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Old Stock Exchange fire: Art rescue and building damage assessment continues

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Overview of the Old Stock Exchange fire

On Tuesday 16 April, a severe fire inflicted extensive damage on Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange, one of the city’s most historic buildings dating back to 1615.

The fire, which occurred during renovation works on the building’s roof, led to the collapse of its notable dragon-tail spire and destroyed about half of the structure.

Fortunately, there were no reported injuries, although the event prompted an urgent response to salvage invaluable artworks within the building.

Efforts to control the fire

The initial blaze prompted a swift mobilisation of citizen volunteers, officials, and firefighters who worked together to evacuate priceless items from the building.

Mikkel Jensen, a witness to the aftermath, expressed his dismay, noting, “This is sad, so sad,” as he observed the remnants of the structure.

Despite the challenges, many significant artworks, including the 1895 painting “From Copenhagen Stock Exchange” by P.S. Krøyer, were successfully rescued.

Rebuilding plans underway

The Danish Chamber of Commerce, the building’s owner, has committed to restoring the iconic landmark.

“It will rise again,” asserted Morten Langager, the chamber’s manager.

Brian Mikkelsen, head of the chamber, echoed this sentiment, stating that the building would be rebuilt “no matter what.”

The extensive renovation plans were well-documented, providing a solid foundation for the reconstruction efforts, which are estimated to take up to a decade and could cost billions of kroner.

Historical significance and community impact

The Old Stock Exchange, known for its distinctive 56-meter spire composed of four intertwined dragon tails, is a prominent example of the Dutch Renaissance style and a key historical feature in Copenhagen.

The loss of the spire was particularly poignant for the community, reminding many of the Notre Dame fire in 2019.

The incident has led to significant disruptions, including the closure of nearby government offices due to lingering smoke, with employees advised to work from home.

Risks of renovation in historic structures

Ed Lewis, a UK-based expert on the restoration of historic buildings, commented on the vulnerabilities of such structures during renovations: “Renovation exposes these old monumental landmarks. You’ve got heavy timber structures that are hundreds of years old, dry as a bone,” he said.

“It’s the nearest thing we’ve got to a tinderbox, just waiting for a spark. Then you introduce the human element.”

Comparative vulnerabilities and learning opportunities

The incident has drawn comparisons to other significant fires in European heritage sites like Notre-Dame and Windsor Castle.

Ingval Maxwell, a Scottish consultant in architectural conservation, as reported in the Financial Times, noted the inherent risks in older buildings: “Historic buildings are highly vulnerable to fire.

“There are a lot of interlinked voids across the building itself, particularly in roof spaces, which means the fire can spread quickly,” he explained.

Maxwell also highlighted that daily, approximately one historic building worldwide is damaged by fire.

International collaboration and prevention strategies

In response to the fire, Copenhagen officials plan to collaborate with their Parisian counterparts to learn from the restoration of Notre-Dame.

This partnership aims to explore how such restoration efforts can also rejuvenate broader urban areas.

Meanwhile, Mads Damsbo, head of Christiansborg Palace, likened the structure of Børsen to “having an oven going on with the fire inside it,” emphasising the challenges in protecting such buildings.

Reflection on fire safety and historical loss

The fire has reignited discussions about fire safety measures in historic buildings, particularly the need for effective fire detection and prevention systems.

“Effectively, there was no fire sprinkler system because nobody wanted to see one on such a historic building. The fire got away before they could contain it.

“You do wonder if it could have been avoided,” Lewis added, reflecting on past incidents.

The extensive damage has prompted calls for better protection of heritage sites, an issue underscored by the destruction of irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Centuries-old artworks rescued

Art conservators are currently assessing the damage to centuries-old paintings that were hurriedly rescued from the fire at Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange earlier this week.

The National Museum of Denmark confirmed on Thursday that, despite the extensive damage to the building, many valuable artworks were saved thanks to the efforts of passersby, firefighters, soldiers, and conservators.

Efforts to save cultural heritage

As flames engulfed the historic 400-year-old building on Tuesday, quick-thinking individuals dismounted their bicycles to assist in the emergency evacuation of the artworks.

“It had to be fast,” said Nina Wajman, a curator at the National Museum of Denmark.

“Firefighters wearing smoke helmets and soldiers from the Royal Life Guards managed to retrieve numerous paintings, some from the parts of the building still in flames.

“The artworks were then loaded onto trucks for safety. “They might not have done it in the way an art expert would, but that’s minor, I think,” Wajman noted.

Challenges and damages to the rescued artworks

Wajman personally entered the building to ensure the rescue of a significant oil portrait of Christian IV, the 17th-century Danish king responsible for the building’s construction.

This portrait, along with others, was threatened by the fire and water damage, and some suffered tears from being hastily removed from the walls.

These rescued items have now been transferred to a depot of the National Museum where conservators are diligently working to assess the overall damage and identify any missing pieces.

Community and professional involvement

The rescue efforts were not without their challenges.

Jakob Vedsted Andersen, head of the fire department in greater Copenhagen, highlighted the dilemma faced by the emergency services: “We had great focus on the valuables inside the building.

“But the problem was that I needed all my firefighters to contain the fire as long as we could,” he said.

Consequently, assistance was sought from the community, including employees of the nearby Danish Chamber of Commerce and locals like Klavs Lockwood who were quick to lend a hand.

“These paintings were very big and heavy, so I quickly offered my help,” Lockwood recalled, noting the visible damage to one of the paintings he helped carry.

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