An unlikely upgrade
Because of budget deficits, the Aarhus Studenterhus traded its spacious seaside address for a spot in a campus basement. The post-move consensus: the new place is better.
Like many a university student, the Aarhus Studenterhus has had two homes in less than a year.
The first was a stately brick building by the harbour, a stone’s throw from the downtown riverside. With windows overlooking the sea and walls covered in ivy, one could imagine royalty residing within.
“The facilities are the most awesome in the whole town,” says Bjarke Hal, an Aarhus University student who has worked for Studenterhus for five years. “It was a really cosy place. The old building was extraordinary.”
The new locale is far less extraordinary. Located on Nordre Ringgade just north of campus, it shares real estate with a university bookstore. The bar is in the basement – hence, no seaside panoramas – and while there is space for live music, the concert hall doubles as a cafeteria.
At a glance, the new address is an obvious downgrade. But buried beneath the charm of that old castle there are reasons why Studenterhus wouldn’t move back even if it could.
There was a price tag – a big one – for the ambiance of the old Studenterhus. According to Studenterhus Director Anne Thorø Nielsen, the annual rent was several millions in Danish Kroner. Even with funding from the municipa-
lity and private sponsors, the costs were prohibitive.
“There were a lot of activities that we wanted to do but couldn’t do because of financial pressure,” Thorø Nielsen says.
Compounding the money issue was the fact that, well, students weren’t really going to Studenterhus. The building may have looked like something from a postcard, but it didn’t inspire much attendance.
It was, after all, slightly off the beaten path, over some train tracks and so close to the piers that you were as likely to bump into a sailor as you were a student. “The problem was that it was too far away from everything,” Hal says. “The facilities were great but people didn’t just stop by. If you came to the student house back then, it was for a specific concert or a specific event. It was simply too far away.”
On the move
The budget deficits were hard to justify seeing as few students were using the joint. So with high costs and low use, the board of the Studenterhus decided last summer to move.
Aarhus University offered to accommodate Studenterhus in its current location (with a significantly lower rent), but that posed a new problem: Studenterhus isn’t an Aarhus University thing – it’s an Aarhus thing.
Even though Aarhus University has about 75 percent of the city’s estimated 40,000 students, Thorø Nielsen and the board were worried that putting Studenterhus on campus would turn off students from the Engineering College of Aarhus, the Royal Academy of Music, and so on.
“We’re supposed to be this trans-education thing where all schools feel like we’re their house,” Thorø Nielsen says. “But if the alterative was closing down, then it’s better to have 75 percent of the people use it and then focus on getting the message through to the remaining 25 percent that it’s also their house.
Improving by moving
And the message got through. In fact, moving Studenterhus to AU’s campus revealed something about the old location: It was too neutral.
“It was so much no one in parti-
cular’s house that it really ended up being no one in particular’s house,” Thorø Nielsen says. “What’s happened now that we’re on campus is that students from other schools have become much more adamant about making their mark on the house as well. The fact that we made it not so neutral made it much more explosive in a good way.”
Jeppe Høj Christensen can attest to this. He is a student at VIA University College in Aarhus, which has about 7,000 students. He has helped plan VIA events at Studenterhus, and he says that while people were wary of the new location at first, it has spurred other schools to stake their claim.
“When it moved, I think some people thought it was a university thing,” Christensen says. “A lot of students are just starting to realise that it is available for everyone, and I think it could be a really cool place for all the students in Aarhus.”
Indeed, it’s already becoming such a place. Thorø Nielsen says that a party or concert at the old location would draw maybe 300 people, max. Now she says that getting 600 students on a given night is no big deal.
“It’s really amazing,” Thorø Nielsen says. “The rent’s gone down, and the number of people using the house has gone way up.”