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Henning Larsen unveils seaside museum in Norway’s northernmost reaches

Northern (de)lights

Henning Larsen unveils seaside museum in Norway’s northernmost reaches

Housing two different cultural and archival collections in one central space, the Arctic Museum of Norway will be made of four boxy volumes connected by outdoor paths. (Courtesy Henning Larsen)

Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen, experts in sustainable and site-specific modern Scandinavian architecture, has released plans for a luminous waterfront museum in Tromsø, Norway. Among the top design considerations Henning Larsen faced when conceiving the Arctic Museum of Norway in the surprisingly mild city of Tromsø—the third largest city located north of the Arctic Circle—were: Seamlessly integrating the structure into the rugged surrounding landscape, respecting and reflecting the rich local cultural heritage, and artfully displaying the skeleton of a very large blue whale.

Suspended from the ceiling of the site’s largest exhibition hall, said whale skeleton will be the main, impossible-to-miss archaeological attraction at the Arctic Museum of Norway. The breadth of the museum’s collection, however, will be quite extensive, as it combines Tromsø University’s cultural artifacts and natural history archives. Both of these collections are currently held separately in different buildings and have outgrown them. The museum is expected to be one of the largest cultural institutions north of the Arctic Circle when it opens. (Construction is expected to commence in 2023.)

As a press release explains, the new museum, located a short walk  from the city center down a sloping hill, will “be an anchorpoint in a new cultural path in Tromsø.” This “cultural path” will dead-end at the harbor-hugging museum in an attempt to reactivate Tromsø’s scenic but largely overlooked waterfront.

a whale skeleton suspended from a ceiling at a musuem
A blue whale skeleton will be the most conspicuous highlight of the Arctic Museum of Norway’s exhibition halls. (Courtesy Henning Larsen)

“Despite being such a visible presence in the city, Tromsø’s waterfront is largely absent from the public realm,” said Henning Larsen partner Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen in a statement. “The museum, with its focus on the natural and cultural history of Norway’s northernmost areas including the Arctic, and its cascading site, makes a first move back down to its shores to celebrate the region’s history.”

Similar to other Henning Larsen projects, the Arctic Museum of Norway will be hyper site-sensitive. Wedged into a rolling hillside just above the shoreline, the museum will be composed of a quartet of freestanding but snugly situated slate-base buildings, each topped with “translucent masses whose facades are composed of cassette-like modules that can be individually maintained and replaced.”

“Opaque and milky in the daylight, they transform into a cluster of glowing beacons on the waterfront at night,” wrote Henning Larsen. “These delicate, glowing masses atop the slate base reference the indigenous Saami’s lávvu homes, whose canvas walls radiate light on the frozen winter earth.”

a museum building situated on a tranquil waterfront
The Arctic Museum of Norway will flow directly into a tranquil patch of maritime parkland. (Courtesy Henning Larsen)

According to the firm, the “landscape is not just part of the site but part of the exhibitions” and doubles as a highly publicly accessible gathering spot, where various features, including a tiered seating area directly adjacent to a small beach and promenade, invite locals and visitors alike to relax and socialize.

“The landscape will be open to visitors and maintained throughout the year, offering a calendric view of the area’s natural heritage. Connection to the landscape, both in geography and in flora, is at the backbone of the design, with outdoor paths doubling as botanical passages and courtyards serving as pocket parks. The parkland around the site offers space for experimentation, study, and discovery and acts as public demonstration for the expertise housed within the museum itself.”

overhead illustration of waterfront in Tromso, Norway
Considering its far-northernly location, the idea of the museum serving as a luminous landmark, a beacon, was key. (Courtesy Henning Larsen)

Henning Larsen has designed numerous cultural institutions and museums across Scandinavia including the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. This, however, is the firm’s first project of any kind in Tromsø.