At first glance, the competition programme appears quite simple and unpretentious, but it turns out to be quite ambitious, almost rebellious. The client wanted a 600-square-metre visitor center and exhibition space with an in-house bakery, boutique, and café.
A small and modest building situated on a flat piece of land next to the Aurion company and grain mill. Here, Jørn and his company have been cultivating almost forgotten heritage cereals since the mid 1970s, and after almost five decades of alternative food production they are now ready to take the mission one step further, recreating a somehow lost culture of food production based on biological farming techniques.
As one of the leading grain experts in the Nordic region, The House of Grain is set to become an independent knowledge and experience center dedicated to rediscovering the missing link between sustainable food production and modern ways of living.
A progressive and laudable endeavor, which it seems obvious to establish in a country where such a large percentage of the surface area is farmland. Strange that it hasn’t been tried out before. But we quickly realized that the House of Grain initiative was not completely uncontroversial.
The mission we were about to join was, in its own discrete way, part of a growing ecological battle in Denmark were small enthusiastic companies, such as the Aurion company, and committed people, like Jørn, are up against very powerful economic and political forces.
Prime among them is a very conservative agroindustry furiously lobbying to continue allowing farmers to use a whole range of pesticides and fungicides as part of conventional production. And, of course, a billion-euro chemical industry eager to sell their ‘final solution’ to pests and weeds. Stitching the spatial programme for The House of Grain together on a piece of tracing paper was not a big task.
We felt from the very beginning that the functional puzzles and construction principles deserved a straightforward solution. We were very fascinated by the local architectural vernacular of weather-beaten barns and old farmhouses and could look in any direction to find great sources of inspiration. Even the wind-polished trees and dark brown soil stretching towards the horizon gave us hints to the atmosphere we were trying to create.
But how could we, as architects, possibly respond to the apparent death spiral of industrial food production and the bleak environmental conditions defining the larger context? After meeting with Jørn and realizing the progressive aspects of his mission, we felt compelled to formulate a viable path in between the two dominant positions in the public debate.
A way in between denial and apocalyptic environmentalism. With this perspective in mind, designing an energy-efficient building using recyclable materials and other techno-fix solutions seemed somehow obsolescent. Facing the complex issues at stake we had to move beyond conventional design thinking.
We could not rely on a knee-jerk response of best-practice engineering and symbolic representations of good intentions. We felt a strong desire to come up with a human response and were deeply in doubt whether aesthetics could be employed as a strategic tool. The daunting question facing us was, how to translate Jørn’s silent activism into an architectural manifestation.
The building is organized around a simple and flexible plan, which allows for a wide variety of activities and functions to take place. The architectural form is derived from research into the region’s rich landscape, folk culture and agricultural heritage – the center being defined by its two brick clad light wells, which reinterpret baker’s kilns.
The interior is planned to open-up to the vast expanse of wheat fields to the west – framing views outward and opening to terrace. The public spaces are centered around a large bread oven while teaching and exhibition spaces are demarked by the natural lighting and increased volume of the skylights. Source by Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter.
Location: Hjørring, Denmark
Architect: Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter
Client: Ejendomsfonden Kornets Hus
Award: European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2022
Program: Visitor Centre
Size: 680 m2
Photograph: Courtesy of Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter