The Round Tower: Copenhagen

The Round Tower has loomed over Copenhagen since 1642 when it opened to the public as a hybrid structure combining an astronomical observatory, student church and university library. Erected by King Christian IV, the listed building is 34.8 metres high and continues to soar above modern buildings in the city, offering a stunning panorama from a viewing platform at its apex. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by bright white walls setting off the stone brickwork spiral that steadily inclines all the way to the top of the tower – a sublimely unique and leg friendly alternative to stairs! Half way up the tower you reach the Library Hall which functioned as a book lenders until 1861, and now houses temporary exhibitions (currently an archival photographic display entitled ‘Visions and Beliefs’ offering insights into a century of Danish missionaries’ global projects between 1980 -1970). A few steps on from the Hall is a more practical feature within the building; an original toilet complete with nicotine stained arched ceilings following centuries of students’ pipe smoking whilst visiting the privy! As you continue to climb the tower, you reach the Bell Loft which not only houses the bells, but has been utilised widely by Copenhagen’s residents for everything from drying laundry to store tanned hides, dry herbs, paint theatre sets as well as dress-making and millinery. In 1880 the loft was even rented by Leiutenant Bernhard Olsen who created a peasant museum in the space! A final ascent directs you to a reconstruction of the 1700’s Planetarium inspired by Bayer, depicting a three dimensional model of the solar system with the sun in the centre orbited by six planets. A few more steps lead you onto a 360 degree outdoor viewing platform, offering scenic views across the city despite it being cloudy the day of my visit.

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The exterior of The Round Tower
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The interior spiral walkway taking you up the towers 34 metres
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The Planetarium

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Hybrid Matters: Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen

A church dating back to the early 1200’s isn’t a typical venue for contemporary arts, but Nikolaj Kunsthal (Copenhagen’s third oldest church) provides the perfect backdrop to a constantly changing exhibition programme in Denmark’s capital. The Great Fire of the city in 1795 put an end to the buildings life as a functioning church, and following incarnations as a fire station, naval museum and public library, it became heavily associated with Copenhagen’s art scene from the late 1950’s and has been a dedicated exhibition space since 1981. ‘Hybrid Matters’ combining art and science, and the work of twelve different artists is currently on display. Visitors enter through the original bethel door and climb a flight of spiral steps into the vaulted level – on this staircase you are greeted by five neon signs created by Hanna Husberg, each powered by ionised argon and neon gas and shaped into a symbol representative of artificial heating or cooling. This is coupled with a video projection of Svalbard (in the Artic achipelagio) and together they comment on fossil fuels’ contribution to global warming. Through an archway you are then met by a wall of rotating miniature Christmas trees by Laura Beloff & Jonas Jorgensen, humorously testing the hypothesis that plant growth can be stimulated by different gravitational conditions than those found on Earth. ‘Cloud Harvest’ by Rosemary Lee & Jens Lee Jorgensen then deconstructs mobile phones and dissolves them into a vapour cloud, whilst also creating a pun on new terminology associated with the network of servers storing and transmitting global information. Around the corner is Hege Tapio’s experiment into human fat as potential fuel for cars, and the artist even underwent liposuction to draw attention to the potential use of peoples’ own bodies as a resource in the future! All of these fascinating displays aside, my favourite was undoubtedly Lawrence Malstaf’s combination of origami and 3D scanning to create a mesmerising interactive sculptural installation which moved and unfolded when sensors noticed you standing nearby. If you’re in Copenhagen before 31st July I’d certainly suggest visiting before the exhibition closes.

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One of Hanna Husberg’s neon signs
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Laura Beloff & Jonas Jorgensen’s rotating Christmas trees
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Lawrence Malstaf’s combination of traditional origami and 3D scanning

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The Historical Experience: Benjamin Franklin House

A narrow Georgian townhouse at the back of Charing Cross train station has been standing since 1730, provided lodgings for Benjamin Franklin (face on the $100 bill, Founding Father of the United States, scientist, diplomat, inventor of unusual musical instruments and more!) for sixteen years between 1757 and 1775, and has been a museum since 2006. To enter, visitors ring the doorbell much like you are paying a visit to someone’s home, are led along a corridor of original wooden floorboards and panelling, and down the stairs to the basement where the ‘Historical Experience’ begins… a small orientation room comprising information boards, an artefact display cabinet, and even human remains from the anatomy school which also operated from the building help introduce you to the House. After a short video, Polly (the landlady’s daughter and close friend of Franklin whilst he was lodging at the House) leads visitors to the Kitchen where flagstone flooring, a Victorian cooking stove, and views of the sunken basements are cleverly integrated with projections and voices that Polly continues to interact with throughout the House to help tell its’ stories. Visitors are then led upstairs to the Landlady’s Parlour, Card Room and finally Franklin’s Parlour – all complete with authentic features from the floorboards, to the shutters on the windows, marble fireplaces, and even the green paint on the walls specially mixed to match flecks of the original paint revealed through spectro-analysis. Typically I find costumed interpretation horribly uncomfortable, however it is immediately obvious that this House employs a professional actress and provides a theatrical ‘experience’ executed to a high standard. Likewise, the fact that it is largely unfurnished lends itself to this type of visitor offering, and it was refreshing to focus on the original features rather than trying to navigate your way through a cluttered house full of replica furnishings.

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