Dissing+Weitling and town-hall architecture

May 1, 2020

For decades, Dissing+Weitling have been working with this architectural genre, continuing our legacy in the area from Arne Jacobsen and adapting his solutions to the needs of modern users.

  • Town halls are an interesting testament to how, over time, we have organised our society, perceived democracy, and not least to the interplay between government and citizens. In municipalities, town halls have had important functions to coordinate local administrations, and they have usually manifested themselves as pompous constructions, signifying a certain distance between the town authorities and the ‘masses’. In recent times, the ornate or powerful design expression - the towers, clocks, heavy portals and other features - have changed into open, community-hall-like town halls, where culture, business, health and administration fuse together.

    The legacy

    Dissing+Weitling’s contribution to modern town-hall history can trace its roots back to its predecessor Arne Jacobsen and his firm, who among other things were behind the iconic Aarhus Town Hall, Rudersdal Town Hall, and later also Rødovre Town Hall, Glostrup Town Hall and Mainz Town Hall in Germany. These are all examples of the new architect-designed municipal buildings of the welfare society that came to light in earnest in Denmark around the 1960s. They are functional buildings for the public, built of good materials and with clean lines.

  • Dissing Weitling Rathaus Maintz
    Mainz Town Hall in Germany.
  • The town hall of today

    Today, municipalities typically describe what they want from new or renovated town halls using words such as ‘open’, ‘welcoming’, ‘flexible’, ‘public-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’; words reflecting democratic core values and which signal public service on the public’s terms. This trend is also clear in three current tendering procedures for Vordingborg Town Hall, Rødovre Town Hall and Hjortespring Town Hall: all the words are included in the tendering materials and they illustrate that a town hall today is about equality and the right balance between administration and public service, between internal and external functions. In recent years, town-hall architects have also become skilled at designing flexible and multifunctional spaces to meet requirements for non-municipal functions, such as businesses or housing, to help secure a financial foundation for the new building.

  • Aarhus Raadhus AJ Drawing Kunstbib
    The first sketches of the town hall did not have the traditional tower, and this met so much public protest that Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller had to add a tower and clock.
  • Glostrup town hall

    Several of Dissing+Weitling’s town-hall projects reflect these democratic developments, with the public in focus and with transparent and warm materials to invite users closer to the municipality engine room. One example is Glostrup Town Hall, which has been through Dissing+Weitling’s offices several times. Dissing+Weitling designed a conversion and refurbishment of the ground floor of Arne Jacobsen’s 1958 building, including a reception, a room for undisturbed meetings, and a new entrance for the Glostrup citizen service centre. The rooms and functions on the ground floor are open and flexible and they were designed taking into account all the users’ needs; citizens as well as staff.

  • Dissing Weitling dragør rådhus exterior view dw
    Dragør town hall.
  • "Town halls are microcosms of the welfare society, and how the welfare society wants to help us."

    Pablo Llambias, author

  • Now, the question is, what about town halls in the future? What framework is needed in an age when municipal tasks are digitalised, the administration’s work and decisions are transparent, and citizen services are expected to be easy, efficient and open 24 hours a day?

    At Dissing+Weitling, partner and architect Daniel Hayden is in no doubt that municipal citizen service centres and administrations will continue to need brick and mortar in the future:

    “Municipal administrations will still have to meet us in person, even though digitalisation has clearly changed a lot and made many trips to the town hall unnecessary. Actually, I think that we will become more quality conscious as citizens and more critical, with less blind faith in the service we experience. This also applies in relation to the space in which we are received by the public sector. I believe that experiences of care and attentiveness are crucial in a time where so many services take place at a distance. As architects, we can make sure that a framework is an inviting, functional and comfortable place to be, irrespective of whether we work there every day, or just drop by now and again. We are also concerned that the architecture and design are of a quality that can be ‘recycled’ or ‘transformed’ when new user needs arise.”