A site-specific artwork in graphic concrete.


Text by Rasmus Kierkegaard

Associate Partner

schmidt/ hammer/ lassen/ architects/


The new Danish National Archives for Northern Jutland


The new National Archives facility is the most recent building added to the site of Denmark’s original National Archives, constructed in Viborg in 1891. Yet unlike the site’s richly decorated and ornamented historical buildings, which were constructed for broader purposes, the new building is not designed for public access or movement. It is a closed, climate-controlled warehouse facility and this is reflected in the simplicity of its form – a form which possesses the necessary clarity and logic to achieve optimal, rationalised storage and management of the archival collections. The simple body of the building accentuates the monolithic presence of the box by underplaying any structural effects and avoiding any unwarranted elements of form.


Instead of using the mandatory art budget on smaller works which very few people would experience, we wanted to utilize and accentuate the building’s simple character – a geometric box containing archival collections. We decided to incorporate a modern ornamental element in the form of an artwork that would be integrated into the building’s facades, recalling the ornamentation that adorns the facades of the site’s historic archive buildings.


We settled on using ‘graphic concrete’ as the decorative method for the façade – a method whereby the motif is ‘etched’ in the concrete’s surface via a graphic press. Yet it was only when we received Grethe Sørensen’s first sketches that we understood the concept’s potential and realized that the decorative art and the building’s geometry could produce a satisfying whole. Grethe’s motif establishes a good balance between the abstract pattern and the figurative representation of shelving – the symbol of storing the archival collections. It conveys the building’s function in a successful, refined way while maintaining a sense of monolithic, oversized scale. The building and the decorative art unite to form a single work of great integrity which stands beautifully above the green lawn with the sky as its backdrop.


Grethe’s ability to immerse herself in methods of production was not only impressive it ensured that her work’s modulations and details corresponded beautifully with the building’s geometry. We are extremely proud of the result and very pleased to have collaborated with Grethe Sørensen who understood our architectural intentions and who contributed to the creation of a National Archives facility which, despite its closed characteristics, is thought-provoking and richly experiential for all who pass by.



Text by Grethe Sørensen


The Danish National Archives in Viborg has two older buildings – both of which contain decorative art relating to the content and function of these structures. The new warehouse building for the Archives adds a third element to this tradition.


The new building is set well back on a corner plot and is experienced at a distance. The idea behind the decorative artwork has been to reflect the building’s inner content externally, and to use the shelving and collections of the Archives as an artistic starting point. The archive theme is expressed in vastly enlarged shelving forms – each one storey high – and is crafted into a motif whereby readily identifiable forms render the concept clear, while still enabling beautiful experiences of the detail.


The artwork acknowledges and converses with the building’s proportions and its pervasive shelf structure creates a rhythmic division of the large wall surface. Vertical bands divide the surface into sections and horizontal bands divide the building’s height into three levels. Each one-storey shelf structure contains patterned blocks in varying sizes and tones of grey which are evocative of pictures in the archive collections.  The greyscale ranges across twelve irregular patterns with dark squares on the light surface. The typical digital pattern brings old and new together in the patterned blocks – an apt expression of our era and its transition from analogue to digital.


The decorative artwork for the Archive is carried out in graphic concrete, a technique that plays upon structural or colour differences in the same way that damask weaving plays upon structures and reflects light in different ways. Thus, the decorative art for the Archive exhibits a close kinship to my woven textile works, though it has been carried out on larger scale.