In the old days, people believed a city hall should affirm the power of municipal authorities and infuse citizens with awe via a monumental building with tall doors and a large hall as well as minimal interaction between the building and its surroundings. Fortunately, things have changed.
"A modern city hall must have the character of a community centre, where culture, business life, healthcare and administration fuse and profit via common facilities and locations", explains Louis Becker, Partner and Architect at Henning Larsen. Becker is responsible for several of the architectural firm’s city hall buildings in Denmark and abroad.
Louis Becker continues, "The city is a physical manifestation of the democracy in the sense that it reflects some contemporary currents and structures in society. Today that means city halls open and invite citizens into the municipal engine room. The administrative function is exposed and accessible, while the city council hall is utilised for purposes other than weekly city council meetings. In this way, everyone, regardless of age, gender and social background, receives free, equal access to democracy".
Transparency is key in the modern city hall buildings Henning Larsen is behind, from Ansbach in the south to Kiruna in the north. Becker lists Middelfart City Hall, which is planned to open in late summer of 2017, as an example of a good city hall. In Middelfart, travellers can look directly into the city council hall as they cross the Little Belt Bridge. Conversely, the local city folks and others who use the city council hall have tremendous views of the belt through the impressive panorama that connects the city hall with the surrounding city.
"Transparency must be understood on different levels, both literally and figuratively. In Middelfart, there’s a physical transparency in the shape of some glass sections that ensure the citizens’ as well as the politicians’ insight into each other’s everyday lives. But there’s also a transparency on an organisational level, where citizens get invited into the foyer at the heart of the city hall when they’re contacting the municipality. From here, the citizens can follow the municipal employees’ activities on the upper floors", says Louis Becker.
In Middelfart, we find another tendency that has affected city hall design in recent years. To combine functions, such as housing units and retail, adds to the economical sustainability of the new buildings and offer the citizens more reasons to visit the town hall. In Kiruna in the northern parts of Sweden the city chose to integrate an arts museum into the new town hall. In Egedal, north of Copenhagen, the municipality combined a new town hall with a public health center, and so forth.
”The benefits of co-locating are manifold. Multiple functions ensure life and activity in and around the town hall throughout the day and the week – even after hours. The more incentives the citizens have to use the town hall and use its facilities, the greater ownership they feel to the new house. It means a lot to the cohesion of the local society and adds great value to democracy”, Louis Becker concludes.
Henning Larsen is currently working on city hall projects in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Faroe Islands, and Canada where the company recently won the competition to design the new 46,500-square-metre (500,000-square-foot) Etobicoke Civic Centre.