Denmark's fourth largest city looks to street art and design to reinvent its post-industrial future

The chimneys still puff on the blue sky of Aalborg, but it is art and architecture that make the difference in this city that grew up with factories and became the Northern European capital of street art, as well as a of other things.

"Until a few years ago, saying Aalborg meant going straight to the heart of the Danish industrial system", says Kenneth Pinsker of Aalborg Tours, which takes us to discover the fourth Danish city and its itineraries among gourmet bistros and power plants converted for leisure. In the nineties, the main local heavy industry companies were at home here.

The crises of the beginning of the century closed them or pushed them abroad. In the meantime, this dynamic city which the locals still call "the old port prostitute", has been able to engage with the future by exploiting two levers for which Denmark seems to have the world patent: education and design that transform a location into a destination.

On the table of Aktuel, the place a stone's throw from the central Budolfi Plads that serves the best smørrebrød in Jutland, an old article from the newspaper Information summarizes the meaning of a bet that seems won, albeit with some nostalgia: "Aalborg has become a better place, but will the city be able to maintain its working-class identity when the academics take over?".

We are not in Copenhagen or Aarhus: here, among the most recent architecture and the traditional, colorful and crooked houses of the center, among the most sought-after restaurants and hotels such as theMortens Kro Restaurant & Boutique hoteland a very young university, founded in 1974, the old, rocky working-class identity is something to still be proud of, even if from the 85 meters of the Aaron Portland tower, a multinational overlooking the sea that processes six thousand tons of cement a day, the skyline tells of a city increasingly projected towards tourism and culture.

The converted power plant and the university district

The symbol of Aalborg which has found a new future is undoubtedly Nordkraft, a twentieth century power station converted into a leisure hub in 2009. Theatre, music hall, sports centre: all in a building from the top of which you can admire the city changing its skin.

Across the street, the House of Music (Musikkens Hus), a "silver icon" designed by the Coop Himmelb(l)au studio and a meeting point for professionals and music lovers. A few steps away, the University founded in 1974 with its auditorium overlooking the waterfront. "The University is an extraordinary tool for growth for Aalborg" says Kenneth.

As the cost of living increases in the Capital, and even Aarhus starts to become challenging for a student, here they have understood that being competitive in the education market is the best way to attract talent and develop a growing economy around them.

Street art: an open-air museum

And, in fact, it is by looking at the younger audience that Aalborg has become the Northern European capital of street art in the space of a few years. In the streets of the center and on the outskirts there are now around a hundred murals, created with different techniques by some of the most esteemed artists on the world scene.

There is Smog, the Australian known for his photorealistic works sprayed onto walls. There is Agostino Iacurci with his Patio. Joe Iurato, on the other hand, created a hymn to imagination and adolescence with the stencil (Banksky's technique): the Good Boy equipped of backpack and cardboard roll ready to become binoculars and ready to go on adventure.

Even when it comes to urban art, in Denmark they leave nothing to chance. In fact, there are precise rules of engagement that galleries provide for artists: the former search for the location and cover the expenses, the latter must create works that have an appeal to the city.

The Utzoncentre and the Kunstemuseum of Alvar Aalto

There are two obligatory stops for design lovers. The Utzon Center is the last building designed by Jørn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House > whose fiftieth anniversary was celebrated in 2023 with an exhibition still open. Designed jointly with his son Kim, who provided the final drawings for the work to see the light in 2008, shortly after his father's death, the center was not created to be a museum, but as a place where students from nearby Architecture faculty can meet and discuss their ideas.

Utzon, a native of Aalborg, spent much of his time as a young man sailing on the Limjord near the pier where his father worked as a naval engineer, passing on to Jørn the passion for sailing that shines through in his architecture. Everything is Circulating, this dream drawing consists of a 500 meter long thread, bent by hand, suspended in space: a huge three-dimensional drawing, made by hand.

Until November 10, the center hosts the exhibition Everything Is Circulating by Suo Fujimoto. The Japanese architect played with wire by creating a single line of five hundred meters to depict the silhouette of people, buildings, landscapes and infrastructures of twelve of his projects.

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, however, is a construction designed by the great Alvar Aalto in collaboration with his wife Elissa and Jean-Jacques Baruël. Completed in 1972, the building is the only museum outside Finland designed by Aalto and houses, among others, works by Picasso, Le Corbusier, Chagall.

A little-known masterpiece in the production of the Finnish genius, the six thousand square meter building is made up of a sequence of parallelepipeds in concrete and wood superimposed in a pyramid configuration, chosen by Aalto to obtain maximum natural lighting in the internal rooms: to avoid damage the works, the light penetrates through windows and skylights, reflected and diffused by surfaces painted white or covered with light materials, such as Carrara marble which covers most of the floors in the exhibition rooms and common spaces.

Between 2014 and 2016 the museum was completely restored and renovated based on a project by the architectural firmC.F. Møller.

The pier equipped for trips out of town

There is no Danish city that in recent years has not invested in making proximity to water an opportunity for leisure. The Vestre Fjordpark, a few kilometers from the centre, is the equipped park where you can swim, go kayaking, read lying on the wooden platforms or discover the local fauna in the small, delightful center at the entrance of the area.