In 1964, construction stopped. Curtailed by an economic crisis, the new City Hall for the Swedish city of Uppsala opened at half of its intended scale. While the original design — by brothers Erik and Tore Ahlsén — envisioned a building organized around a vibrant interior courtyard, plans were hastily amended to reflect more modest means, with the skeleton of the building capped as an L-shape, leaving behind an undefined, exposed void that soon became a parking lot instead of a social space. Almost 60 years later, however, architects Henning Larsen have returned to finish the job — and then some.
For the Danish design firm, the new design was rooted in respect for fulfilling the Ahlsén brothers’ original vision. On a practical level, the City Hall’s expansion was driven by a complementary need to create more office space for municipal staff, elected officials and affiliates. (Fortunately, the building’s 1964 “completion” was executed with an eye to accomodate a future retrofit and expansion).
Filling out the L-shaped form to create a new enclosed courtyard, the expansion added some 14,000 square metres, more than doubling the size of what is now a 25,000-square-metre complex. But while Henning Larsen were committed to the aspiration of the original 1960s Uppsala plan, the architects also introduced a harmonious — yet clearly distinct — aesthetic language alongside the mid-century design.
To bridge the gap between old and new, Henning Larsen took inspiration from the increasingly influential Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi. It’s an ethos exemplified by the tradition practice of repairing ceramics and pottery in a manner that emphasizes joinery, making the repaired cracks — often emphasized with gold dust — a visual focal point. The designers translated the practice to the architectural scale, using a vivid band of submarine glass to delineate between old and new.
While the sleek curtainwall draws a boundary line, the ordered grid of Henning Larsen’s fenestration makes the new wing a coherent addition to Uppsala’s municipal hub. Across the exterior, a consistent visual rhythm of datum lines and rectilinear window boxes plays out across both facades. And inside? The vision of an interior courtyard has been artfully realized, with a generous enclosed space envisioned to serve as Uppsala’s grand public living room.
Here, the building’s civic nature was also a guiding design principle. “A town hall is a physical manifestation of our democracy in the sense that it brings elected officials and citizens together,” says Jacob Kurek, Global Design Director at Henning Larsen. “To reflect on this and at the same time build on the original vision of the town hall, we have designed a courtyard where citizens are invited right into the heart of the town hall.”
Topped by a 700-ton skylight roof, the courtyard is animated by a café and restaurant, as well as a wealth of seating and greenery. A range of public services are also clustered at the street level, allowing for ease of access and navigation. At the heart of the space, a vivid white volume houses the council chambers and assembly hall. Framed by translucent perforated facade and surrounded by citizens, it’s a manifestation of democracy with a consciously public face.