Roskilde Festival Højskole


© Rasmus Hjortshøj, COAST Studio

A former concrete production hall is transformed into the first folk high school to be inaugurated in Denmark in 50 years, as a celebration of Roskilde’s creative, musical, and collective energies.

Af Benjamin Wells

The Højskole — Folk High School — holds an important place in the history of Danish education and culture. Conceptualized by Danish writer, poet, philosopher, and pastor N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783–1872), folk high schools are based on principles of informal and practical education rather than formal examinations and a fixed curriculum. Many young adults attend a folk high school for several months prior to beginning university, living and studying at the school alongside teachers while exploring predominantly creative vocations.

The Roskilde Festival Højskole is the first new-build folk high school to be inaugurated in Denmark in 50 years, representing the enduring appeal of this model of informal education. The building is the latest addition in the development of the Musicon district in the city of Roskilde, near Copenhagen — a city famous for hosting the annual Roskilde Music Festival. Danish architects COBE and Dutch firm MVRDV won a competition to master-plan the Musicon district in 2011, and this longstanding collaboration has led to the Ragnarock – a museum for pop, rock and youth culture that sits adjacent to the new school – as well as the head office of the Roskilde Group.

For me as a former folk high school student it was a very special task to transform a former concrete factory into a folk high school with the purpose of shaping future generations of students. By opening the building up and adding new boxes inside the old structure we revitalize the building. A defunct industrial building has become a bustling hub for creativity and community.
— Dan Stubbergaard, architect and founder of COBE

The folk high school transforms a former concrete production hall into a lively space for creative learning. The existing concrete girders and pillars have been retained in their raw state, while the building has been opened up and perforated with large new windows and a series of colorful spatial interventions. The main hall, once a single open space, is now occupied by 16 colored boxes that host a variety of functions, from workshops for the school’s artistic courses to stages, music studios, classrooms, a dance hall, a staff room, and a lecture hall. Each box is clad in a different material and finished in a different color, denoting its specific internal function and creating a range of spaces between the boxes in which the ‘school’s community can develop and thrive’.

The staggered arrangement of multi-colored volumes is a spatial language employed in many of MVRDV’s projects, such as its (W)ego installation at Dutch Design Week in 2017 and the Radio Tower & Hotel in Washington Heights, while COBE continues to develop a reputation for innovative renovation projects with projects like the Silo in Copenhagen. Their collaboration has led to a modest but engaging project that attempts to manifest the ethos of both the Danish folk high schools and the Roskilde Festival – principles of creativity, exploration, and freedom. Roskilde Festival has pioneered a festival model based on voluntary engagement with a humanitarian focus, committing all its profits to humanitarian, non-profit and cultural work for the benefit of children and young people. The Roskilde Festival Association is at the heart of this, run by 30,000 volunteers, and the Roskilde folk high school is a significant part of its continued mission.

Our design, just like the school itself, was inspired by the spirit of the Roskilde Festival. It is all about music, art, activism – but most of all, freedom. The festival combines ‘having a good time’ with innovation in an informal way, giving a special vibe that we wanted to capture in the design of the interior of the school.
— Jacob van Rijs, partner and founder of MVRDV

Alongside the folk high school are dwellings for students and teachers who are engaged in courses at the school. The students’ accommodation is a series of stacked modules with sinusoidal and trapezoidal metal cladding, ‘referencing the area’s history as an industrial production area’ with its industrial materials and external gangways. Each floor hosts 15–20 students, comprising private dwellings as well as a shared kitchen, common room and niches for studying. The modules frame views of the neighboring Ragnarock museum and its golden aluminum facade.

The Roskilde Festival Højskole is just one part of the continued development of Musicon in Roskilde, but one that acts as an important monument to the founding principles of the folk high school tradition as well as Roskilde Festival, by manifesting its commitment to creativity, personal expression, and freedom.

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