It’s All About Aarhus: Why You Need to Visit Denmark’s “Second” City

It’s All About Aarhus: Why You Need to Visit Denmark’s “Second” City

Named the European Capital of Culture for 2017, the lines between urban spaces and art are intrinsically blurred in Aarhus, Denmark’s new hot spot.

Iceberg’s piercing white shards push up from the harbour
water, some ten or more storeys high. The windows mimic their
shape; glass splinters with ice blue box balconies. In Aarhus Ø,
the newest quarter in Denmark’s “second city”, high drama meets
functional living. Inside angular waterfront buildings with
plunging outer walls and spiking roofs designed to look like
icebergs breaking up and floating out into the blue, you’ll find
modern Danish apartments.

Perhaps it’s a given that in a place with such dark months,
architects would endeavour to make beautiful, interesting spaces
for everyday living. In the harsh Scandinavian winters, the whole
harbour is lit up, illuminating the new canal-veined dockland
quarter at its northern tip – a concrete and brick playground for
architects given a free hand. In Aarhus, this year’s European
Capital of Culture, the lines between urban spaces and art are
intrinsically blurred.

This is evident from the area’s swanky, sustainably built
student accommodation to a building called the lighthouse (which
spells out the word “light” from above), as well as temporary
structures such as the greenhouse-style “Dome of Visions” which
moves around Aarhus beach and houses everything from yoga to art
exhibitions, live music and lectures on the future of

Winning Capital of Culture has brought the compact, walkable
city of Aarhus – on the Jutland peninsula’s east coast – into the
limelight, literally brightening the grey Scandi skies and
cold nights with beauty in the built environment. The formerly
industrial Aarhus Ø (Aarhus East) development is becoming a key
area for experimentation, while community needs have been
incorporated oh-so-Danishly, such as the public flower and
vegetable garden for residents and warehouses that are offices by
day and spaces for book clubs and workshops by night.

It’s no secret that good design is part of the Danish
consciousness. Danes grow up in beautiful yet functional
surroundings, with high-quality furniture, while they buy homes
completely unlit so they can choose their own lighting. Just south
of Aarhus Ø is Dokk 1, probably the coolest library ever with its
angular exterior and, among the exposed concrete and greyscale
palette, striking deep green interior walls that bring the Pantone
colour chart to mind, while modern sofas face out to the water
through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Children are encouraged to
play freely in this space, which has been created for everyone,
young and old. And it’s warmly, beautifully lit. The minimal
tubular bell (the world’s largest) suspended from the ceiling
inside is a work of art in itself and testament to
community-focused Danish society in that it is rung via a button in
the local hospital whenever an Aarhus baby is born. Form and
function combine.

For a rather more dystopian angle, Kulbroen – Denmark’s answer
to the High Line – is a post-industrial former coal bridge that’s
been spruced with street art and hosts parties and events all
summer long. Visitors are all invited to get creative themselves,
and leave their own graffiti on the walls. Arriving in June is a
four-kilometre visual art zone, stretching from the city and along
the coast south of Aarhus to Ballehage Beach. Called “The Garden –
End of Times; Beginning of Time” it will look at the relationship
between people and nature over the past 400 years in an urban

ARoS art museum, the gallery behind the project and where some
of the art will be housed, is perhaps the pinnacle of Aarhus’s
urban architecture-meets-art magic. The interior is less of a blank
canvas on which to display art, more of a conceptual space itself.
Based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, there’s a black-walled hell in a
basement of dark corridors, disconcerting mirrors and an abandoned
club space with neon lights, a fallen disco ball and empty booze
bottles. As you go up and up, you travel through purgatory, with
constantly changing exhibitions, up to a permanent Old Masters
collection on the eighth floor and finally up into heaven: a huge
coloured-glass rainbow walkway 50 metres up on the roof, with views
stretching across the city. This epic 150metre-long, 400-ton glass
rainbow panorama took a year and a half of strengthening the
building below to accommodate, and is a reference to Bifröst, the
bridge to the realm of the gods in Norse mythology. Olafur
Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist – who worked with Jamie XX on
the Tree of Codes ballet, performed in Aarhus in April this year –
was the brains behind this epic rainbow, visible from across the

“It’s different every time you come, depending on the weather”,
says ARoS’s Camilla Hinge, describing how people walking through
the rainbow become part of the art as they interact with it. “The
rainbow is an investigation of how the colours affect you. if
you’re in the blue section a lot of people think it’s colder than
the orange section, because it’s a cold colour but it’s not, it’s
the same – so the colours affect you.”

Whether or not it’s real, it certainly feels like a temperature
change as you move from cooler blues through to warmer indigo and
violets to the reds. This immersion in civic art, a fundamental
part of the city fabric, is the perfect spot for looking out over a
rainbow-hued version of this beautiful little urban sprawl.

Discover More
Aarhus, Denmark