On Sønder Boulevard, an avenue in south-west Copenhagen, the former Absalon’s Church blends in well with the surrounding apartment blocks with its red brick facade and modest spire. But outside the classic arched entrance, the pavement is awash with prams and bicycles. And inside, there is a hive of activity in the space which since 2015 has been known as the community centre Folkehuset Absalon.
Ever since the opening, the project has been a resounding success. Here you find yoga classes, Danish lessons, baby rhythmics, backgammon tournaments and – not least – communal dining at the long tables every evening. Queue up, pay a small amount, and join in. The food is served on large dishes, which are passed informally along the tables. Just as you would do at home.
The story of Folkehuset Absalon started in 2013, when the then Minister for Culture, Marianne Jelved, decided to close down six churches in Copenhagen. It made headlines when, in 2014, Lennart Lajboschitz put more than DKK 10 million on the table to acquire the keys to Absalon’s Church.
The man – who is particularly well-known as the founder of the Flying Tiger Copenhagen chain – is on a mission. He wants to convert the old church into a cultural centre that serves the community. To assist, he teams up with ArcgencY Architects, the architect Allan Lyth MAA, the artist Tal R and the lighting designer Marianne Tuxen.
– We’ve made something that people really like. They say that it’s different. It’s a nice place to be, it’s homely, and it’s very sociable. Children can lie on the floor and play. People are extremely positive, and come up and say how much they like it here, says Lennart Lajboschitz in an interview with the financial daily Børsen shortly after Absalon opened.
A large-scale living room
Today, when entering Absalon, it is clear to visitors that it used to be a high-ceilinged church. But now it looks like a large-scale living room, where families gather. With simple means, the church has been transformed into a highly flexible community centre hosting a wealth of different activities throughout the day. Everyone is welcome – and everyone is here.
The place is welcoming with its friendly atmosphere, homely furniture, long curtains and high shelves, which are designed to reduce the church-like scale and make the large space feel more intimate. Its spatial axis has been broken by installing a gallery at a height of five metres along one wall. This led to the creation of several distinct spaces, and from the upper level it is possible to follow what is happening in the hall below.
The artist Tal R was commissioned to decorate the interior of the former church with bright colours, so there is now quite a contrast between the inside and the outside of the building. The colours are bold and dominate the interior to match the social interaction and the diverse mix of axctivities.
Acoustics significantly improved
During the transformation from church to cultural centre, one task was reining in the acoustics. The original acoustics with a reverberation time of more than 11 seconds were much more suitable for singing hymns than for 250 people eating and chatting away informally at long tables.
The solution was to clad the ceiling and the underside of the gallery with black-painted Troldtekt acoustic panels. The acoustics contribute to the warm and inviting atmosphere that has made Absalon extremely popular with the local residents in the Vesterbro district.
At the beginning of 2017, Lennart Lajboschitz received an honorary diploma from the Danish Gastronomic Academy for the communal meal concept. And at about the same time, the Danish Association of Architects in Copenhagen chose to honour the team behind Folkehuset Absalon with the ‘Lille Arne’ award, which is one of two Arne prizes named after one of Denmark's most famous designers over time, Arne Jacobsen.
– Absalon adds something new to the city, while also showing how beautiful church interiors can be turned into new venues for people of all generations to come together at a time when increasing numbers are leaving the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, ran the award nomination text.