Phoenix or white elephant?

The future of Frederiksberg’s KB-Hallen is divided between those who would preserve it as a historic monument and those who would modernise it

A battle between the past and the future is brewing around the rebuilding of Copenhagen’s storied arena KB-Hallen.

Badly damaged by a violent fire in September that saw parts of the 3,000-seat complex burn completely to the ground, some experts said at that time that the structure could not be saved. Already suffering under the constraints of its status as a historic building before the fire, the building’s owners, the sporting association Kjøbenhavns Boldklub (KB), had hoped the blaze would allow it to carry out what it says is a necessary modernisation.


However, at a meeting in December, Det Særlige Bygningssyn, which identifies buildings for preservation, decided that KB-Hallen’s classification as a historic structure means that the Frederiksberg icon should be rebuilt.


While few would argue that the light-blue functionalist building that hosted the country’s first and only Beatles concert in 1964, as well as its first sex show in 1969, is of historic significance, those who used the building before the fire say that the constraints of a historical renovation will make the building all but unusable in the future.


The problem is one of historical accuracy. Should Det Særlige Bygningssyn get its way, KB would need to rebuild the building as closely as possible to architect Hans Hansen’s original 1938 designs, including the colours, materials, fixtures and entrances.


Community leaders and politicians alike have gone on record saying that the strict requirements would render the imposing structure on Peter Bangs Vej more of a museum than a modern event facility.


“If you return the hall to the way it looked when it opened in 1938, it will not meet the regulations for 2012,” said Frederiksberg mayor George Glenthøj. “The hall must meet today’s requirements.”


The city and the club are afraid that the commission’s suggestions will prevent KB-Hallen from hosting the calibre of rock concerts that have been a large part of the venue’s history since the 1950s. In addition to the Fab Four, the sounds of generations of musicians, ranging from the Rolling Stones to Lady Gaga, have echoed in the hall’s expanse.

Niels-Christian Holmstrøm, chairman of KB, said that even before the fire, the building’s age gave it increased trouble competing with newer venues.


“We needed more handicapped access, better concessions, bigger doors for loading equipment in and out, a better backstage area and modern changing rooms. We are worried about having to rebuild the building if it will cost many times as much to preserve designs from 1938 – before rock and roll was even invented.”


Holmstrøm said he wants KB Hallen to return as a modern arena with a main auditorium that can be adapted depending on the requirements of the show or arrangement.


In a message on the facility’s website dated December 21, Jørgen Holmen, the club’s general manager, said that KB had prepared a draft for the building commission that respects preservation but adds what he called “necessary features and regulatory requirements for the construction of a building the size of KB-Hallen”.


Holmen said KB-Hallen must meet 21st century environmental and energy standards, and that he was looking forward to “constructive discussions” with the building commission.

Professor Christopher Harlang, of Det Særlige Bygningssyn, said KB’s plans, however, would violate the history and integrity of the organisation’s building.


“It is our job to defend our national treasures. Those who own and use buildings don’t always agree with our decisions, but KB-Hallen is one of the most distinctive buildings of the early modern period, and we must take care to preserve it.”


Harlang believes that careful restoration of the venue’s original qualities will be a large part of its appeal.


Det Særlige Bygningssyn falls under the auspices of the Culture Ministry, and Michael Aastrup Jensen, an MP for Venstre, has asked the culture minister, Uffe Elbæk (Radikale), to explain the commission’s requirements.


“I cannot see the logic in rebuilding the building in such a way that it could no longer be used for the same types of activities it has been used for in the past,” said Jensen. “We need to see if the minister chooses an old-fashioned building or a new facility than can be enjoyed by sports and exhibition visitors. There is no sense in leaving KB with a building they cannot use.”


The Culture Ministry is expected to make a decision on the building commission’s recommendations in February. But rather than choosing a winner and a loser, representatives from the ministry said it hoped the two sides could come to a compromise.


“We’re not dogmatic,” Mogens A Morgen, of the Culture Ministry said, “I’m certain that this is going to be an exciting building that incorporates new functions, but it’s extremely important that it also maintains the spirit of the old KB-Hallen.”

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