A 'third space' at the harbour front

Located on a former industrial cargo dock, between the waterfront and the historical city centre of Aarhus, Dokk1 is the centrepiece in the revitalisation and integration of the depleted harbour areas. Housing the Central Library, citizens’ services, workplaces for the municipality as well as a group of companies and networks, Dokk1 offers a dynamic environment for learning, knowledge sharing, cultural and social activities. More than a building, Dokk1 is a “state of mind” that transfers from building to individual and back again. It is where community, experimentation, and individual expression enrich civic life.

The modern library is a meeting place; an open, public space – a ‘third space’ between the home and the workplace – where users can meet other people, those who are like themselves as well as those who are completely different. Thus, the library is a special kind of public space, and a place that must provide a setting for meaningful personal experiences - the kind that move and enliven us. Dokk1 was designed in collaboration with and for the city of Aarhus, where citizens are viewed as key creative actors throughout the life of the project. The engagement process was built on credibility, respect, and true engagement, where all voices are treated as equals. Citizens, users, representatives from local and national organizations, current and future partners, library staff, consultants and selected experts were involved in the creative process. It is this iterative design process that helped shape Dokk1 into what it is today – an interface between society and its citizens, a creative and democratic community, the cultural heart of Aarhus.

The completion of Dokk1 marked a paradigm shift from libraries emphasising physical media to become places focused on people and their relations to their surroundings. Dokk1 reflects the dynamic multidisciplinary thinking that will no doubt define our future, both in its professional organisation as well as in the way the design accommodates synergic relationships so naturally with its spatial generosity.

DOKK1 Aerial During Construction Culture

Aarhus is a vivacious city by the water, a city of culture, knowledge and progress. DOKK1, a multimedia library on the new urban harbour front, is a physical manifestation of these qualities; with its unique but challenging site at this his­torically significant place in Aarhus, where the creek flows into the bay, where the city was originally founded.

By means of a comprehensive urban gesture, the distinctive location along the waterfront has been reclaimed; existing barri­ers have been broken down, and with DOKK1 acting as a pivot point, the numerous flows and movements in the city are interlinked. 

Dokk1 is not simply a building, it is a state of mind.  It is a democratic, non-hierarchic and adaptable space for the sharing and exchange of knowledge.

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The project is part of the ambitious district plan to reconnect the former industrial cargo docks on the harbour of Aarhus with the historic centre of the city.

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The generative design motif is a covered public space with a multi-edged volume hovering above it and protecting it.

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The program represents a new generation of hybrid public buildings.

The main function of a library coexists with a citizen service centre, office space, automated parking for 1,000 cars and a station on the Light Rail Transit system. 

After the realization, more partners have decided to move into Dokk1.

DOKK1 program section Culture

The architectural concept is a robust external shell - like a warehouse - providing the raw framework for a domestic and adaptable interior.

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Dokk1 is home for many different organizations and companies. Except for the main library, Dokk1 hosts innovation, technology and creativity companies, citizen services, broadcast studio, tourist information offices and others.

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Dokk1 is a space where culture meets art. The Elmgreen & Dragset “Magic Mushrooms” art piece, a metropolis model mounted upside down, sits within the ground floor parking entrance (left).

The gong by Kirstine Roepstorff is the bell that can be activated and strikes every time a new child is born in Aarhus Municipality (right).

New Zealand artist Daniel Belton presented the biggest edition of his lighting installation ‘More Light’ during the Aarhus Festival.

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Dokk1 featuring on a stamp issued on the occasion of Aarhus holding the title of European Capital of Culture in 2017.

DOKK1 was created through extensive citizens’ consultations. Over 6 themed evenings, citizens of Aarhus and a diverse range of stakeholders were invited to discuss different aspects of a building – from functionality to accessibility, from experience to logistics. All efforts were made to spread the word and ensure broad participation.

DOKK1 Advert news paper

All input was collected, categorized, and processed, the results of which culminated in an ideas catalog. Most ideas were implemented, some reserved for future evolution – all played back to the city. Many aspects of the building experienced today can be directly traced back to the discussions that took place in these consultations. DOKK1 is richer, more vibrant, more “Aarhus” today, also because of this process.

DOKK1 Idea catalogue
Shl architects dokk1 exterior stairs culture libraries
Aarhus, Denmark
Public library, citizens' services, offices and automated parking
35,600 m²
Completed in 2014
The Municipality of Aarhus
Client partner:
1st prize in invited, international competition, 2009
Landscape Architect:
Arkitekt Kristine Jensens Tegnestue
Alectia Consultating Engineers
Client Consultant:
Rambøll Denmark
Bahn arkitekter (universal design / accessibility)
Meets Danish Class 2015 Low Energy Requirements
2017, IDA Design Awards, 2015 Commendation, Architectural Review MIPIM Future Projects Awards, 2015, City of Aarhus Architecture Prize, 2016, A+ Popular Choice Award, 2016, Public Library of the Year Award, 2017, European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award Nomination, 2012, Best Collaboration Award
Adam Mørk, Jens Marcus Lindhe, DMJX, Lodige Parksystem, Kira Krøis Ursem, Byggeriets Billedbank

Dokk1 is a covered urban square for culture, media, and knowledge creation, situated where Aarhus creek flows into Aarhus Bay. Centrepiece of an ambitious masterplan to revitalise the former industrial cargo docks, it acts as the hinge that connects the historical city centre to the waterfront. It is home to the Central Library as well as a dynamic group of companies, networks, and partners, including citizens’ services, workplaces for the municipality, DR, and Aarhus State Archives, among others.

With a 1000-car automated public parking facility and a light rail stop that connects to the larger region, Dokk1 is a platform for innovation, experimentation and a multicultural meeting place that welcomes all. It is a rough, yet poetic place in the city, designed as a building for people and media; a meeting place that re-activates and thus hands back the waterfront to the city.

The prime movers behind the library project wanted to rethink the function of the library and the kind of space needed.

Also, this particular library project was to rethink the relationship between the city and the harbour.

This double agenda – library experts insisting on adaptability, and the urban renewal plan – determined the conceptual environment out of which Dokk1 was formed.

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Shl architects dokk1 view to the harbour culture libraries
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The library is a meeting place; an open, public space – a ‘third space’ between the home and the workplace – where users can meet other people, those who are like themselves as well as those who are completely different.

For  this reason, the library is a special kind of public space. At the same time, it is a place that must provide a setting for meaningful personal experiences, the kind that move and enliven us.

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The Gong - an in-situ work created by Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff – is a huge, bronze tubular bell hanging from the ceiling under the skylight window above the central ramp. It can be activated from within the maternity ward at the local hospital. Whenever a new baby is born in Aarhus, the parents can choose to sound the gong and its ringing will be heard almost everywhere in DOKK1.
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Section A-A

The lightrail connects DOKK1 and the harbour across the greater urban region. An automated parking facility for cars as well as safe and easy access for pedestrians and cyclists make for this to be a well-connected and lively place in the city.  

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