Nørre Vosborg

Modern hotel wing and barn conversion for cultural purposes.

Troldtekt, Nørre Vosborg
Photo: Thomas Mølvig, architect

The outstanding restoration of the manor house Nørre Vosborg in western Jutland is already well-renowned. It was one of the biggest restoration projects in Denmark, for four years employing several hundred local tradesmen and experts from all over the country. The following account is limited to the newly built hotel wing and the conversion of the former farm buildings into a multi-purpose hall and exhibition centre.

Nørre Vosborg is one of the best preserved estates still standing in the coastal landscapes of western Jutland, with a history dating back to the 13th century. The property company Realea A/S, which acquired the estate in 2004, describes it as a unique heritage building, and the site is imbibed with many irreplaceable cultural values. Nevertheless, it has been possible to incorporate a new black, 118-metre-long hotel wing and create modern facilities for conferences, exhibitions and concerts without diminishing the authenticity of the place. The architects Arkitema KS have exercised their considerable talent in designing the changes, while the consulting engineers OBH Rådgivende Ingeniører A/S have tackled the engineering challenges with comparable enthusiasm and skill. The building work was undertaken by specialist contractors.

Visionary restoration project

Nørre Vosborg is approached from the east, through the gatehouse and the courtyard with its large barn buildings. The former livestock buildings, laid out around a main axis, stand as an impressive prelude to the manor due to their size and symmetry. The two large threshing barns towards the south and north dominate the yard, and reflect the grandeur of the estate. The enormous thatched roofs and the textural brickwork are part of the rich history of the place which greets visitors in the wide and open farmyard.

Frants Frandsen, project manager and architect at Realea A/S, describes the project: “Converting the building complex from its original role as a home farm/barns and manor house into a regional cultural centre has been an extremely delicate and complex process. The ability to interpret the key historical and cultural-historical strata combined with a realistic vision for the future has been of the utmost importance for a successful restoration. At the same time, the foundations have been laid for the property’s future role within its historical, functional and aesthetic framework. The spirit and soul of the place must to the greatest possible extent be retained and live on in the new setting.”

The barns

“Built in 1787, the symmetrically arranged barns, which act as a climate screen and a face to the outside world, were largely restored according to the same principle by using the correct materials and historic building techniques as in the original constructions. Unlike the manor house, all these buildings have acquired new functions, far removed from their original purposes as livestock buildings and barns. The refurbishing of the barn complex has basically been carried out according to a principle of reversibility, whereby the new fittings can, in principle, be removed, leaving the historical building with all its original features restored and intact.”

“After the refurbishment, the south barn also stands intact in its raw construction with exposed beams and the raw walls like a recurring theme for the room’s backward-looking and rustic appearance. Like in the south barn, the characteristic ‘carriageway’ along the length of the threshing barn has been retained as a typical functional and architectural feature. The floors are glazed concrete, whereas the floorspace between these carriageways is, like the slatted stage façade, made of oak. The rawness of the multi-purpose hall is further reflected in the steeply sloping ceilings which are clad in Troldtekt wood wool panels, thereby ensuring that the acoustic requirements of the room are met.”

Hotel wing

Thomas Carstens – architect and CEO of Arkitema – has struck a subtle architectural balance between the old and new. A challenge at all levels, but the task has been solved with considerable empathy and skill, as reflected in the unusually high standard of architecture. The project with the newly opened hotel wing was selected for entry in the Architecture Festival in Barcelona in 2008, where Arkitema competed with nine other international firms of architects in the ‘Holiday’ category.

Thomas Carstens says: “The new hotel wing was a key condition for preserving the estate buildings. It was a question of ensuring the financial viability of the place after the farm etc. had outlived its usefulness. It is something of a paradox that you need to build new in order to preserve, but one to which we have provided an architectural answer.”

“The solution was an independent building running parallel with and north of the two main north and south barns in the existing arrangement. Measuring 118 metres in length, the new building matches the volume of the largest of the original buildings. However, despite its size and location, it does not compete with the historical yard or main axis. The northern 18th-century barn, where the ratio between brick wall and thatched roof in elevation is 01:03, has been ideal for deciding the proportions.”

