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Lighting up Nikolaj Kunsthal & Square

Creating a new way for audiences to engage with light art in public space.

The project

The overall aim of the project is to create a lighting design for Nikolaj Square in the centre of Copenhagen. The lighting project aims to provide a new way for audiences to engage with light art in public space after hours. The church building and other buildings on the square are listed as protected cultural heritage so the lighting design must pay attention to current regulations. The lighting design should also aim to meet needs and concerns of residents and business on the square.


The project is initiated by Nikolaj Kunsthal, a contemporary art centre housed in the historical Saint Nicholas Church on the square, which is also part of the larger organisation History & Art funded by the City of Copenhagen.

What the project aims to solve

The project aims to meet and solve the following goals and complex challenges:

Engaging with the public
In line with Nikolaj Kunsthal’s overall strategy as an experimental, yet accessible contemporary art centre the project should offer passers-by on the square the opportunity to engage with an innovative art project after hours. Aiming for the highest artistic standards, the lighting design should increase the awareness of the art centre’s activities and profile to citizens and visitors to the city.

Respecting the context
As Nikolaj Kunsthal’s building and most of the surroundings are listed as protected, the project must point to new flexible ways of lighting up buildings and squares in Copenhagen’s historical city centre while respecting current regulations. Nikolaj Square is home to residential apartments, businesses and offices, so the lighting design must take into account possible negative effects such as light trespass and glare. The aim is to create a flexible project which gains the support of these important stakeholders. At night, Nikolaj Square has limited official street lighting which gives rise among residents and business owners to concerns over unwanted behaviour. The project could ideally help solve challenges to safety at street level. In addition, the project could potentially reduce litter and therefore reduce the level of daily maintenance and cleaning needed on the square.

While Nikolaj Square is a relatively peaceful location, parts of the square (including the church building) are at times over-lit by commercial signage systems from the nearby high street. The project should avoid increasing constant light clutter. Instead the goal will be to maintain and possibly enhance the idea of the square as a respite or place of contemplation. In line with the City of Copenhagen’s strong focus on sustainability the project must employ environmentally friendly technologies.


Nikolaj Kunsthal & Nikolaj Square, central Copenhagen


Project was initiated during the summer of 2017, and launched in August. A detailed project will be developed in the first half of 2018 and implemented during the Summer.

Current status

Copenhagen’s History & Arts department is working close together with a team of students from the light designer education at Aalborg University to develop a detailed project. Residents of the area and users of the site will be involved in the development of ideas.

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