Dokk1 by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Transforms Aarhus Harbour to a Centre of Endless Activity

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Get Smarter On Architecture and Design

Get the 3-minute weekly newsletter keeping 5K+ designers in the loop.

Enter your Email to Sign up


Schmidt Hammer Lassen architects won the 2009 competition to design what has become the largest public library in Scandinavia also coupling up as a hybrid building accommodating other functions. Conceived as a stack of three volumes by the Danish architects, the building was part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the former industrial cargo docks. Located just at the mouth of the Aarhus River in the city centre of Aarhus, Denmark, it is meant to act as a visual and physical connection to the prominent historic harbour of the city.

The architect’s idea was to design a covered urban space which would allow free movement of people while encompassing all qualities befitting of a public library. The brief was to design a public library that would also host a local services centre, a dedicated station for the new light rail system and a car park with an automated parking system.

The Urban Mediaspace project –now known as Dokk1- was designed in three different volumes designated to various spaces. A polygonal slice hovers on the top of a glazed prism which sits on a podium at the base. The slice at the top contains municipality offices, as well as offices for rent and a media house administration office.

The glazed volume below is a transparent full-fledged library on two floor levels with 360-degree panoramic views to the city and river Aarhus. These two main floor levels of the library are connected by a series of platforms - five in number – which are used for gaming, exhibitions, workshops, events and reading.

During the building’s launch, the architects called this “a meandering path of activity that leads people directly into the children’s library”. This innovative way of circulating people runs away from the usual staircases which connect floors of conventional buildings.

Dokk1 has four large staircases around it enabling visitors to access the building through various entrances on the elevated podium. The intention was to have an open building, fostering the sense of public service by the municipality and emphasizing that the building has no clear front or back.

Open spaces were created throughout the interiors to promote a sense of openness. These open layouts create a series of double-volume spaces which entice people to meet there and interact.

The spaces feature interwoven activities to enhance social interaction. The library has several divisions on various levels which also accommodate literature and media areas, children’s theatre, public events, cafes and restaurants. In the opinion of Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s senior partner Kim Holst Jensen:

Dokk1 is not simply a building. It is a place for exchanging knowledge and opportunities and a multicultural meeting point that will change people's perception of the entire city.

Dokk1’s height is a reflection of its context. It was inspired by the countless cranes operating at the harbour as well as the six to seven storey blocks that surround that part of the city of Aarhus.

The Dokk1 project will change transportation at the harbour as people know it. With a new light rail system on the periphery of the building, the public will get acquainted with the Urban Mediaspace Aarhus project as a way of life. New bicycle paths connect Dokk1 with new public squares and a cycle parking space for 450 bikes.

This building is majestic and domineering over the harbour. Views to the river and city are baffling yet breath-taking. The architects set out to create an icon and in Dokk1 they found one in the harbour. For a city priding itself as the second-largest in Denmark, Aarhus has found an icon for the knowledge society, one that supports and stimulates creative collaboration.

Hungry for another spectacular architectural design? Check out our article on Saw Swee Hock Student Centre by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects.

Project Information

Architects: Schmidt Hammer Lassen architects
Client: The Municipality of Aarhus
Location: Aarhus, Denmark
Area: 35,600 m²
Cost: Approx. € 280 million excl. VAT
Competition: 2009, first prize in restricted international competition
Completed: 2015
Engineer: Alectia Consulting Engineers
Landscape architect: Arkitekt Kristine Jensens Tegnestue
Photography: Schmidt Hammer Lassen architects

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Related Articles

Axiom Telecom Headquarters: Abstract Mass of Concrete, Steel and Black Glass

This striking visual in Dubai Silicon Oasis is the headquarters of Axiom Telecom, a leading telecommunication company in the United ...

timber rhyme studio ardete panchkula india 9

Studio Ardete Transforms Shop Interior into a Wood Art Landscape

One of the most historic architectural elements in India is the use of wood art in all facets of construction. ...

The Gherkin: Foster’s Monumental Building in the Heart of London

When you are travelling into London, one of the first buildings to strike your eye will be the Gherkin no ...