Kornets Hus | Reiulf Ramstad Architects

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Photography by Helene Høyer Mikkelsen and Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter

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A new centre for food and culture

Norwegian architect Reiulf Ramstad has created a new centre for food and culture, the Kornets Hus (Grain House), near the Danish town of Hjørring in North Jutland. Set amidst existing farmland, close to an established bakery, the Kornets Hus is designed as a celebration of wheat and grain, both in Danish culture and in human civilisation as a whole. The landscape around Hjørring is one of the cradles of Danish civilisation. Here, patterns of cultivation can be traced back 6,000 years, when Stone Age Danes re-shaped the landscape with fields of wheat, cutting back the tree cover for these new crops and planting natural windbreaks.

Ramstad’s design rises up above the landscape, fusing traditional agricultural vernacular forms with bold contemporary shapes. The surrounding fields are planted with display crops - as many as twenty different cereal varieties - grown to show the evolution of grain from the Stone Age through to modern wheat. At the heart of this golden tapestry is the Kornets Hus, designed by Ramstad and his team to be a physical and spiritual counterpoint to these vast open fields. The architect had hiked through this landscape prior to undertaking the design to ensure the building relates explicitly to place. It also recalled memories of Denmark from his childhood vacations. ‘As designers and people we tend to favour design that conceptualises place,’ Ramstad explains. ‘Every one of our projects has a singular destiny and story that adjusts to the surrounding social, economic and cultural conditions’.

The new building is a symmetrical structure that houses a single-storey open-plan space. The interior is bracketed by two soaring lightwells with faceted, triangular exteriors that evoke the traditional form of the baker’s kiln. ‘The main impact is when you enter,’ says Ramstad. ‘From a very intimate, small entrance hall you come through to this large L-shaped space and suddenly see the landscape from a different point of view – you don’t see any cars or buildings. Instead, you get a glimpse of an ancient agricultural panorama. You see the depth of the fields and the width of the sky.’ If the view out is like time travel, the interior of the new building is about establishing a strong sense of place and history, loaded with atmosphere. Describing his buildings as a ‘marriage of place and concept,’ the architect explains how the Kornets Hus tells the story of the region’s agriculture while also increasing general understanding of the origins of food. Form, light, space and material all combine to tell this story, from the warm wooden interiors that evoke piles of harvested grain to the unbroken natural views.

 

The atmosphere within the Kornets Hus evokes these shimmering gold fields. The wooden cladding on the walls and ceilings is grain-yellow oak, as are the dining tables and chairs. The beautifully designed kitchen and dining area are focal points of the interior, with baking courses that give a hands-on insight into the evolution of this most universal of all foods, bread.

Here Ramstad has specified a golden VOLA mixer tap in natural brass. ’I have known about VOLA since childhood,’ the architect says. ’I can still remember when I first specified a VOLA product. They have been with me my whole career as a great element, with a strong mechanical quality, as well as a visual quality. VOLA stands out as both original and beautiful, with timeless geometry. I like working with as few materials as possible.’

‘There is nothing as beautiful as in the late summer, just before the farmer harvests the grain, and the fields are that very warm, yellow colour. I associate it with bread and prosperity, something very positive,’ says Ramstad. The muted, earthy colours of the Kornets Hus exemplify Ramstad’s intentional palette. The external façades are clad in red tiles, which, the architect notes appropriately, have been ’well baked’. Despite the prominence of the two kiln-forms, the building is a functional, almost agricultural form in the landscape that does not detract from its surroundings.  Inside, the floors are formed from a cast concrete aggregate that incorporates local stones. ’It is my conviction that architecture must be anchored in its place, climate and atmosphere,’ the architect says. ’A building becomes part of a place and must be shaped accordingly.’

With offices in Norway and Denmark, Ramstad’s studio is internationally recognised for projects that have a strong integration with landscape, including the visitor centre at Norway’s iconic Trollstigen and viewing platforms on the Selvika National Tourist Route. Despite being high-performing contemporary structures, the sense of care and craft shines through. ’I sometimes think that technology has taken over,’ the architect muses, ‘but you can always learn from the forms of ancient architecture.’ This often requires careful design solutions, like the ventilation system hidden behind perforated bricks on the uniform facade of the Kornets Hus, or Ramstad’s preference for elemental, unadorned forms that weather and patinate with age.

’If something lasts for a long time then of course it is sustainable,’ he says, citing VOLA’s long-standing association with enduring quality. ’VOLA products are original, beautiful and timeless. They have a simple geometry and a limited number of shapes, just like my architectural approach,’ Ramstad says. ’I sometimes wish I could have sat down and smoked a pipe with Arne Jacobsen and talked about quality and proportions.’ The enduring power of simplicity creates design that resonates through the ages.

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