Danish art museum designed by Alvar Aalto is to be modernized

Is it possible to make an extensive restoration of a listed building without destroying the original architecture? This is the tough challenge facing a Danish art museum, which was designed by the world-famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

Northern Denmark is home to an architectural treasure, constructed in white marble: KUNSTEN – Museum of Modern Art. It houses a unique collection of contemporary art by Danish and foreign artists. But it is not only the collection that is unique; so is the building. It is the only museum outside of Finland to be designed by Aalto.

In 1957, Aalto conceived the design of the museum in collaboration with Elissa Aalto and Jean-Jacques Baruël. The result was an art museum that is a work of art in itself. The building was designed in a light, organic, modernist style with an entirely unique distinctive inflow of light. Throughout the building, the choice of materials is unique, ranging from the custom-designed copper Aalto lights to the marble on the floors and outer walls.

Today, this museum building is listing. So it is no wonder that the building’s imminent and radical restoration and modernization have caused quite a stir.


The renovation will be carried out by Erik Møller Arkitekter, whose previous renovation projects include such famous Danish buildings as the Royal Danish Theatre and Amalienborg, the principal residence of the Danish monarch. The architects’ mission is to create a modern, highly efficient museum within the existing framework.

Says Trine Neble of Erik Møller Arkitekter, “We want to maintain Aalto and Baruël’s architectural vision for the building, both inside and out. That means that all surfaces and details will be retained or recycled, wherever possible. On one hand, it is cheaper and more sustainable to reuse existing resources. On the other hand, the minimal extension will leave the listed building as it was originally conceived.” 

The DKK $130-million project will be closely scrutinized by the Danish Agency for Culture, which is responsible for the protection of the building.

Says Jesper Dahl, head of department at the Danish Agency for Culture, “In both cultural-historical and architectural terms, KUNSTEN in Aalborg is a very special building. It is an exceptional Danish testimony to Alvar Aalto’s masterful treatment of space, form, light and materials for a solid-cast modernist structure. So, it is a major and exciting challenge for the Danish Agency for Culture to be involved in updating the museum’s facilities while, at the same time, protecting its overall listed values, including preservation of its characteristic details and use of space.” 


In addition to the extensive restoration of the building, a 600-square-metre exhibition space will be created in the museum’s basement. The construction work also involves new facilities for children and a variety of building improvements, all of which will benefit the museum’s visitors. The architecture practice, Transform are in charge of the newly-constructed elements in the building together with Erik Møller Arkitekter.

Says Gitte Ørskou, museum director, who is looking forward to the project’s imminent start, “I am certain that the renovation will be conducted with total respect for Alvar Aalto’s brilliant building while accommodating the necessary art and visitor facilities, which a museum of the future requires.” 

This extensive construction work begins on June 1, when the museum building will close to the public. While construction work is in progress, the museum will move to the city and travel around the country. For example, KUNSTEN will exhibit a number of its major works in museums throughout Denmark, including the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen and Museum Jorn in the town of Silkeborg. The museum will also visit all local primary schools with a mobile education program, which will provide children with a fun, educational experience of art during school time. KUNSTEN will also create a variety of pop-up exhibitions and events at various sites in Aalborg.

While the building is closed, KUNSTEN will be based at Aalborg Railway Station with a space for events and exhibitions in a former ticket office in the beautiful building.

The museum is expected to reopen in autumn 2015.