The New Hans Christian Andersen Museum: Inside out and Outside in

I went to the press conference about the revealing the plans for the new Hans Christian Andersen Museum to make an interview with Kengo Kuma. This was an opportunity not to be missed: one of the most significant Japanese figures in contemporary architecture speaking about the project he will design here in Odense. But I discovered a project as impressive as each and every part involved to make it possible: Kengo Kuma and the Associates, Event Communications, the Museum, the Commune. So I ended up talking to more people that I thought I would (including the mayor of Odense, who would have imagined this), gathering information and having an integrated experience challenging my imagination. Just like a visitor of the future museum.

After considering a little bit all the information I found out, I decided not to just to transcript the interviews I took, but to organize all data in a brief study case. I hope you will find at least as useful as I did these insights about how they will do it and inspire from what it could become a model of re-thinking and re-building museums to meet expectations of the new generations of visitors who are more avid of experiencing and experimenting than of just visiting.
I also hope that all this venture will be documented all along, from the first step till the inauguration in a documentary film. Just a thought that came to my mind while I was looking at the model that showed what the museum would look like when build and I could almost see it.
The background story promises an exciting and interesting development of the ultimate Andersen’s story: the never-ending journey through a total area of 5,600 sq. m, most of it underground, borderless and opened to the city.

From idea to brief

Phaedra Corrigan (Architect‬) and Eithne Owens (‪Head of Content) from Event Communications‬ (UK) told me how it all started. “The way this project goes is not the typical way a project like this happens, usually architects come first with a proposal and then the designers. But the museum decided to have an ideas competition so they can understand better what they wanted and then the content competition in which our concept for the exhibition was chosen and became part of the brief for the architects. Part of their work was to design a building to make the exhibition concept possible”.

Kengo Kuma & Associates received quite a thick brief, a brief which was not quite a brief, but more of a story itself. “It came with a lot of expectations and ideas about the museum and Andersen himself. And also at the point, the Event Communications already developed the scenographic contents. So, we had many expectations and ideas about the inside of the museum, so we began to work up from inside out. Thus, this “inside out” and the inside in” design sequence and perspective is very unique and specific to Andersen museum”.

In other words, the architects had the challenge to build a building for an exhibition. How will they do it?

Inspiration and creation

The first thing they did was the research, the reading, the catching the essence of Andersen’s universe and then reflect it into the experience the museum will offer.
“As a boy, I liked Andersen’s story called Tinderbox. It is a story about the dynamic of life, and I felt he himself design the story as a space” said Kuma.
The new museum project is very ambitious, aiming to be even larger than Andersen’s life. The ambition is to go further that the biographical details and to develop four different areas: biographical, fair tales, Tinderbox (the storytelling center for children) and the garden.
“For the fair tales are, for example, we were given two stories to inspire form: the Nightingale and the other was called Psyche which none of us has heard before, it’s not a classical Andersen story. And actually we found out lately that the reason they asked us to inspire from this story is because it is so strange and difficult and they wanted to see if our ideas would work for any of Andersen’s stories”, said Phaedra Corrigan.
I was curious and look for the story mentioned. You can read it here: and use as a motivational story of creating something greater than yourself.

The designed (and desired) experience

The space will open, the borders will disappear. Most of the exhibitions will be placed underground but there will be ways of communicating between underground and upper ground.
People can “see” or guess each other through the shadows, silhouettes, sounds. The interactions from one space to another is very subtle, very ambiguous in a abstract way which I think the museum will be more like an Andersen’s fairy tale.

“We are trying to create environments where visitors can have theatrical experiences to live the stories. Not a story written on the wall, but a stage set where you can come and act on the stage, you have access to different parts of the story or you are the trigger of the story. Not only look at the princess, but you become the princess and step into the fairy tale”, said Eithne Owens.

The challenges

For Kengo Kuma, the ultimate challenge is “to give up concrete. The XX century is about programed materialism so the materials used are mainly concrete. For human body, concrete is not an appropriate material, so my intention is to bring back natural materials. This will happen with the new museum, in this Danish – Japanese collaboration”.
For Event Communications team, the provocation is in the visitors’ experience. The best scenario, the one that they will work for a lot is to make a visitor feel “enchantment and ownership”. “Magic comes with something like “wow”, but we also want them to feel that this is their story, and the experience is unique to them”.
For the Museum and Commune, the biggest challenge was to get the money for the project. As Mayor Anker Boye said to me: “There were and there will always be a lot of good ideas, but if you don’t have the money, they remain just ideas, you know? Yes, I know, we all have read this story many times before, but now the story has a happy end.
The new Museum has a total financing of DKK 305 million (225 million from the A.P. Møller Foundation, DKK 20 million from Augustinus Foundation donated and DKK 60 million from Odense Municipality.

The new Hans Christian Andersen Museum is expected to be opened in 2020, and will be another good reason to consider Odense the best city in Denmark. Here are the first 5:

So, when are you coming over? 🙂

Copyright: Kengo Kuma & Associates, Cornelius+Vöge, MASU planning

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