Grundtvig's Church.

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Monumental Warmth

 

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.

Categories

research, sacred, spiritual, masterplan, materiality, history, architecture

Architect

Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint

Location

Copenhagen, Denmark

Function

Memorial, Danish Church

Completed

1940

Full Text

Sacred Space

Breaking Rank

The wooden doors with their angled patterns break the uniformity of the marching bricks, signaling entry.

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Approach

The church terminates a lengthy procession and is flanked by structures in the same language.

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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.

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Templum Plan

P. V. Jensen-Klint, plan of På Bjerget, Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen, 1940. Drawing by Charles J. Schou, 1918.³

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Gothic Ghost

The rounded arches, small building units, and warm tone offer a softer take on the gothic form.

Intentional Interventions

 

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 hand craft on a tremendous scale. Exact drawings were produced showing each brick.

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“Finally there is a work that is destined to stand for centuries, a poem in lime and brick that will touch hearts and attract admiring eyes to itself generation after generation.”    — Jeppe Aakjær⁴

Material Palette

Over six million matching, locally produced bricks come together to form the interior, exterior, and ground plane.

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Marks of Craft

Detail of scratches on the interior bricks, the result of careful sanding.

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Texture and Tone

 

Grundtvig’s Church epitomizes the intimate attention to detail typical of Scandinavian architecture. The omnipresence of brick as a base unit of design is culturally characteristic of Denmark, but both Saint Peter and Grundtvig’s Church push Danish brickwork to unprecedented places. Where Lewerentz intentionally worked with the humblest, roughest bricks he could find, Klint demanded uniformity, quality, and precision across a tremendous scale. The result is as impressive and overwhelming as Saint Peter is humble and haunting. The burnt surfaces of the bricks were sanded by hand, to give the space softer acoustics. The surface of every brick was hand-polished to geometric perfection by a craftsman before it was placed. 

Ink and Paper

On-site documentation of Grundtvig's Church took the form of photography, mapping, and sketches.

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Marching Uniformity

The repetition of the humble units defines the composition of Grundtvig's Church.

Labor of Love

Bricks were laid with both pride and precision by a team of master masons who worked for decades.

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Sacred Form

Identical bricks blend into a warm and monolithic mass.

Concluding Thoughts

 

Grundtvig’s church combines the formal strength of traditional Gothic cathedral architecture with the craftsmanship and humility of Danish design. The result is a beautiful contradiction, a space both austere and welcoming, sparse in furnishings but rich in texture. Klint crafted an ethereal void... monumental, warm, reverent, and timeless. Most buildings today have a limited capacity to engage their occupants beyond their base program and function. Expectations can shape experience, particularly when they are defied. Buildings have the potential to stir emotion, heighten awareness, and become fully immersive experiences. Atmosphere is partially a function of factors beyond our control. My experience through Aydelott inspired me to continue to delve into how architecture can shape atmosphere.

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Sources

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²

³

Thomas Bo JensenP. V. Jensen-Klint: The Headstrong Master Builder, Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture Publishers (2009), 328.

Thomas Bo Jensen (Head of Research at the Aarhus School of Architecture, Scholar on P. V. Jensen Klint), interviewed by Henry Savoie, Copenhagen, June 17, 2019.

 

Jensen, P. V. Jensen-Klint, 297.

JensenP. V. Jensen-Klint, 328.

Kaj Thaning, and Per KirkebyGrundvigs Kirke 1990, Copenhagen: Grundtvigs Kirkes Menighedsråd (1990).

All Sites.

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© 2023 Henry Savoie