The modernistic museum was built between 1969-72, spearheaded by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, his wife Elissa Aalto, and the Danish architect Jacques Baruël, who worked in Aalto's studio at the time. The idea was to create a museum with a generous floor plan and a natural flow that was easy to navigate.
The light was an equally important feature; the focus was to illuminate the museum with natural light as much as possible. Large windows and skylight windows make that ambition viable. Aalto also curved the ceiling structures to prevent direct sunlight from damaging the art. For this reason, the smaller galleries on the main level are lit from the sides with indirect light that still creates a bright and welcoming atmosphere.
"What acoustics are to a concert hall light is for an art museum" – Alvar Aalto.
Aalto and Baruël bridged indoor and outdoor spaces by designing large windows to display the trees and the garden surrounding the museum. That was a new feature at the time and a modernist principle; to make art and architecture interact and connect with the surroundings. The effect creates an open and inviting gesture that makes people feel at home.
Renovation and reinterpretation
In 2016 Kunsten reopened after almost two years of renovating. Forty years of wear and tear, along with new requirements in security and the need for teaching, exhibition and administration spaces, was overdue. The renovation brought Aalto and Baruëls fundamental ideas back to life. It gently modernised the existing galleries to reposition the museum among the elite European museums. Now it is possible to attract and curate works from museums worldwide and give visitors a more holistic experience with improvements both inside and outside.
In a wonderful contrast of warm and cool, the wooden Reykjavik Daybed on the grey-white marble floor invites visitors to relax for a while. Elsewhere, the modern expression of the Jut High Cabinet sits beautifully against the clean white modern walls of the museum.
The renovation also included the sculpture park and a new terrace. The vast garden makes Kunsten an extraordinary unity of indoor and outdoor spaces. The park is fenced by a brick wall with copper tiles and has an amphitheatre where different cultural activities are hosted amid sculptures and trees. Against the brick wall in the grass-filled garden, a Drachmann bench is ready for visitors to take a break in the fresh air while taking in the outdoor experience of the museum.
Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg is no doubt an architectural masterpiece of Scandinavian Modernism and is a listed building. It is one of the first buildings under 100 years old to reach this protected status.