pihlmann architects’ ÅBEN Brewery, Copenhagen

The historical context is represented through this pragmatic and analytical approach. Original features, both architectural and technical, figure in the design. Rails, drains, and other  archaeological layers have been exposed after years of being hidden behind later additions. Revealing these and then incorporating modern brewery equipment, the architects have woven the existing with the new in a non-hierarchical relationship, where each has a place in a symbiosis of the architectural and the technical.

With this project pihlmann architects has shown how places of production can be brought back into visibility, thereby enabling a greater consciousness of how the food (and drink) we consume is produced. Ultimately, with their sensitivity in creating subtle interventions, the architects have made an architecture that can be maintained, adjusted, and potentially repurposed for another function as part of a long-term future for the building.

A public bar at the front brings the finished beer to the customer. Suspended from the ceiling are 1,000-litre galvanised metal tanks, from which beer is dispensed directly by gravity through pipes. Surrounding the tanks is a stainless steel and security glass-clad counter, and the bar is furnished with tables and chairs formed of complementary metal and wood. Customers can see behind the bar to the glass collection area and brewing equipment: all have been carefully designed to be a clear and transparent system of production and consumption.    

The Meatpacking District is one of Denmark’s 25 designated  industrial monuments and enjoys special protection, with both the interior and exterior of this building listed. The transformation has left the building closer to its original state than it was beforehand. The objective was not to romanticise industrial aesthetics but to unfold rational and robust principles striving to streamline production.

The idea of having 1,000-litre vessels hanging from the ceiling was inspired by the existing butchers’ rails. The large fermentation vessels that catch your eyes as soon as you enter serve a crucial role in our production as well as creating more intimate spaces for guests. It has been a central principle for us to find solutions that preserve the original structure as much as possible and this, combined with the cycle of  our brewing processes, has been fundamental in how our ambitions have been brought to life.

The new brewery is so much more than a brewhouse behind glass windows. It defines a new customer experience.
Uwe Janssen, sales director, BrauKon

The existing geometry of the original chill hall has been retained as the basis for the transformation of the building into a contemporary, high-tech brewery. Reminders of its previous life remain, such as the infrastructure of the chill store’s heavy-duty metal rails – and this relationship between the architecture and technical installations runs as a theme throughout the design of the project. It is an honest approach taken by the architects, one in which careful analysis of the building’s history and the original spaces was vital for positioning and for minimising additions.

Throughout the scheme, the various sizes of galvanised metal tanks reflect the spaces, light and colours as you move through from front to rear. Owing to their considerable sizes and positions, they stand like architectural pillars, challenging the distinction between architectural and technical.


Working detail

Contrasting with the visual weight of the tanks, layers of light and slightly reflective acoustic curtains mark the transitions between the zones and add another reminder of the building’s history – here the curtains refer back to the semi-transparent plastic curtains used in spaces of meat production. In Denmark, about 30 per cent of a building renovation budget is allocated for M&E. At ÅBEN the architects have questioned why this layer is often hidden and not perceived as part of the architecture itself. It draws attention to how architecture might be repositioned in relation to the environmental and economic impact of the traditional back-of-house approach the Danish building industry has cleaved to for centuries: one in which production is conceived of as something to be kept out of sight and therefore out of mind.

Start on site  October 2021
Completion  October 2022
Gross internal floor area  950m2
Construction cost  Undisclosed
Architect pihlmann architects
Client  ÅBEN
Structural engineer Hjorth Rådgivende Ingeniører
Main contractor  Gjerulff & Lassen
Municipal council Københavns Ejendomme – Kødbyen
Cultural heritage authority The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces
Brewery planning, manufacturing and supply BrauKon
Steel works Fyns Smedejerns Trapper
Aluminium furniture maker Archival Studies
Laminated timber furniture maker Standard Practice
Ventilation GK Ventilation
Sanitary installations Børge Hansen
CAD software used  AutoCAD, Rhino


As a supplier of customised brewing systems BrauKon works with many breweries around the world and we have been involved with many restaurant projects with integrated breweries. But the concept for the ÅBEN Brewery & Tank Bar was unique.

The curtain system is attached to the catwalk’s sides and lighting is mounted beneath. While their functionality is the main purpose, the catwalks are integrated to emphasise the architectural potential of the space. They hang from the loadbearing concrete beams at the base of the sawtooth roof, highlighting the rhythm of the space, while also establishing a more intimate zone beneath and providing different spatial settings for the guests. In short, the steel catwalks are a condensation of the overall ideas permeating the project: functional, utilising the existing, contributing to the overall characteristics as a technical necessity while also becoming a spatial installation.
Søren Pihlmann, CEO and founder, pihlmann architects

Project data

The latest brewing technology is combined with energy recovery systems to reduce the energy  and water demand and carbon footprint, compared with conventional breweries.


Architect’s view

Built in an historical area of Copenhagen once known for its industrialised food production, ÅBEN Brewery is a case study of how retrofit can help bring production back into cities. Through its renovation, the architects have preserved the essence of a place originally designed as part of a food production infrastructure that for centuries processed and distributed meat to Denmark’s capital city.


