NaturBornholm in Aakirkeby, Denmark by Henning Larsen

Popularized by Herzog and DeMeuron in their design of the Domus Winery in California's Napa Valley, gabions - wire containers filled with stones - have long been used in engineering, particularly in rivers. Their use in the winery and in Henning Larsen's NaturBornholm in Aakirkeby, Denmark, the effect is aesthetic instead of practical, artistic instead of engineered. The former uses larger stones above smaller stones to reverse the common perception of mass, that larger and heavier objects should be closer to the ground and smaller and lighter objects above. But since the larger stones allow more light to enter between them, they appear lighter, and vice-versa with the smaller stones. At the NaturBornholm, though, the use of gabions is related to the building and its physical place rather than the building and its place in architectural tradition.

"At NaturBornholm the visitor should be able to sense the close connection between the cultural history and the nature of Bornholm," says the architect about the building. Here it is evident the physical, and therefore aesthetic, relationship of the building to its place is very important, as is the materiality that conveys this importance. Bornholm's status as Denmark's only rocky island, with its dramatic rocky shores and deep rock quarries, determines the use of gabions in the building's exterior. The building's simple rectangular form stands in opposition to the natural forms that cover the island, though relates to historical structures, particularly the 12th century Hammershus, a massive fortress with orthogonal, stone walls.

The focus of NaturBornholm extends far beyond the 10,000 years of human history on Bornholm, starting with the natural history of the island millions of years ago when dinosaurs inhabited the island. The museum features fossils found on the island, though more importantly the building's main circulation is designed as a "geological section" which attempts to give a sense of scale in time to the visitor. Aside from the stone of the building, which relates the island's natural features and man's use of these resources, wood is used to relate to the other natural feature of Bornholm: its forests. Used by peasants as a refuge from the Vikings, and as a site for the oldest royal castle of the Nordic region, the forests are an important aspect of the inhabitant's relationship to the island. The wood portions of the museum balance the stone portions, between heavy and light, and solid and transparent, that echoes the island's confrontational history.

The task of designing a museum devoted to exhibiting the cultural and natural history of a place is definitely not simple. In Bornholm, a place where the relationship between man and nature is strong, the task is one of expression; the expression of history through image and material. Two materials, stone and wood, reflect the primary physical make-up of the island, from its rocky shores and castles to its thick forests and their resource for the inhabitants. In the case of the NaturBornholm, the simple design and limited palette of materials is appropriate to its task. It does not try to overwhelm the visitor, instead it attempts to locate them in a time and a place to sense a connection to history, and hopefully foster a stronger connection to where we live.