the stonework of the steps forward, to create a level apron or landing in front of the door - there are good classical precedents for such a design - and then take the ramps in cobbles or stone down each side. That might even work better with the new approach line from the left-hand door of the pharmacy building where people will move from the ticket desk area to the museum itself.