Pragmatic character

“To underplay the role of the hotel wing, but to replicate the barn’s unpretentious exterior, wood was chosen as the primary material. Radial-sawn Siberian larch laid in a clapboard pattern ensures clear references to an old Scandinavian tradition. A narrow aperture running lengthways along the roof surface is formed by an opening in the clapboard, allowing light into the rooms and exterior walkways on the first floor. On the ground floor, vertical slats create a visually nuanced transition between exterior and interior.”

Large numbers of straight-edged light Troldtekt acoustic panels have been used in the multi-purpose hall, the exhibition hall and in the hotel rooms. Commenting on the extensive use of cement-bonded wood wool, Thomas Carstens says: “It primarily springs from a wish to ensure homogeneity between the materials used in the very different buildings. Moreover, the material possesses good acoustic properties, which was relevant given that the project also involved creating a multi-purpose cultural venue for music and talks. Cement-bonded wood wool also has good humidity-regulating characteristics, which means a healthy indoor climate and, at the end of the day, reduced ventilation requirements. Given that it involved Nørre Vosborg’s original livestock buildings, the material’s pragmatic qualities have also played a significant role in the decision-making process. In my view, the Troldtekt panels harmonise well with the character of the old barns and livestock buildings.”

Japanese in Jutland

In 1859, Hans Christian Andersen enjoyed a two-week holiday at Nørre Vosborg, something which is now a possibility for the rest of us. Today, the hotel has 56 double guest rooms at its disposal, of which 37 are in the new wing. The hotel rooms feature hyper-modern fittings and Italian designer furniture combined with classic Danish furniture design.

Hotel manager Svend Erik Jørgensen says: “On the face of it, the new hotel wing may appear dominating, almost threatening with its solid black cladding. However, this impression lifts immediately the moment you step closer to the building, and disappears completely on entering the wonderfully light bedrooms. I think it was definitely the right decision to build the hotel wing as an all-wood ‘barn’. In so doing, it falls in with the other buildings while adding a new element made of wood, while the other buildings are made of stone.”

“Our guests usually react to the bedrooms. They adore their lightness and simplicity. Many have described the interiors as ‘Japanese in Jutland’. In other words, they have everything you would expect, combined with a natural respect for the light and the splendour of the surrounding countryside. The furnishings match the rooms and their function. The architects have cleverly avoided drowning the rooms in furniture and fittings, thereby retaining a sense of space.”

High ceilings

“The barns are ideal for parties and conferences. We always hear positive feedback when the former threshing barn, the ‘Agerrumsladen’, is used for conferences. The room’s spaciousness and high ceilings allow thoughts to range free. If guests need a change of scene, they can climb up to the platform and get a bird’s eye view of what is happening. A bit like in the old days when you walked to the nearest beacon to get an overview.”

“Finally, the multi-purpose hall is a space which we are proud to let out. The moment guests walk in through the door, they often go ‘wow’. They react to the size of the room, which is almost overwhelming. The layout with the stage and permanent AV equipment, which is very high-quality, means the room is nothing short of a dream for any conference organiser or delegate. The acoustics are perfect for parties and conferences alike, with either a few or many participants,” says Svend Erik Jørgensen in conclusion.

Huge potential

Helle Skaarup, Manager at Nørre Vosborg, believes the venue holds considerable potential for future cultural events: “The former north barn from 1788 is the perfect setting for exhibiting Janne Klerk’s beautiful photographs of Nørre Vosborg in 2003 – before the restoration work commenced. There is a special atmosphere in the old barn which is difficult to describe – you have to feel it for yourself – and which is a beautiful backdrop to the descriptive photographs. Visitors to the exhibition are in a strange way carried to another world.”

“The multi-purpose hall, in the former south barn, has also demonstrated its suitability as an ideal venue for various cultural activities. The acoustics in the hall have been designed for theatre, so there has been a bit of excitement before the various events. However, it also works well with other art forms. We have put together a pot-pourri of different events to find out what the space can be used for. There have been jazz and classical music concerts, film screenings, theatre, choral performances and opera as well as break dance and ballet.”