Architecture / Culture
BIG designs Flugt museum in Denmark to tell the stories of past and present refugees
Located at the site of Denmark’s largest refugee camp from World War II, the museum captures the universal challenges, emotions, spirit, and stories shared by displaced humans.
8 Aug 2022

At its peak, the camp in Oksbøl became the fifth-largest city in Denmark at the time. Today, little of it remains, but the story of arriving at the doorstep of a new country is as relevant as ever. 

Together with engineers, Ingeniør’ne, and exhibition designers, Tinker Imagineers, BIG has adapted and extended one of the camp’s few remaining structures — a hospital building — into a 1,600 m2 museum. Flugt is the architecture firm’s second museum for Vardemuseerne, a local institution dedicated to archaeology, dissemination, and collection of historical knowledge about the region in southwestern Jutland, close to the city of Esbjerg and the German border.

— Flugt will share and uncover the stories of the largest refugee camp in Denmark as well as the story of the lived refugee experience of our time. It seeks to give a voice and a face to humans who have been forced to flee their homes and capture the universal challenges, emotions and nuances shared by refugees then and today, says Claus Kjeld Jensen, museum director.

The former hospital, now transformed into Flugt, is comprised of two long buildings. BIG has connected them architecturally and historically by adding a soft curve-shaped volume which brings 500 m2 of additional space to the museum and creates a welcoming structure, visible from afar. The curve is gently pulled towards the street to create an inviting arrival moment for the visitors. Clad in Corten steel, the structure goes well together with the red bricks of the older buildings. From outside, the abstract volume welcomes visitors into what appears to be a closed entry hall. Upon entering, a floor-to-ceiling curved glass wall reveals a view of a sheltered green courtyard and the forest, where the refugee camp used to be. The courtyard lets light flow into the entry hall that functions as a lobby or a temporary exhibition space for guests to experience before continuing their journey into one of the museum wings.

— The Refugee Museum of Denmark explores an important part of our history and a theme that is more relevant than ever, with millions of refugees currently displaced from their homes. We have designed an architectural framework that connects the past with the present, with a new building directly shaped by its relationship to the historic hospital buildings of the WWII refugee camp. We went into this project with all our heart to address one of the world’s greatest challenges — how we welcome and care for our fellow world citizens when they are forced to flee, says, Bjarke Ingels, founding partner BIG.

In addition to preserving and reusing the hospital buildings for historical value, extending the lifespan of the existing structures supports the firm’s mission of reducing waste, conserving resources, and creating a smaller carbon footprint as it relates to materials manufacturing and transport.

— From the very beginning of the design process, it was vital for us and Vardemuseerne to preserve the two hospital buildings. The buildings are some of the last remaining physical manifestations of the former refugee camp, and not only is their preservation invaluable for future generations to understand the past and the present, but the buildings also directly informed our design of the extension by means of their unique elongated form, structure and materiality. Flugt is a great example of how adaptive reuse can result in sustainable, functional buildings that preserve our shared history while standing out architecturally, BIG’s project leader Frederik Lyng adds.