Specialist’s view


Client’s view

Simultaneously, it aims to challenge the contemporary idea of a factory, which focuses on maximising productivity. By recognising all the technical installations – which make up most of the project – as spatial installations, we sought to explore the architectural potentials of the original facility in tandem with modern means of production.
Søren Pihlmann, CEO and founder, pihlmann architects

A dark red flooring finish covers the entire sequence of spaces, adding a welcoming warmth to the hard industrial materiality and a less-than-subtle nod to the slaughterhouse legacy of the building.

The qualities of the original hall are emphasised by the rational positioning of the brewing apparatus, defining the spatial layout and ambience. Adding as little as possible is not only a cultural and environmental strategy, it allows the industrial legacy to materialise as the brewing apparatus is accompanied by nothing but unfussy furniture and the stripped-down space.

Despite a thorough retrofit of the existing building, that legacy of production remains. Where once hundreds of carcasses of slaughtered animals were hung, there now operates a modern beer brewery that is open to the public to visit, experience the production process and sample the beer.

The transformation highlights two interrelated flows. While the beer being produced becomes increasingly ‘finished’ from back to front of the building, as a rational line of production, the spaces become exponentially pure and comprehensible as industrial facilities as the guest moves on the journey towards the origin and raw ingredients. There is a pragmatic logic to this, as the project is first and foremost planned according to production principles.

Continuing through from the front bar, stepped ceiling heights modulate the  scale of the different steps in the brewing process while letting in natural light through sawtooth rooflights – another characteristic feature of the Meatpacking District. From the bar, the scale steps up and almost doubles in each zone, eventually ending at the rear, where raw ingredients enter the building to be deposited in 8,000-litre tanks.

Today, the space welcomes people from morning to night. Early on weekdays you smell the sweet aroma of freshly brewed wort; you hear the pumps humming and see the brewers working their magic. We wanted the experience to be authentic and true to the fact that we are a production brewery and not a restaurant with a brewery. All the equipment is left out in the open for the guest to see and sit in between. It has become a social hub, bringing people together in an industrial setting with production at its core.
Philip Hulgaard, founder and CEO, ÅBEN

Upon entering via the bright blue doors of the street façade, these details begin to unfold as part of a comprehensive system. The sense of a production facility is immediately conveyed by the scale of the interior spaces. These are designed as a sequence of zones, each representing a stage in the making of beer.

This is not only environmentally responsible, but it can also inspire a critical approach to how architects challenge the inherent separation between architecture and its technical requirements in the future. They have demonstrated how both these often-separate aspects of a scheme based around production can be brought together with the careful renovation of historical, industrial buildings, creating alluring and well-crafted spaces.
Christine Bjerke is an architect, writer and design tutor based in Copenhagen

From the start, the ambition was to create a brewery experience and the ÅBEN Brewery and Tank Bar is the beating heart of this vision. Many of the building’s unique attributes are once again brought into use.

Pihlmann architects’ approach here repositions the hierarchy of architectural and technical layers and shows how they can be heavily interconnected in buildings. By making visible the realm of production, the guest is invited to experience how both production and consumption can occupy a space on equal terms. It is an approach that architect Søren Pihlmann has been exploring since he founded the practice with Norwegian architect Kim Lenschow in 2014.

It is an extraordinary concept of integrating restaurant visitors into the fermentation area of a state-of-the-art production brewery installed in a listed building – and realised by a team of architects bringing aesthetics and function into perfect harmony. We designed a custom installation bringing maximum performance to the limited space. Precise planning and 3D simulations made it possible to use every inch.

The custom-made catwalks are essential to the project. As with every other applied element, the main purpose is functional; they are a necessary part of production and used daily by the brewers to access the top hatch of the fermentation tanks, as well as servicing the various installations. Made of galvanised steel, they are robust and emphasise the industrial characteristics of the space.

The beer runs through seemingly endless lengths of stainless steel pipes and this, too, has become a key piece of the design. Through careful interpretation of original details, the renovation offers a reading of the brewery equipment as a natural continuation of the building’s original use. This contextualisation is visible in a range of different elements, especially through the choices of durable materials, inspired by those found in the building. Specification of industrial materials such as hardwearing tiles, stainless steel and security glass strengthen this interweaving of old and new.

The approach also challenges how certain aesthetic preferences have often predominated in Danish architecture – and suggests they are no longer sustainable. The scheme is far from the typical tabula rasa modernistic approach often undertaken. Rather it is one where, through careful and pragmatic choices, one can create spaces in which design intervention is questioned more and tries to intrude as little as possible.

ÅBEN is situated in a part of the listed Meatpacking District known for its white-coloured buildings. The area was established in the late 1870s, a period when the city was undergoing a programme of modernisation in response to an increase in population and challenges arising from various epidemics. The centralisation of meat production in this district enabled greater control of food production and better sanitation. The listed building that houses the brewery today dates from the early 1930s and sits in an area of transition where the oldest part of the district – largely of brown masonry – meets the more modern style of  white-rendered buildings with their characteristic blue window frames and doors.   

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