By Margarida N. Waco
Reminiscent of Aalborg’s industrial past and located right in the midst of the historical city center and harbour, Nordkraft has become the essential nerve in the cultural life of the city.
Transforming a former factory into a cultural center, Cubo Arkitekter, together with Arkitektfirmaet Nord, not only managed to create a new dynamic meeting point in the eastern part of Aalborg, but simultaneously succeeded in revitalizing a whole neighbourhood into a pulsating area.
Originally built in 1947, Nordkraft is a former power station which 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 highly characterized by a heavy industrial past with factories which over time were forced to close down in the wake of structural changes in society. After a number of years as a workplace and industrial landmark, the power station finally shut down in 1999.
Today, Nordkraft – together with the House of Music by Coop Himmelb(l)au situated on the opposite side of the road and the nearby Utzon Centre – make up a dynamic cultural trio attracting thousands of users and tourists on a daily basis.
With an abundance of ex-industrial space and a pragmatic transformation strategy, new opportunities could arise, and the area was suddenly given new life due to rising potentials for urban space. In short, the transformation of Nordkraft was a self-perpetuating process resulting in an urban planning strategy that proposed a physical connection between Nordkraft and the rest of the city.
Throughout the project development, a gentle combination of existing structures and new potentials that slowly arose over time was suggested. Respectful to the cultural heritage and soul of the building, the design approach was rather characterized by a profound humility resulting in a continuous additive process. The enormous visible and raw bearing construction elements in the Kettle house enabled the addition of new floors. New functions supporting the needs of prospective different users were thereby one by one added into existing structure.
From the main pedestrian street outside, the building proposes a direct, physical link between the city centre and the area. From this street, one is invited into the building’s grand central space found in the Kettle building, an inextricably direct link to the industrial era in which the factory was erected with its original artefacts 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 graduation from a cultural sphere to more sports-like and educational functions, and finally, the Dreamhouse, situated on the upper level of the Craft hall, houses workspaces for creatives. Although each level serves its specific function and makes room for a specific activity, the shared spaces throughout the building become meeting points enabling interaction between the many users.
Nordkraft has become a storyteller and an important tool for Aalborg Municipality as a whole. By maintaining key elements construction wise, the building is capable of linking the architecture of the past to its new role as a cultural melting pot.
Furthermore, the building features a diverse mixture of functions for amusement such as a cinema and theatre, a large climbing wall inspired by the Norwegian Preikestolen, and unfolds spatial elements complying with the contemporary art scene. All in all, architectural interventions that manifest themselves into a vivid multifunctional house. And additionally, the centre makes room for both a section of Aalborg University, young creative industries, and penthouse apartments, whereby it becomes an urban space that gathers a numerous amount of different users under the same roof.
As a homage to its historical heritage, Nordkraft has both succeeded in uniting the city by bridging the gap between the east and the rest of Aalborg as well as creating a new narrative about Aalborg as Northern Denmark’s cultural capital.