Embedded in a medieval town in Denmark, Kannikegården sits opposite Ribe’s historic Domkirke, hosting the cathedral’s parish council and staff together with an auditorium and exhibition space.
Af Catherine Langer
The building is designed by Danish architects Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects and is sited on a new city square planned by Danish landscape architects Schønherr. Located opposite the historically significant town cathedral, Ribe Domkirke, it is firmly rooted in the local context — Ribe’s crooked brick buildings and close-knit medieval city structure — making it a new important historical and architectural landmark.
During the excavation work on the site, archaeological remains were found of the cloister from 1100 CE, believed to be the earliest brick building in Denmark. A preservation order protected the ruins immediately; through a donation by Realdania, the ruins were actively integrated into the design of the new building on the site and made visible to the public through the glass-covered ground floor, further underlining the historical significance of Ribe.
Kannikegården’s proximity to nearby houses dictates that the building has to be tapered slightly towards the west, resulting in a characteristic diagonal incision in the roof. The building’s crooked, asymmetrical shape thus reflects on the traditional, organic development of the medieval city, where each new building was carefully adapted to its existing neighbors.
Kannikegården has a characteristic brick-clad surface of large granulated, handmade shells with irregular colors, shapes, and finishes. During the building process, Lundgård & Tranberg used mock-ups to make decisions and adjust the brick colors on-site, and the shells bear traces of the production process. Along the building’s crooked edges, the tiles are carefully “stitched” together, which gives an impression of a thoughtful execution. The zigzagging sewing rhythm also relates to the meandering change of brick colors seen in the old houses nearby.
As a special feature, small square windows are placed unevenly around Kannikegården’s façade. This helps break up the building’s monolithic look and reflects the vernacular facades found in its closest neighbors.
The building’s glass-covered ground floor further enhances its openness, giving a light “floating” expression. Changing between glass windows, rustic concrete and movable planks of coarse, tarred wood, the vertical rhythm adds diversity to the building and suitably new materials to the city square palette. The open ground floor provides the public with a generous look inside the building.
The same twisted oak planks used in the exterior façade are found in the building interior, for the ceiling of the room housing the cloister ruins. A gravel floor surrounds the historical remains, which you can catch a glimpse of from a stepped garden by Schønherr.
While the material principles are deliberately coarse and not too refined in their details, the interior of the building is more sophisticated. An oak staircase leads to the first floor, flanked by steel-clad vertical oak stakes. On the upper floors, the building houses comfortable working areas, dimly lit by the small square windows, and a lecture theater.
With the choice of using warm wall-and-ceiling colors and oak floors, the interior’s earth-tone colors are inspired by the cathedral frescoes. The inner staircase wall, as well as the ceiling of the lecture room, is painted dark red, while the first-floor corridor creates a contrast with ochre.
The building opens up to a public square by Schønherr, a long-awaited renewal of the area around the cathedral. Schønherr also solved the challenge of mediating the transition between Kannikegården’s sunken level, the east passage and the town square through carefully placed staircases and steps in the garden behind the building. The irregular tiling pattern in the public square relates to the uneven, asymmetrical building façade of both Kannikegården and buildings around the city square. Along the southern side of the square, the elongated building links to the city’s medieval procession route with a sluice.
With Kannikegården, Lundgaard & Tranberg manages to firmly adapt the building to its local historical context while at the same time creating architecture that reflects strongly on its own era.