Danish Impact: The Architectural Inspiration of Storytellers

Danish Impact: The Architectural Inspiration of Storytellers

For a small country grasping to the shores of the Baltic and North Sea, Denmark is an enthralling kingdom containing an architectural tapestry rife with inspiration. Famed authors like Hans Christian Andersen and William Shakespeare have drawn influence from the enchanting Danish identity for stories told the world over. Is it the shifting sand dunes, centuries old existence, or even erratic weather patterns that render this geographic conditioning primed for possibility? I traveled to Denmark to find out and to visit the H.C Andersens Hus, which in 2021 opened a new wing by Kengo Kuma, and the indomitable Kronborg Castle, which inspired Hamlet’s own keep.

Odense—Denmark’s third largest city—on the island of Funen—Denmark’s third largest city—offers the quaint cobblestone characteristics of pre-industrial Europe. Half-timber houses with terracotta roofs occupy a district near the city center and converge on a yellow house at the corner of Hans Jensens Straede and Bangs Border. Here on April 2, 1805 Hans Christian Andersen was born. Andersen would move out of this humble home to another house in Odense before leaving to Copenhagen to make his fame. Many of his fairy tales richly describe the pastoral settings he would have experience during his childhood in Odense. The yellow house and surrounding district have been preserved following his death and a memorial was erected with frescoes depicting elements of Andersen’s autobiography “The Fairy Tale of my Life’.

More recently, a new wing was added to the birthplace as the reimagined H C Andersen House Museum. While sharing the life of the author, the museum brings to life his most-known fairy tales in a format that’s appealing to audiences of all ages. Defined by curved latticed-timber structures, the museum forms a sinuous landscape between the historic residential district and modern parts of the city center. Meandering paths with high hedges climb over the museum while distinct glass and timber pavilions form a store and restaurant that rise out of the vegetation. Embedded courtyards conceal the subterranean exhibition spaces. Kengo Kuma and Associates designed the new wing and graciously responded to existing site conditions with a distinctive cultural building.

The museum is divided into three parts: The Life, The Fairy Tale and the Legacy. The Life highlights his history and possessions, The Fairy Tale his stories, and The Legacy features his ongoing popularity, the birthplace, and Memorial Hall. The Fairy Tale portion captivated my attention the longest as The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, and Ugly Duckling, among others stories, were reimagined through interconnected multi-media installations. Twelve artists collaborated on a series of animations, visualizations, sculptures, and shadow boxes that coalesced into a fanciful sensory experience of exploration, amusement, and sympathy.

At the other end of Denmark, the formidable Kronborg Castle occupies the narrowest point on the sound between the Danish island of Zealand and Sweden. This strategic point allowed its holder to lay a tax on maritime commerce and fund a lavish monarchy. King Frederik II build Kronborg Castle by turning a medieval keep into a palatial Renaissance Castle for lavish parties and theater. From Kronborg Castle, Frederik II built a thriving arts community and richly filled the castle with ornamental towers and spires, woven tapestries, and live performance. Kronborg Castle suffered a major fire the following century but was rebuilt to retain its proud position over the sea.

Many of William Shakespeare’s compatriots would have performed at Kronborg Castle bringing back gossip and palace intrigue to inspire the playwright. Shakespeare would write a play about Hamlet of Elsinore, an anglicized version of Helsingor, where Kornborg is located. The castle ramparts and casements serve as backdrops to the dramatized tale of Hamlet and Ophelia. The continued fame of the play and subsequent film adaptions have elevated Kornborg Castle into the world’s cultural subconscious, earning a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2000.

To add to the mystic, a statue of Ogier the Dane resides in the caste casemates. Folk lore and Hans Christian Andersen tell how Ogier sleeps until his homeland need him. A strong reminder of the undercurrents Danish Literature has had on modern society from a runic alphabet through to classical and romanticism.