BIG buries a sanctuary of light into the sand of a former war zone

Tirpitz Blavand Bunker Museum by BIG. Photo Rasmus Hjortshoj / Rasmus Bendix

BLAAVAND – The impact of World War II on Europe was bleak and devastating – to say the least. Amongst the remainders left behind by the Nazi occupation is an assortment of concrete bunkers. Built between 1942–1944 along the coast of continental Europe, the so-called Atlantic Wall formed a 5000-km fortification line to protect Hitler’s army from allied invasion. Copenhagen-based studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has transformed the Tirpitz bunker in Blaavand – the biggest and heaviest of 200 bunkers along the Danish coast – into a collection of museums.

Counteracting the dark, heavy object that blots the natural landscape, the museum is a beacon of light buried into the sand. BIG was asked to design four museums in a single structure: a bunker museum to learn about the Atlantic Wall and including personal stories from the locals; a history museum focused on the 20,000-year-old history of the Danish west coast; an amber museum featuring the largest collection of the fossilized resin in Denmark; and an art museum for non-permanent exhibitions.

‘The landscape was a nature preserve. It prohibited any construction,’ says Bjarke Ingels, founding partner at BIG. ‘However, one of the dunes isn’t natural – it is the remnants of a berm built to support the train tracks for the transportation of weapons from the port to the site. This provided a loophole of opportunity.’

Given the fragility of the location, the architecture was built below ground where it would bear the least possible impact on the landscape of the region. Two perpendicular paths slice into the terrain, intersecting at the centre to form a sunken void.

Glass panels reaching 6-m high provide a surprising amount of natural daylight into the four gallery spaces despite being sunk below ground. Designed by Dutch firm Tinker Imagineers, the interior scenography creates exciting, multimedia installations that attract a host of visitors of different age groups.

Tirpitz bunker was due for completion in September 1945 – the war ended before the weapons could be installed. Now, a spiral staircase takes visitors to the top of the bunker where the cannon was supposed to be. BIG has completed the structure as it might have looked, using a skeletal shell of steel and glass for visitors to envisage how the bunker might have functioned: a ghost of a structure that might have been. The additional volume also forms an atrium which allows light to pierce into the heart of the concrete mass – a fitting oxymoron for its intended use.

Location Tirpitz vej 1, Blaavand, Denmark

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