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Danish Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum in Elsinore (Helsingør) is built in an old dry dock and invites you inside an underground museum designed by the internationally renowned architecture company BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and is on the New York Time’s list of places to go in 2014.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-01-Dragoer-Luftfoto-759x488 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Dragoer Luftfoto

Follow the sloping bridges down to the old dry dock between Kronborg Castle and The Culture Yard. Here you’ll experience a colourful world with a whole range of exhibitions telling the story of Denmark as one of the world’s leading shipping nations – of the past and present. The museum’s maritime collections are presented in evocative and dramatic exhibitions, with films projected directly onto the architecture of the building. Helsingør Station is appr. 50 minutes from central Copenhagen.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-06-Luca-Santiago-Mora-759x409 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Luca Santiago Mora

“We considered it architectural suicide to fill the dry dock with program and therefore decided to empty the dry dock and wrap it with the museum, making it the centrepiece of the exhibition. Instead of drowning the dry dock with galleries we would leave it open. A new kind of urban space – open for new ideas and life. An underwater oasis whose attraction would be its emptiness. As a response to Hamlet’s famous question: to be or not to be? We chose the latter.” – Bjarke Ingels

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-07-Luca-Santiago-Mora-759x412 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Luca Santiago Mora

“When one designs adjacent to one of Denmark’s most important architectural icons, the UNESCO World Heritage Kronborg Castle, it requires an equal dosage of respect and sensitivity. At the same time it is every Museum Director’s dream to have their institution be recognized as its own architectural icon. Our challenge was to do both at the same time.” – David Zahle

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-09-Luca-Santiago-Mora-759x396 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Luca Santiago Mora

“Out of respect for Hamlet’s Castle we needed to remain completely invisible and underground, but to be able to attract visitors we needed a strong public presence […] leaving the dock as an urban abyss provides the museum with an interior facade facing the void and at the same time offers the citizens of Helsingør a new public space sunken eight metres below the level of the sea.” – David Zahle

“By wrapping the old dock with the museum program we simultaneously preserve the heritage structure, while transforming it to a courtyard bringing daylight and air in to the heart of the submerged museum” –Bjarke Ingels

“For 5 years we have been working on transforming the old concrete dock into a modern museum, which required an archaeologist’s care and spacecraft designer’s technical skills. The old lady is both fragile and tough; the new bridges are light and elegant. ” – David Zahle

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-20-Luca-Santiago-Mora-759x407 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Luca Santiago Mora


Due to Kronborg Castle’s UNESCO World Heritage status, the Danish Maritime Museum, formerly housed within the castle’s walls, was evicted in order to restore the castle’s original interiors. It was decided that the museum would be relocated in an adjacent dry dock next to the castle. Contrary to its name, the dry dock was full of water, so it needed to be redesigned to accommodate the new museum.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-27-Rasmus-Hjortshoj-759x508 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Rasmus Hjortshoj

“We proposed to place the museum wrapped around the existing dry dock like a doughnut, where the hole was the dry dock itself and the centerpiece of the museum’s collection. A series of three two-level bridges span the dry dock, serving as short-cuts to different sections of the museum. A sloping zigzag bridge spanning the entire dry dock navigates visitors to the main entrance. This bridge creates a dynamic tension between old and new as visitors descend into the museum space overlooking the majestic surroundings above and below ground, while Denmark’s maritime history unfolds in a continuous motion. All floors –connecting exhibition spaces with the auditorium, classroom, offices, café and the dock floor within the museum—slope gently, so that a visitor continually descends further below the water’s edge to immerse themselves in Danish maritime lore.” – BIG

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-35-Hufton-Crow-759x463 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Hufton & Crow

Adaptive re-use:

This project takes the infrastructure of the centuries-old industry of ship building, which is no longer needed, and breathes new cultural and social life into Helsingør’s harbor. The Danish Maritime Museum demonstrates that by proactively cross-breeding public infrastructure—a dry dock—with social programs, we can inject new urban life forms into the heart of our cities . . . any city that has lost its former industries and is looking for ways to look forward without forgetting its past.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-39-Hufton-Crow-759x289 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Hufton & Crow

