M/S Maritime Museum of Denmark: A beautiful hole in the ground


Photo: Luca Santiago Mora

A scandal ensued when BIG broke with convention and the rules, but the result has since earned international acclaim.

Kronborg stands as a historical and literary monument for visitors and locals alike. For hundreds of years the castle, working in conjunction with Kärnan Tower across the sound in Helsingborg, delivered a steady stream of revenue from the Øresund Tax. 

When the decision was made to establish a new maritime museum near the old shipyard on the harbor in Elsinore, nothing was to block the view of the UNESCO-listed Renaissance castle. 
To be more precise, the museum was not to rise even a single inch above ground level. As such, the only possible construction site was down in the old dry dock. 

The subsequent architectural competition ended without a winner because the best proposal failed to comply with the rules. The museum was supposed to be confined within the walls of the dry dock, but BIG had other plans. Instead of filling the dry dock with a museum, they wanted to make the dry dock the museum’s biggest attraction. In other words, they wanted to build the museum in the walls of the dock. 

This process led to an award-winning museum, but also caused a great stir in the Danish architectural community. Before BIG could be allowed to win the competition, the process had to start all over with a different set of rules allowing construction outside of the dry dock’s walls. BIG’s proposal was so good that the rules were bent for them, instead of vice versa.

And the results speak for themselves. Since 2013, the museum has reaped one award after another, including a 2014 RIBA Award and the World Architecture Festival award for best cultural building. BIG hit the bull’s eye. 

The roughness of the old dock was preserved and is now accentuated with walkways that bore through it, connecting the various functions of the museum. The design of the walls and stairways is reminiscent of a ship. Inside, visitors are treated to the best of Scandinavian architectural traditions. The interior is well-lit, friendly and welcoming. 

The old dry dock was not filled with a museum, but instead became the world’s largest museum exhibition object, measuring 150 meters long, 8 meters high and 20 meters wide. 

Fun facts


  • 94 bollards made from Chinese granite are located around the museum. Positioned in Morse code, with the benches as dashes and the stools as dots, they form the words: “MS Museet for Søfart” (“MS Maritime Museum of Denmark”) and “Det er nødvendigt at sejle” (“To sail is necessary”). The quote “To sail is necessary” is part of an order issued by Pompey in 56 BCE to defy the weather and transport vital cargo to Rome. Later, the Hanseatic League adopted the quote as a slogan.
  • The dock is below sea level, which in practice means that it functions as a ship. It is pushed up by the water pressure and would prefer to rise above the water’s surface. However, this is prevented by 466 anchors driven deep into the earth under the dock –deeper than the height of the Round Tower in Copenhagen! 
  • The maritime museum is not only known for its exhibitions and architecture. It also played a starring role in the Netflix production “The Rain”, a post-apocalyptic series about a deadly virus that kills the majority of the Scandinavian population. 




BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group


Maritim Museums Byg