Reminiscent of Aalborg’s industrial past and situated in the historical city center, Nordkraft’s transformation from factory to event center has made it an essential node in the cultural life of this port city.
Af Margarida N. Waco
Cubo Arkitekter, together with Nord Architects, not only managed to create a dynamic meeting point in the eastern part of Aalborg but simultaneously succeeded in revitalizing a whole neighborhood into a pulsating area.
Originally built in 1947, Nordkraft is a former power station that at the time employed more than 384 people and supplied the city with its electricity on a daily basis. The building is situated in a neighborhood characterized by a heavy industrial past with factories which over time were forced to close down in the wake of de-industrialization. After a number of years as a workplace and industrial landmark, the power station shut down in 1999.
Today, Nordkraft, the House of Music by Coop Himmelb(l)au situated across the road, and the nearby Utzon Centre make up a dynamic cultural trio attracting thousands of users and tourists every day.
With an abundance of post-industrial space and a pragmatic transformation strategy, the area was given new life as a potential urban space. In short, the transformation of Nordkraft resulted in an urban planning strategy that proposes a physical connection between the former factory and the rest of the city.
The project development suggested a gentle combination of existing structures and potential uses arising over time. Respectful of the cultural heritage and soul of the building, the design approach was characterized by a profound humility, resulting in a continuous additive process. The enormous, visible load-bearing elements in the Kettle Building enabled the addition of new floors; new functions supporting the needs of prospective users were added into the existing structure, one by one.
From the main pedestrian street outside, the building proposes a direct, physical link between the city center and the area. From this street, one is invited into the building’s grand central space found in the Kettle Building, a direct link to the industrial era in which the factory was erected with its original elements, such as raw concrete pillars and large funnels used for coal transportation.
Different intersecting and overlapping zones such as a theatre passage, the turbine gallery, an indoor plaza are introduced and propose a gradation from a cultural sphere to more athletic and educational functions, and finally to the Dreamhouse. The Craft Hall houses creative workspaces in its upper level. Although each level serves a specific function and makes room for a specific activity, the shared spaces throughout the building become meeting points that enable interaction between the many users.
Nordkraft has become an important storytelling tool for Aalborg Municipality as a whole. By maintaining key structural elements, the building is successful in linking the architecture of the past to its new role as a cultural melting pot.
Furthermore, the building features a diverse mixture of recreational functions such as a cinema and theatre, a large climbing wall inspired by the Norwegian Preikestolen, and contemporary art gallery spaces. All in all, architectural interventions manifest themselves as a vivid multi-functional home. The center additionally makes room for both a section of Aalborg University, young creative industries and penthouse apartments, activating an urban space that gathers many different users under the same roof.
In homage to its historical heritage, Nordkraft has succeeded both in uniting the city by bridging the gap between the east and the rest of Aalborg, as well as creating a new narrative of Aalborg as Northern Denmark’s cultural capital.