The Stelling Building on Gammeltorv in Copenhagen has new tenants with a new 7ELEVEN store on the ground floor.
On a prominent site on a major historic square and on the route up to the cathedral, this building was commissioned by the Stelling Paint Company and was designed by Arne Jacobsen and completed in 1937. It was one of the first truly modern buildings in the centre of the city.
Obviously, for its present use, there are new fittings inside for food, take-away coffee and snacks but the most recent additions have been corporate shop signs on the outside.
There is a hefty new banner or long horizontal sign in the company branding that wraps around the corner above the shop windows and it projects forward of the facade because it is back lit. There are also two large, double-sided, illuminated square signs that project out from the frontage - one to Gammeltorv and one to the cross street Skindergade.
Look at historic photographs and you can see that the building and its tile cladding was designed with considerable care and with precise proportions and with high-quality and elegantly thin fittings. All in all, a very sophisticated building and yet this company sees it necessary, for commercial reasons, to desecrate the design.
For a start, just what damage has been done to the historic fabric and the original facing materials when the signs were fixed? In any work, on any major historic building, the rule should be that alterations and additions are not intrusive and should be reversible so could be removed without leaving evidence or causing damage.
The tenants will argue that this work was necessary to ‘attract’ customers but the argument should have been that if the building could not be occupied successfully without doing this then it was not an appropriate building for their use.
The design of the Stelling Building was innovative and even controversial at the time. The severe style might not make it immediately obvious that this is a major historic building and, even now, it might not appeal to all tastes but those are not good reasons for allowing this to happen.
It is a significant failure of the planning process in the city when this happens to such an important building by such an iconic Danish architect.