Museum as bridge:

A series of three double-level bridges span the dry dock, serving both as an urban connection, as well as providing visitors with short-cuts to different sections of the museum. The harbor bridge closes off the dock while serving as harbor promenade; the museum’s auditorium serves as a bridge connecting the adjacent Culture Yard with the Kronborg Castle; and the sloping zig-zag bridge navigates visitors to the main entrance.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-44-Rasmus-Hjortshoj-759x759 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Rasmus Hjortshoj

BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group:

The Danish Maritime Museum has to be able to fit into a unique historic and spatial context: between one of Denmark’s most important and famous buildings and a new, ambitious cultural center. This is the context in which the museum must prove itself with an understanding of the character of the region and especially the Kronborg Castle.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-57-Thijs-Wolzak-759x414 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Thijs Wolzak

It will be a subterranean museum in a dry dock. We propose to place the museum underground, just outside the wall of the dock in order to preserve the dock as an open, outdoor display, maintaining the powerful structure as the center of the Maritime Museum. By placing the museum in this way, it appears as part of the cultural environment associated with the Kronborg castle and the neighboring Culture Yard, while at the same time manifesting itself as an independent institution.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-67-Luca-Santiago-Mora-759x404 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Luca Santiago Mora

The dock creates a museum space as a cohesive floor plan which discreetly becomes lower and lower across the entire museum length. Simple accessibility ramps and bridges are added, cutting through the dock in a structural and sculptural way.

Danish-Maritime-Museum-By-BIG-Bjarke-Ingels-Group-72-Hufton-Crow-759x337 Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

© Hufton & Crow

Project Data:

Project name: Danish Maritime Museum
Location: Helsingor, Denmark
Coordinates: 56.039032, 12.616153
Type: Adaptive Reuse, Museum
Project Area: 6,500 sqm
Competition Year: 2007
Project Year: 2013
Status: Completed
Cost: € 1,900,000
Completion Year: October 2013
Visit Danish Maritime Museum’s website: here


  • 2014 – World Architecture Festival Award – Category: Culture – Winner
  • 2014 – Architizer A+ Awards – Category: Cultural – Jury Winner
  • 2014 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA European Awards – Category: Arts & Leisure – Winner
  • 2014 – DETAIL Prize – Winner
  • 2014 – The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA New York Design Awards – Honor Award

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Helsingør Municipality, Helsingør Maritime Museum
Architects: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group – Kløverbladsgade 56, 2500 Valby, Copenhagen, Denmark
Partner in charge: Bjarke Ingels, David Zahle
Collaborators: Alectia, Kossmann.dejong, Rambøll, Freddy Madsen, Ingeniører Kibisi
Project leader: David Zahle
Site Architect: Jeppe Ecklon
Project Team:

  • John Pries Jensen, Henrik Kania, Ariel Joy Norback Wallner, Rasmus Pedersen, Annette Jensen, Dennis Rasmussen, Jan Magasanik, Jeppe Ecklon, Karsten Hammer Hansen, Rasmus Rodam, Rune Hansen, Alina Tamosiunaite, Alysen Hiller, Ana Merino, Andy Yu, Christian Alvarez, Claudio Moretti, Felicia Guldberg, Gül Ertekin, Johan Cool, Jonas Mønster, Kirstine Ragnhild, Malte Kloe, Marc Jay, Maria Mavriku, Masatoshi Oka, Oana Simionescu, Pablo Labra, Peter Rieff, Qianyi Lim, Sara Sosio, Sebastian Latz, Tina Lund Højgaard, Tina Troster, Todd Bennet, Xi Chen, Xing Xiong, Xu Li

Exhibition Architects: Kossmann.dejong, Amsterdam
Structural, MEP: Rambøll
Fire: Freddy Madsen Ingeniører
Product Design: KiBiSi
Contractor: E. Pihl & Son
Text Description: © Courtesy of BIG, aiany
Images: © BIG, Dragoer Luftfoto, Hufton + Crow, Luca Santiago Mora, Rasmus Hjortshoj, Thijs Wolzak


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Danish Maritime Museum / BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group
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