Akvariet Day Care Center


Photo: Christian Bang

On the outskirts of the historic residential neighborhood Rosenvænget in Østerbo, you’ll find a day care center that has been called an architectural innovation.

In June 2005, the day care center Akvariet (The Aquarium) welcomed children and teachers to a building that architect Dorte Mandrup said is designed to give children “a nuanced and sensory experience of the physical world, and the opportunity to explore the physical frameworks that can meet the changing needs of the day and the mind.” The building is designed to create maximum space for children, maximum sunlight and the greatest possible variation in the indoor and outdoor spaces.

Prism and rooftop terrace

The institution has a prism-shaped main building, which is designed to provide the most possible sunlight in the west-facing outdoor areas. On the sloped external surfaces of the prism, an “activity staircase” leads up to the roof of the building, where a rooftop terrace is covered in two-meter-high elephant grass. The roof and walls made of partially transparent, light-colored plastic provide a good balance in the building’s exterior appearance, which is otherwise comprised of hard materials like glass and steel.

Inside the prism, five group rooms are arranged side by side, with sliding doors opening out to the terrace and garden. To give the children as much room as possible, superfluous hallways have been eliminated. The building’s height is optimally utilized with a staircase in each room, designed in child’s scale, which leads up to a platform with a low-ceilinged loft envisioned as an adult-free zone. The ceiling is concealed by sound-absorbing canvas, which arches from the top of the high windows down to the back wall at floor level.

Daring architecture or a booby trap for kids?

When Akvariet opened, architects and critics heaped praise on the building, calling it “daring, well-conceived and challenging”, and “a sculptural palace for children”. Teachers and parents were hardly as enthusiastic. Many problems arose in the everyday use of the institution, deriving from differing views on educational methods and children’s safety. Akvariet was quickly labeled “a booby trap for kids”, as everything from its staircase, rooftop terrace, lofts and lack of hallways were criticized as impractical, useless or decidedly deadly. The discussion about Akvariet clearly illustrated the major challenge of applying alternative and innovative architectural ideas to new public institutions.


Copenhagen, Østerbro


Dorte Mandrup


Copenhagen Municipality


Moe & Brødsgaard


Jakon A/S