Oft-criticized masterpiece for housing Vikings’ ships

By Jakob Fälling

Vikingeskibsmuseet - Roskilde
Jakob Fälling
 

The Viking Ship Museum is an international masterpiece, yet also the object of widespread scorn. The building is to be demolished, but its philosophy is so uncompromising that its spirit will endure at the site for many years to come.

As soon as you enter, you can’t help but sense the grandeur. The beautiful horizon of the surrounding landscape and fjord are framed by a giant glass wall of square windows. 

In the middle of it all hover five slender, elegant Viking ships, which were restored piece by piece in the Viking Ship Museum’s large hall during the first 24 years of its existence. 

The building’s concrete, which is as thin as permitted by the building’s engineers, forms the next layer in the history conveyed to visitors: the building is modern, streamlined and brutal in its design, serving as a contrast to the poetic lightness of the Viking ships.

Although the Viking Ship Museum has been widely criticized, particularly for turning its back to the city, the building is seen as an international masterpiece in brutalism, due in part to the two traits described above. 

The architecture of the large hall has also made an indelible mark on the museum itself, as reflected in the new ships built around the turn of the century and exhibited on the Museum Island, where nature and ship meet at the spot where it all took place. 

The Viking Ship Museum’s hall is so eroded by the elements and threatened by storm surges that time is of the essence in the construction of the new building for the extraordinary ships discovered in Skuldelev. According to plan, the design of this new building will also be rooted in architect Erik Christian Sørensen’s simple philosophy on exhibiting artifacts of the Viking era. 

Facts 

  • The five ships were excavated in 1957-62, and the Viking Ship Museum opened in 1969. It was de-listed as a historical monument in 2018 and the process of designing and erecting a new building began.
  • The ships cannot simply be moved, as they were reconstructed on site. However, they need to be displayed at a higher elevation than today so that they are not in danger of being submersed in connection with storm surges.

Surroundings

The Museum Island is an open and easily accessible environment where the museum works with reconstructions of Viking ships according to the old methods and traditions. Built in the year 2000, the area is rich in sensory experiences and knowledge – and it is an interesting, contemporary extension of the Viking Ship Museum’s values tracing back to the 1960s.

Roskilde Gasworks on the harbor is now home to a glassblowing workshop and art gallery. This early industrial building from 1863 is an example of historicism style of architecture, and is now a listed historical monument.
The fjord trail winds past the attractions at the harbor and Kællingehaven Garden. 

One kilometer from the harbor is St. Hans Hospital, whose construction began in the year 1807. The complex is an architectural gem featuring works by Thorvald Bindesbøll and others. Sankt Hans Have cafe is a delightful place to take a break.
 

Area

Roskilde-en

Country and City

Roskilde

Architect

Erik Christian Sørensen

Engineer

Christian Ostenfeld
W. Jønsson

Contractor

A. Jespersen & Son

Built

1969