Henning Larsen’s arboreal design that envisions a rough-hewn refuge nestled within a forest clearing has emerged as the winner in a competition seeking proposals for what will be the first new church constructed in Copenhagen in more than three decades.
The venerable Copenhagen-based architecture firm, working in collaboration with local design practice Platant and Denmark-headquartered global engineering consultancy Ramboll, beat out four other shortlisted proposals for the church-slash-community hub commission that will be realized in the fast-developing, island-bound district of Ørestad. Planned as a city-within-a-city, pancake-flat Ørestad is one of Copenhagen’s largest and most ambitious urban development zones and is known for its mix of open space, natural beauty, and architectural landmarks from the likes of Jean Nouvel, Daniel Libeskind, BIG, and others.
The roughly 22,600-square-foot Ørestad Church, which is slated to kick off construction in 2024 with its consecration anticipated two years later, will be the first new dedicated house of worship for the multineighborhood area.
“We have great expectations that the new church will become a meeting point for both the parish and the community in Ørestad,” said Nina la Cour Sell, design director at Henning Larsen, in a press announcement revealing the firm’s winning wood-forward proposal. “It has been our goal to create a sustainable church that is completely its own and contributes to Ørestad’s tradition of experimenting with the built environment.”
“The intention is to create a church that can command attention, untouched by the bustle of the city, filled with spaces of distinguished simplicity that offer residents solace from their everyday life,” added Henning Larsen Global Design Director Jacob Kurek. “Tasked with designing a building that lingers in your mind, we have chosen to create a building that sits in complete harmony with its surroundings.”
As mentioned, the topography of Ørestad is sprawling and elevation-free. Henning Larsen’s design reflects this openness, with a design that embraces “the community and its surroundings – an inverted facade design creates protrusions within the deep church walls, an extroverted space for the community.” The firm describes the wood shingle–clad facade as being “rough, like bark on a tree and changes character through the seasons and over time.” The sylvan structure is topped with wooden roof domes that allows abundant natural light to pour into the interior, creating a sensation that the firm described as being akin to standing under a canopy of trees in a dense forest.
In addition to wood, multitoned glazed brick also plays a prominent role in the design with the church’s flooring “referencing fallen leaves, that rises to become benches, sitting niches and podiums – the path from the city and the common lead directly into the church.”
“Stepping into the church, the connection to nature will ignite people’s spirituality. The chapel is bathed in light from above and opens up the view of the sky, drawing people’s gaze,” detailed Kurek. “The hall is the clearing in the forest, where the light is refracted in a variety of ways throughout the day and year. Building in wood and harnessing the power of the light was the obvious solution, for the climate, for the context and for the community.”
As for the community-focused building program, Ørestad Church will include a spacious and flexible main hall that can accommodate a variety of services and ceremonies, a separate chapel, office space, and a series of dedicated cultural spaces that can accommodate community events such as group meals, lectures, intimate concerts, and on. The design also features a leafy enclosed courtyard that offers spots for quiet reflection. The church’s inverted facade is also activated on all sides, providing space for seating alcoves, games and chess tables, a pop-up tiny library, and other features.
While Ørestad Church is the first new church to be built in Copenhagen in 30-plus years, Henning Larsen has designed other houses of worship and religious structures elsewhere in Denmark, including Roskilde Crematorium Chapel (1959), Enghøj Church (1994), and the forthcoming Højvangen Church, which is the first church to be built in Skanderborg Parish in more 500 years. This all said, Copenhagen, unlike other major European capital cities, isn’t necessarily world-famous for its churches although it does boast a trove of notable religious architecture including the expressionist wonder known as Grundtvig’s Church; the grand, green-domed Frederick’s Church (a.k.a. Marble Church); and the tourist-drawing Church of Our Saviour, a baroque structure featuring a dizzying external spiral staircase that wraps around its spire.