ARKEN’s architecture

ARKEN’s distinctive ship’s architecture blends with its surroundings and creates a sensory frame around the art.
ARKEN’s architecture

Photo: Torben Petersen


ARKEN lies like a giant sculpture by Køge Bay. The museum’s architecture was inspired by its maritime surroundings. Since its opening in 1996, ARKEN’s axes have stretched into the landscape like long arms, linking the museum to the area and inviting you inside for an alternative museum experience.

When an architect’s competition was announced in 1988 for the creation of a new art museum in Copenhagen’s Vestegn district, 25-year old architect student Søren Robert Lund took part and won with his visionary proposal.

He wanted to incorporate the lines of the landscape into the museum’s architecture, thus blending it with the coastal and sand dune landscape. His vision was to use a stranded ship as a metaphor for ARKEN’s shape.

1988: Søren Robert Lund wins the architect’s competition


1996: ARKEN opens


2008: 1st extension


2009: 2nd extension


2016: The Art Island opens


The ship metaphor

ARKEN’s architecture and identity highlights its position by the water. Just like on a ship, much of the building’s construction is visible. Both inside and out fragments of ship elements are displayed, such as the use of outward nuts and bolts, the visible pipes under the ceiling, the dark colours and the echoing acoustics, all reminiscent of a large ship.

The ship metaphor is repeated in the museum’s multiple functions, which help make the museum visit an all-encompassing experience. In addition to ARKEN’s exhibition rooms, where you can view the collections and the changing special exhibitions, ARKEN also accommodates a wide range of public facilities, such as the ARKEN SHOP, the film hall and creative workshops for children and families.

The foyer is the assembly point, giving access to the museum’s many functions. The Art Axis is Denmark’s biggest exhibition room and comprises ARKEN’s main ship and backbone. The Bi Axis cuts into the Art Axis with its distinctive red colour and acts as a link between the foyer and the Art Axis. ARKEN CAFÉ is shaped as a floating ship’s deck, which hangs on the side of the museum. Here the maritime ambiance is complete with a view over Køge Bay.

ARKEN’s architecture

ARKEN CAFÉ is shaped as a floating ship’s deck, which hangs on the side of the museum. Photo: Torben Petersen

A deconstructive shape

The Red Axis, ARKEN. Photo Lars Skaaning

ARKEN is one of the best examples in Denmark of deconstructive architecture, which breaks away from usual shapes to make way for slanting angles and optical illusions.

The deconstructivist wave washed over Europe in the 1980’s, and it was this style that inspired Søren Robert Lund to design ARKEN like a fragmented ship. The shape of ARKEN is testament to Søren Robert Lund’s vision of museum architecture that is just as visionary as the art itself.

Deconstructivism takes recognisable shapes and breaks them down; they are split, overlapped and combined in new ways. In ARKEN’s case, the building’s lines point in numerous directions, and the basic layout consists of a number of assembled building parts, put together in an expressive way.

Sensuous architecture

ARKEN’s architect Søren Robert Lund, thought in strong contrasts, from the naked concrete grey walls to the red walls in the bi-axis and cloakroom. Large open rooms followed by small, closed rooms, creates dramatic transitions.

The rooms’ slanted angles make the architecture surprising, dynamic and contrasting, and the museum has been built to challenge the eye and your balance. The curved walls, the staggered levels, the lighting effects, the visible constructions and distinctive colours stimulate the senses and are felt by the entire body.


Since its opening in 1996, ARKEN has undergone regular changes.

In 2008, ARKEN opened its doors to a new exhibition room of a total of 1600 m2. This increased ARKEN’s exhibition area to 5000 m2 and the museum became one of Denmark’s biggest. The original exhibition room is characteristic with its high ceilings and walls built in raw concrete. By contrast, the new exhibition room from 2008 has lowered ceilings, and the rooms lie like white boxes one after the other. The annexe was designed by Anna Maria Indrio from C.F.Møllers Tegnestue. It was designed to respect ARKEN’s distinctive architecture and to blend in with the existing facades’ proportions.

In 2009 ARKEN was extended by 1100 m2 thanks to a generous donation from the Annie and Otto Johs. Detlefs’ Foundation. ARKEN’s original architect, Søren Robert Lund, designed a new entrance section, which was bigger and brighter. Meanwhile, the ARKEN SHOP received a more prominent position. One of the uncovered outdoor areas was also rebuilt as a sculpture hall.

ARKEN’s architecture

Photo: Lars Skaaning

The Art Island

Photo: Torben Petersen

The Art Island is the realisation of a dream that dates back to the museum’s foundation of creating better harmony between the museum’s characteristic maritime architecture and the surrounding landscape. The initial idea was for ARKEN to be located on the beach, like a shipwreck. But this idea had to be abandoned for conservation reasons, and the museum was then moved inland. Thanks to a generous donation from the A.P.Møller and Hustru Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation for General Purposes, the dream of surrounding ARKEN with water became a reality in 2016.

Transition from nature to culture

Architect and planning company Møller and Grønborg, which is managing the project together with Schul Landskabsarkitekter, is working with transitions – from nature to culture, from the wild to the sophisticated, from the physical to the spiritual. Three road bridges, two pedestrian bridges, lagoons, woodland, dunes and diverse planting are the main elements of the changing scenery surrounding ARKEN. The dense thicket towards the sea has been removed, and the dunes have been pulled up to the lagoon creating a wonderful and permanent view of the beach from ARKEN’s café.

ARKEN’s new landmark

The parking area is placed outside the island, while the museum’s front area is on the island itself. A welcome bridge leads visitors to the museum, and the bridge is built diagonally on ARKEN’s main axis so that the entrance shows the dynamic and dramatic transition from nature to culture. In the area in front of ARKEN, Elmgreen & Dragset’s equestrian statue of a cheering boy on his horse greets our guests as the museum’s new landmark. Read more here.

Video showing The Art Island. Photographer: Thomas Mikkel Jensen, Municipality of Ishøj.

Fun facts

Photo: Torben Petersen

If ARKEN’s walls could talk, they would tell you that…


…ARKEN is 220 metres long. This equates to the length of two football pitches.

…it took eight months to cast the concrete floor in the Art Axis.

…the Art Axis only has two corners.

…..the cloakroom’s walls were originally supposed to be covered in red velvet to highlight the room’s intimate atmosphere.

….ARKEN is 18 metres tall at the building’s highest point. This equates to five floors in a normal building.

….the wash basins in the toilets under the foyer each weigh two tonnes. They were cast in situ as some of the first contents of the building, which means ARKEN has literally been built around these ‘monuments’.

… the black stone in the foyer weighs 36 tonnes. This equates to the weight of five elephants. In the Ice Age, Ishøj and all of Køge Bay were covered in ice. The granite block is a monument from the past and testament to the ice sea that existed here thousands of years ago, where ARKEN now lies.