Historic Osram Building Reopened as a Cultural Centre

The building which once housed a business success story has been resurrected as a well-lit cultural centre in Nørrebro, Copenhagen, following a major renovation.

You begin to sense the historic atmosphere as you approach the front door. The illuminated Osram bulb incorporated into the window above the attractive entrance signals a link to a piece of Danish history. The changing interplay of colours in the facade windows clearly indicates that the building in Valhalsgade has undergone a renewal, with the modern use of lighting playing a key role.

The experience of good lighting is amplified when you step into the stairwell, which has delicately preserved the soul of the building. It has been carefully restored, retaining a number of original details. Daylight streams in from above through the large window featuring the Osram bulb. The concrete staircase, with its attractive wrought iron railing, winds elegantly up to the first floor. Halfway up one encounters two original, symmetrically positioned, mahogany cupboards in which various historical artefacts from the building are displayed. The lighting fixtures are a good match for the room, mixing modern technology and a classic design. Discus wall lights, designed by Arne Jacobsen, emphasize the direction of the stairs. The circular shade of mouth-blown opal glass emits soft, diffuse light in the stairwell. Six Munkegaard ceiling lights, also designed by Arne Jacobsen, cap off the room lighting. Both fixtures were designed just a few years after the Osram building was opened in 1953 and therefore belong to the same epoch.

The historic Osram building reopened as a cultural centre following extensive renovation which included a new lighting system and a number of energy saving initiatives. Renovations were under way when the building was highlighted as a place to visit during the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. A number of private companies became inspired by the cause, and VELUX, Osram, Louis Poulsen, Rockwool, VELFAC, Danfoss and Windowmaster teamed up to support the project. The result is a very functional building with many advanced light and energy solutions. The lighting system was designed and supplied by Louis Poulsen and Targetti.

The Osram building reflects a life’s work linked to energy, and its exciting history deserves some attention. Søren Madsen, an enterprising gentleman from Jutland, Denmark, began his career as an electrical engineer in 1923. Ten years later he entered into an agreement with the Danish Prime Minister, Thorkild Stauning, to supply lighting to the Danish government. Stauning wanted to maintain Danish jobs during the 1930’s depression, and one of the ways to do so was to support production of incandescent bulbs. Søren Madsen and Philips jointly acquired the Danish division of the German Osram company, establishing “Dansk Osram A/S” in 1946. The company then grew to become one of Denmark’s largest light bulb manufacturers. Following World War II, when the business was booming, Søren Madsen built the characteristic administration building in Valhalsgade, designed by architect K. Wiedermann Petersen.

The Osram building therefore represents a piece of Danish business history, but the building has been preserved today due to the advanced construction techniques employed. It was the first building in Denmark to be constructed using “shock concrete” – a method devised in the Netherlands whereby the concrete is shaken forcefully, giving the concrete elements a dense, uniform structure. It was also the first building in Denmark where prefabricated elements were installed at the site. The very durable shock concrete allowed the architect to express his creativity in the design of the facade elements. The window elements on the ground floor have been decorated using diagonal concrete bands across the entire facade, which contribute to the building’s characteristic and rhythmic appearance. The 120 cm wide concrete elements made it possible to fit 80 cm wide windows – which was epoch setting in 1953. Large windows meant that the building was – and still is – flooded with daylight.

The Osram building serves as a cultural centre today, and forms part of an urban renewal project. The building contains a number of multifunctional rooms, including a large ballroom on the first floor. There has been a focus on energy efficiency during renovation of the building, with the result that energy consumption has been reduced by over 60 per cent. One of the initiatives was to divide the ground floor into two zones. The activity rooms represent one zone, which is heated in the winter. These are accessed via a corridor along the windows, which is only partially heated. However, the most striking aspect of the renovations is clearly the lighting, which consists of a number of functional solutions implemented throughout the entire building. LEDs have also been used as a decorative and playful lighting element in several places.

An extra glass entrance has been built beside the original entrance, which is used for major events. Two blue LED bands – supplied by Targetti – have been recessed into the entrance floor, guiding visitors in a striking and mood-setting manner. A star canopy has been created in the two-storey hall to the left of the stairwell using LED spots supplied by Osram. Elegant Censius ceiling lights have been used in almost all rooms as general lighting. Censius, designed by Christian Hvidt, employs the latest lighting technology. A specially developed optical system consisting of micro-prismatic panels, a top reflector and a thin screen creates comfortable, 100% glare-free lighting, which combines direct and indirect light. It is also possible to play with colours in the large ballroom on the first floor. LED bands in RGB (red, green, and blue) colours have been fitted on the tie beams under the roof windows. The LEDs can be set to oscillate across the entire colour spectrum – and change to neutral white when all the colours are lit. The light system can be connected to the sound system on dance nights, so the light follows the music. For a cultural centre, which aims to serve everyone, this system has the advantage that the deaf can participate at dance events together with people who can hear.

LEDs have also been positioned at regular intervals in the window recesses along the ground floor of the main facade. The LED lights are switched on when there are events in the building, and the coloured
lighting can be set to oscillate between any desired hues. The Osram bulb above the main door emits a golden glow into the twilight, recalling the building’s notable past. In contrast, the LED lighting streaming out through the diagonal concrete patterns in a rainbow of colours proclaims the building’s new role, and that everyone is welcome to come inside.

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13 Jan