Kannikegården, C48

Categories: Exterior walls / FacadesFacadesBrick / Clinker brick facades
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Kannikegården – adding a contemporary layer to the culture and history of Ribe

Kannikegården beautifully reiterates the qualities of the medieval old town but is also surprisingly radical.

It’s a long time since anything modern was built in the middle of Ribe. How do you adapt to such a sensitive setting without succumbing to pastiche? How do you ensure that any new building fits in with its surroundings but still manages to reflect its own era, just as the older ones reflect their various eras? Few studios are able to master this balancing act quite as well as Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects – and Kannikegården in Ribe is a prime example of their expertise. The building’s rustic-red brick silhouette looks sharp and precise from whichever narrow alleyway you happen to view it. But as you get closer, you are struck by the coarseness of the finish. Like an armadillo with oversized scales, its coat of brick armour dangles and vibrates in the sunlight, with tolerances of up to several centimetres! In this way, it is just like the surrounding medieval buildings, whose quirks and crooked bits endow Ribe with its organic, historic air.

Kannikegården is on the square in Ribe, opposite the cathedral. It houses facilities for the parish council and cathedral staff, as well as exhibition space and a 100-seat lecture theatre. During the excavation work on the site, archaeological remains were found of the cloisters, built in 1100 and possibly the earliest brick building in Denmark. The find was a sensation, and another testament to Ribe’s historical significance. The ruins were excavated in 2012 and a preservation order served on them right away. They are believed to be the remains of the refectory wall. This posed challenges for the construction project, but a donation from Realdania paid for the ruins to be integrated into the new building as a monument to the past.

A new era’s tectonics
“We wanted the new building to be clearly differentiated from the original tectonics,” says architect Erik Frandsen of Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects. In lay terms, this was a matter of developing a light brick cladding to hover just out from the heavy brick monastery walls as a contrast to them. Brick shells are not that light, however. The 35x63 cm shells weigh over 60 kg each, i.e. substantially more than the old bricks used by the monks. However, from a distance, the clinker-clad surface does look light compared to the historic brick buildings around it. Close up, the irregularities of the granulated brick plates is obvious, echoing the crooked medieval buildings, in which tolerances were measured in inches. The elongated building runs along the south side of the square. A sluice links the building to the medieval procession route, which starts from the west. An open glass façade stretches the entire length of the ground floor, while the rest of the facades, gables and roofs are covered with large brick shells. Its proximity to the houses on Sønderportsgade to the south dictated that the building had to be tapered slightly towards the west, leaving a diagonal incision in the roof. This characteristically crooked look contributes to the touching sense of kinship between architecture that is so prevalent throughout Ribe, where all of the buildings have had to adapt to their neighbours over time. “The crooked look was decisive for the choice of the size of the brick shells,” says Erik Frandsen. The shells had to be relatively large to be able to “sew” them together elegantly along the edge of the roof and avoid the need for even larger custom-built sizes. The “stitching” along the crooked incision is full of character, and resembles the zigzag ‘raking course’ patterns seen in some of the old gabled houses nearby. Other striking details include the small square windows dotted unevenly around the façades and surrounded by large tile shells. This creates an uneven pattern of dark shadows that breaks up the monolithic air of the façades, just as the brick chapels on the nearby cathedral are brought to life by their vertical recesses. Wisely, the gutter has been hidden behind a cornice-like band of brick shells, suspended on steel brackets, a band that seems to hang on to the shells above, and clearly defines the transition to the glass-covered bottom part of the new building.

Bricks are alchemy
“Firing bricks is a kind of alchemy,” says Erik Frandsen. Using mock-ups, the architects were able to make decisions about colour on the site. Tiny adjustments to the oxygen supply in the ovens at Petersen Tegl eventually resulted in just the right mix of rustic red hues to blend the new building in with its surroundings. Up close, the shells bear all the blemishes and hallmarks of the production processes, just like the bricks used by the monks centuries before. The tradition of handmade, coal-fired brick continues here in the big, partly handmade shells. The historical context is further emphasised by the fact that these kinds of shells are known to have been around in the Middle Ages, when big flat tiles or “pans” were used for roofing. The pans on the cathedral opposite are evidence of the original roof on the medieval church.

Ribe counts in feet not millimetres
Two-tier constructions, i.e. when architects want to work with an open ground floor and closed upper storeys, often pose serious problems. Lundgaard & Tranberg came up with the solution of using coarse, tarred oak planks as movable vertical slats fitted with pins. On entering the building, visitors encounter the same twisted oak planks in the ceiling of the room housing the old ruins.“In the Middle Ages, everything was measured in feet, not millimetres,” says architect Erik Frandsen. This means that the new addition could not be too refined in its detail. This attitude is reflected not only in the brick and woodwork, but in the concrete forms on the load-bearing columns and the walls that encircle the ruins. The shuttering here is deliberately sloppy, with wedges inserted between the boards so that the concrete bulges and the surfaces are uneven.“The building has multiple cultural and historical layers,” says Frandsen, “from the bricks that grow out of the ground to the layered concrete and boards in the ceiling.” With this in mind, the gravel flooring in the ruins may seem a little too well-groomed and sterile. A different surface should be discussed when the decision is hopefully reached to open the room to the public rather than visits being by appointment with the verger.

An architect needs to know the priorities
The interior of the new building could be described as toned-down coarseness. From the narrow foyer, an oak staircase swings its way up to the first floor, its path marked by solid, steel-clad vertical oak stakes. The inner wall of the staircase is painted dark red, while the first-floor corridor is in ochre. This scheme extends to the second floor, where the lecture theatre’s interior roof surfaces are in plain dark red. The distinctive, slightly cavernous colours are inspired by the frescoes in the cathedral, where earth colours dominate. The offices, which are dimly lit by small square windows, are painted white to maximise the available light and make for a pleasant working environment. Despite limitations in terms of both budget and space, the architects have managed to create quite comfortable working areas. The priority was to make use of real oak floors, warm wall and ceiling colours, and a slightly surprising use of wall-mounted lighting that projects rhythmic cones of light up the walls and corresponding semicircles onto the ceilings. And then, of course, there is the plasterboard with holes on the ceiling, so that the painted surfaces look neither completely dead, nor completely disconnected from the ruins and the living exterior. Although painted plasterboard might seem a far cry from the exterior textures, it manages to create a link between the inner and outer that, by contemporary standards, is highly successful. Ribe has every reason to be proud of its beautiful new landmark building, which completes the long-awaited regeneration of the area around the cathedral – another key element of which is Schønherr’s brilliant new square, which is well worth a visit in its own right.

Kannikegården, new church hall, Ribe, DK
Developer: Ribe Domsogns Menighedsråd
Contractor: Kim Christensen
Architect: Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter A/S
Archaeology: South-west Jutland Museums
Engineering, construction and construction management: Oesten ingeniører og arkitekter Aps
Engineering, plumbing and electricity: Esbensen Rådgivende Ingeniører A/S Landscape architect: Schønherr A/S
Funding for landscape project: Realdania
Brick: C48 in the special edition designed by Lundgaard & Tranberg, dimensions: 630 x 350 mm.
D48, walls.

Length63 mm
Width35 mm
Height5 mm
Colorsshades of orange
shades of red
shades of brown

Petersen Tegl, Denmark

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by Petersen Tegl

DescriptionExternal Link
Petersen Magazine 38