The seagulls have taken off, and the architecture is coming into its own

Over the past seven years, the northern harbour areas in Aarhus have been transformed from a container terminal into an attractive urban district populated by exciting buildings designed by world-renowned architects.

Infusing new urban districts with life can be a challenge, but harbour baths, island gardens, restaurants and a 128-metre-high public viewing gallery will draw people to Aarhus Docklands.

Lighthouse, Z-Huset and Isberget are some of the projects which have made the leap from the drawing board to the waterfront at Aarhus Docklands. And new buildings are shooting up everywhere, as the former container terminal is transformed into an attractive urban district with exciting residential and commercial properties.

– There are obvious advantages in building beside the water, because it attracts international architects who give full rein to their creativity with original and imaginative projects. We have just been given planning permission to complete the Lighthouse project, and will therefore start work on a new 128-metre-high building. At the same time, we are working with BIG architects on the AARhus project which comprises six restaurants, a theatre and small bathing huts, says Rune Kilden, an urban developer and co-owner of Kilden & Mortensen.

In 2009, Rune Kilden in cooperation with local investors acquired the building rights to Lighthouse, which has been designed by 3XN. This marked the start of a new life as a ‘dockworker’, with a burning commitment to get Aarhus Docklands off the ground. He looks out over the district from his office on the eighth floor of the newly constructed commercial property Pakhusene. The building was designed by AART architects and built on the idea of the sharing economy: The companies in the building share a number of facilities with each other, and residents in the area are also able to use the fitness centre, parking, canteen etc. after working hours.


From residential area to urban district

Since the first sod was cut at Aarhus Docklands, the property developers have tried to bring life to the area through organising temporary cultural projects. Five years after the first residents moved into the district, there is now political focus on creating more permanent city life along the harbour front. This will be seen, in particular, around one of the harbour basins, Basin 7, which will be partially transformed into a harbour baths in summer 2018.

– It’s quite easy to criticise a new urban district for not teeming with life from day one, but there has to be a critical mass of people for this to happen. With all the new residential properties, the potential now exists for a thriving district, and over the next few years we will hopefully be realising this potential, says Rune Kilden.

Architects, town planners, contractors and urban developers have taken an innovative approach to the original unified plan for Aarhus Docklands. Among other things, they have moved away from the idea of having large open squares.

– It’s very nice with clear lines of sight and beautiful visual contexts, but open spaces can be problematic, because too often they do not attract life to new urban districts. Therefore, in cooperation with the City of Aarhus, we have rethought the plan for Basin 7, and together with other project developers we are working with activities such as a beach bar, sea swimming lanes and island gardens where the focus is on urban farming. It’s a question of trying to catch and build on these social trends, and revise the project accordingly, says Rune Kilden, adding:

– People must have a ‘reason to go’ from the old city centre and become part of Aarhus Docklands. The harbour baths, the conference hotel and the new restaurants will be the big game-changers. And the viewing gallery at the top of the new Lighthouse will be an attraction in itself when everyone who wants to can take in the spectacular views across the city and the bay from a height of 128 metres.


Perceptive architects

The buildings at Aarhus Docklands represent the work of internationally known firms of architects. Rune Kilden has been or is involved in five projects. At Basin 7, he is working with both BIG and SLETH architects, and the latter he describes as one of the new and exciting architectural firms on the Aarhus scene.

– SLETH combines international vision with local insight. Aarhus-based architects can decode the city’s DNA, and provide ideas on the types of people we need to in the buildings to realise the area’s potential. We might have an ambition about building a great restaurant, but the restaurant won’t be any better than the restaurateur who runs it. They also might know a potential tenant for office space who has what it takes to attract other tenants, says Rune Kilden.

– Many of the Aarhus-based architects are active on the international scene, so I wouldn’t say that the building is necessarily going to look very different because I work with a local architect. But the fact of the matter is that the Aarhus firms have a good sense of what Aarhus is all about, something which can only benefit the projects and urban developers like myself. This inherent understanding of the city can also be found at BIG, which has many employees who were born and raised in Aarhus, and who therefore appreciate the city’s qualities and potential, he adds. 

  • The first residents moved into Aarhus Docklands in 2012.
  • The area along the northern part of the waterfront was previously a container terminal, but in 1999 an ideas competition marked the start of the long-term transformation of Aarhus Docklands.
  • The backbone of area is an approx. one-kilometre long boulevard connecting three distinct spaces.
  • The northernmost space is intersected by canals, which divide the area up into four islands so that the new residential and commercial buildings can enjoy views of the water.