A marriage of Gothic form and Scandinavian craftsmanship, Grundtvig’s Church was the culmination of architect P. V. Jensen Klint’s career. All told, a total of three generations of the Klint family would contribute to the design, completion, and upkeep of Grundtvig’s Church. It is a monument to one of Denmark’s most beloved national heroes. Its monolithic, monochromatic, and ethereal form is unique among churches of its scale. Located just north of Copenhagen’s city center looms a monument to Denmark’s craftsmanship and to one of its most beloved historical figures. Completed in 1940 after sixteen years of construction, Grundtvig’s church was designed in 1924 by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint as a memorial to the author, historian, philosopher, pastor, poet, and teacher Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872).¹ Klint’s expressionist take on a Gothic cathedral translates the form and scale of the medieval church into the Scandinavian architectural language. Nearly six million identical hand-smoothed bricks and tiles aggregate to compose an ethereal space of worship and repose. The warm, calm monochrome of its uniform brick materiality captivates and disorients, inspiring awe in its scale and precision. In material and formal motifs, Klint referenced the country churches found in Grundtvig’s home of Zealand. Both Gothic scale and Scandinavian minimalism merged to sculpt a space set apart from time. Grundtvig’s Church epitomizes the intimate attention to detail typical of Scandinavian architecture.
The wooden doors with their angled patterns break the uniformity of the marching bricks, signaling entry.
On the Hill
In its formal composition, siting, and impact over time, Grundtvig’s Church revives the Gothic tradition of the church as an instigator and organizer of its surroundings. The symmetrical context creates a lengthy viewing axis, which is reinforced by the long road passing through the cemetery. Its composition and siting with respect to the town and existing streets are similar in layout to a Roman Templum plan.² As the buildings in På Bjerget approach the cathedral, they step further down in scale. This enhances the perceived scale of the church in relation to its surroundings. These and future expansions would all utilize the characteristic yellow brick employed in the church’s construction. Klint was intrigued by and acutely aware of this revived condition.
The rounded arches and warm tone offer a softer take on the gothic form.
Despite its massive scale, the minimal ornamentation in Grundvtig’s Church lends it spatial clarity and depth. The moving power of Grundtvig’s Church lies in both its formal and material simplicity. Interventions take two primary forms: deft variations and patterns within the brick, and the sparse use of secondary materials and essential objects. The few standalone pieces include the stone baptismal font, which was also designed by P. V. Jensen-Klint, the organs, the roof, the geometrically patterned sets of wooden doors, and various custom metal furnishings. The tremendous variation in the brick is dissolved in the monochrome sea of identical pieces. Only after prolonged viewing do exceptions begin to reveal themselves. Unique moves are most visible in the spiral stairs, the places where arches meet, and the pulpits. The composition of millions of small brush scratches prevents light from reflecting off of the bricks in the interior, resulting in the impression of light being absorbed. The brick surface appears deep and thick rather than a mere surface. This helps to soften the reverberating echoes. Grundtvig’s Church employs humble material and handcraft on a tremendous scale. Exact drawings were produced showing each brick.