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GeoCenter Møns Klint

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GeoCenter Møns Klint is a Danish geological and nature centre located on the picturesque cliffs of Møn in southeastern Denmark. The exhibition centre offers a stunning glimpse of Denmark’s geological history as well as the flora and fauna of this beautifully-preserved natural area. The centre is located close to the edge of the largest cliff which is some 100 metres high. Queen Margrethe inaugurated the nature centre in 2007. Roughly 300,000 people visit the centre each year.

The World Architecture Festival considers GeoCenter Møns Klint one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. As a result, GeoCenter Møns Klint was one of the nine shortlisted entries in the Nature category at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona in October 2008. There were 700 entries from some 63 countries.

The centre was designed by the Danish architect firm PLH Architects of Copenhagen. Rockfon talked to Søren Mølbak, one of the partners, about this stunning and unusual natural museum.

“We started working on the centre in 2002 when PLH won an open international architect competition with 300
entries for the project. But it’s taken a long time to build because it took a while to raise money for the centre. Previously this very special natural area was privately owned, but more than 20 years ago, the Danish state took over the property but didn’t improve the facilities. Then a group of local people who were dissatisfied with the situation, decided to create a foundation called ‘GeoCenter Møns Klint’ to raise money for a centre which focused on the birth of Denmark – from a geological point of view. So when we started work on the project, there were a lot of rundown buildings scattered around the property and one very fine building which was a hotel. We tore everything down except the hotel building which we restored.

The brief for the GeoCenter was that the exhibition facility was going to need a lot of space. We thought that this amount of building space was simply too large for this beautiful and very sensitive natural area. So out of respect for the nature, we came up with the idea that the visible part of
the centre should be as small as possible. And the only way we could do this was to put most of the building underground. This seemed to be a good idea since the aim of the exhibition is to tell the story of Denmark’s birth by exploring and explaining Denmark’s underground. So we thought, let’s put the whole exhibition area underground – and that’s how the idea was born.”

Mølbak believes PLH Architects won the competition for the project because of their underground concept combined with the ‘wing-shaped roof’ icon. “Today the centre is built so that the whole exhibition centre is underneath the natural hill that was there to begin with. The building is situated almost all the way out to the edge of the huge cliff. The only part of the building that is above ground is the hall and the restaurant. The other thing we did to keep the above-ground part of the building as small as possible was to restore the old hotel so we could put the school service and the administration over there. In this way, the new building required less space.

The actual flow inside the building is very simple. You go underground to see the exhibition and come up to the hall. And upstairs (the above-ground part) there’s a restaurant with a big terrace that is very close to the actual cliff. We had to take care when we dug out the site because it’s so close to the edge of the cliff. The cliffs are slowly crumbling and receding, and experts say that in 300 years this whole place will fall into the sea.” Respect for nature has been a main concern all the way through when building the centre. “We also wanted to protect the trees on the other side of the building, which actually is how the beautiful curvature of the building arose. We simply wanted to keep those beautiful larch trees which meant we couldn’t build in a straight line, so the building is curved because of the trees! Sometimes things just arise naturally – and that’s usually when it becomes really interesting! And the result is really beautiful. People now call the visible part of the building the ‘wing’ and the wing has become the centre’s icon.”

Choice of materials was also based around the natural environment. “Because the cliffs are white and we wanted to follow nature, our choice of materials and colors is based on the natural environment. But we didn’t want to paint the walls white, so the building is made of white concrete, the floors are white cement plaster, the indoor walls are white rendered plasterboard, and the ceilings are white Mono Acoustic spray-rendered ceilings.

We chose Mono Acoustic for the hall and the restaurant because we didn’t want to have any directional lines in the ceilings since the building itself is curved. Traditional lowered ceilings have joints, but we didn’t want any straight lines because they would disturb the soft curvature of the building. So that’s why we chose Mono Acoustic. We also placed all the ceiling light fixtures in random order (instead of in rows) so the lights are like the stars in the sky, and their random placement does not disturb the curves. The ceiling is completely flat and looks like a traditional flat ceiling. For me, these ceilings work as an architectural expression because they are so modern, completely without lines and completely free of any technical disturbances.”

Underground in the exhibition hall, the ceilings are black like everything else. “Here we used Rockfon’s Industrial Black because special effect lighting was going to be used in the darkened rooms. Also the rooms required a lot of sound absorption because the whole exhibition is interactive with people touching and moving things – and there are a lot of sound effects. The exhibition, which is very popular with kids, is comprised of cave-like exhibition booths that are laid out like the spine of a dinosaur. These cave-like booths are quite big (6 metres high by 7-8 metres long), and inside each there are exhibitions with different artists showing their interpretation of various aspects of Denmark’s underground. The exhibition itself is called Denmark’s Birth so visitors actually walk through Denmark’s birth from prehistoric times to today by going through the different geological levels of Denmark. And the children can actually see in the microscopes that the cliffs are really made of fossils. Last year, a little boy found a real dinosaur’s tooth – and experts believe that one day they will perhaps find a whole monster!”
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