Nikolaj Kunsthal is a church in Copenhagen built in 1912 but dating all the way back to the early 1200s. After undergoing many transformations over the centuries, the building has been adopted as a contemporary art space by the municipality of Copenhagen since 1981. With the help of local architecture firm MEE Studio, the interior has received an upgrade with a cafe and boutique to complement the exhibition function of the church.
This involved a partial restoration and partial transformation, fusing historical techniques and respect for the existing architecture with contemporary elements. The grand door and window openings were re-established, and the acrylic paint was stripped off the walls and replaced with breathable lime-based paint, respecting the original paint used in the past and prioritising the integrity of the building.
Acoustic plaster was added in select areas to improve the acoustic environment, and the technical installations were completely redone, tidying up decades of ad-hoc electrical wiring, piping, and decorating. New water and sewage installations made a café and kitchen possible, inviting new uses to the space.
The bar area features raw copper sheeting as a backsplash, which references the copper roofing material of the church, a touch that will patina beautifully over time. A long bar serves as the café centrepiece and ticket counter with seating arrangements fitted to the niches of the space to provide an intimate and convivial atmosphere.
In collaboration with PSLab Antwerp, the studio also designed a lighting scheme that references traditional church iron fittings and provides warm, welcoming lighting. Spotlights were delicately integrated into the ceiling and walls to accompany the architecture and add technical lighting with a higher level of control over the atmosphere. Sculptural omnidirectional speakers were also installed to enhance the ambiance.
In addition to honing the spatial parameters of the project, all of the furnishings were designed bespoke for the project in solid oak wood, reminiscent of the classic church benches and oak cabinetry found throughout the building. Most of the furniture was constructed with visible joinery techniques in fumed oak to highlight their tectonics. The chairs and benches are fitted with pillows upholstered in fabric by Raf Simons for Kvadrat, a nod to the historic burgundy red colours used throughout the church. This next chapter of Nikolaj Kunsthal allows the historic building to continue serving the community while respecting its storied past.