Functionalism - apartment buildings in Copenhagen in the 1930s

Grønne Funkishus Nordre Fasanvej 78-82

 

In Copenhagen, in the apartment buildings in 1920s and 1930s, there is a clear change from the apartments that were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century. Plans became simpler, generally more compact and certainly more rational in their arrangement of the rooms and staircases and externally decoration was reduced or omitted completely. 

In the 19th century each building is different from the next, often with relatively ornate doorways, carvings and complex mouldings and, inside, the arrangement of the apartments was often dictated by a narrow plot with existing buildings on either side that determined where and how windows to the back could be arranged. Even within a building, there were often differences between one floor and the next in both ceiling heights and in the quality of fittings.

By the 1920s, because many of these new buildings were on new sites outside the old city, there is generally a greater sense of uniformity within larger and larger buildings. In this period, immediately after the First World War, there was a severe housing shortage and to a considerable extent the functionalism and the adoption of new building techniques was driven by a need to build as many apartments as possible and as quickly as possible.

And by 1930 there might be some apartments with one bedroom and some with two and occasionally some apartments with three or more bedrooms, even within a single building, but usually fittings in every apartment and the style and arrangement of common areas within one building were the same. In other words, apartment buildings were different in plan and style to apartments built just twenty years earlier but actually are very familiar and in many ways barely different from apartment buildings now - some eighty years on. 

 read more

Funkishuset

One of a series of guides published by Bygningskultur Danmark for the main periods of Danish architecture. This is an excellent overview of Funkis or functional architecture with photographs of many of the important houses and apartment buildings that survive but also with contemporary drawings, plans and cartoons. 

Pages of photograph set out examples and information about appropriate and inappropriate attempts at conservation and the book has good examples of fittings from the period, such as door handles and radiators and so on that may have been replaced in the houses and apartments that survive.

Funkishuset en Bevaringsguide, Jeanne Brüel, Bygningskultur Danmark (2014) ISBN 978-87-90915-94-0

Bygningskultur Danmark

 
 

when we get to the future

In 1927, the architects Arne Jacobsen and Flemming Lassen - exact contemporaries and old school friends - won a competition to design a House of the Future which two years later was constructed for the Housing and Building Exhibition at the Forum in Copenhagen. 

The exhibition hall itself was then a new building that had been completed in 1926 with the design by the architect Oscar Gundlach-Pedersen. He was sixteen or seventeen years older than Jacobsen and Lassen but, although he had trained at the time when national romantic architecture was fashionable and his first works were in that general style, he was interested in new materials and new building techniques and as early as 1922 published an article where he talked about buildings that use these new materials “that are not encumbered with tradition.”

read more

Sir …….... was this old fashioned when it was first new?

 

last summer, on certain days, steam trains were run on the line out from Copenhagen to Klampenborg for families heading off to to Bakken, the amusement park, and the beach at Bella Vista. These engines were used on this line through the late 20s and 1930s so if Arne Jacobsen, who lived first in Ordrup and then in Klampenborg, had come into town by train this is how he would have travelled. Realising that, there suddenly seemed to be an odd contrast between this technology and the clean, simple lines of Jacobsen's buildings. Not everything is modern at the same time ... or in the same way ... or at least not in retrospect

 

One summer, when I was still at university, I went back to the town where my parents lived and spent a month or so helping in the local museum, where I designed and made a few display cases for their loan collection that was sent around schools and I taught some school groups.

It was a new town … built under the New Town's Act as what was called an 'overspill' for London … a town for a bright new future, in bright new homes, as one way to replace the slums and bomb-damaged housing of the capital … or that was the plan. Through the 1950s and 60s the town spread rapidly across fields and open country to one side of a small but well-established market town that was on the main road from London to Edinburgh and had been there for well over a thousand years. Looking back, what was curious was that the newcomers had their own town centre and their own system of local government - a Development Corporation rather than a town council - their own new factories for new jobs - and few of the young couples who moved out from London had any interest in the old town. Most of their kids, the kids I taught in the museum, who were born in the town and by then in their early teens, had never even been into the old town.

For one group I was planning a walk along the old high street to point out ponds where, in the 18th century and probably earlier, cattle driven to market in London were watered for several days to gain a bit of weight after their long walk from either Wales or from Ireland before the last stage of the walk to the meat market and the same ponds were used to soak straw to make hat brims for the local hat-making industry in a nearby town. It was obvious the kids had little understanding of history or social history or any way of understanding why these things might be important - everything they knew about was less than twenty years old - so in the museum, where I could keep their attention rather better, I got them looking through old photographs before the walk, getting them to talk about what they thought about what they were looking at in the photos. 

One photo showed an old timber house dating from the 15th or 16th century but it had actually been used as a garage in the 1930s, when the photograph was taken. Hard against the front wall of the building was a petrol pump with an upright and a long arm so that the nozzle for fuel could be swung out across the wide pavement to any vehicle on the road. In that photo was an amazing motor bike, that was being filled up by a man from the garage in overalls, and there was a smiling bloke in a leather jacket and with a tightly fitting leather hat with ear flaps and a pair of what were called flying goggles jauntily pushed up to sit on the top of his head.

One girl, probably 14 years old, sat looking at the photo for ages. She saw me watching her and said "Sir" and then there was a very long pause. "Sir" ……… and she pointed at the bike. "Was this old fashioned when it was first new?"

Out of the mouths of children …. and all that.

But that simple question actually raises a lot of interesting points about how really clear any of us are about history and what fashion or technical development or even change over time means. Obviously something is new. Full stop. Not first new. But for how long does something very new, in terms of its design, remain a novelty? Do we wait for the next new to come along and realise the old new is now old? How often do we just carry on with something because basically it seems to work - so wonder do we really need something new?

From television and films and from reading and half-remembered lessons from school, most people have a fairly broad view of history, so maybe the main big events in rough sequence, but certainly only a vague idea about everyday life for ordinary people even when our grandparents were small. 

If you talked to a group of kids in their early teens in Copenhagen now and told them about many of the apartments in the city, in the fairly recent past, that shared a toilet out on the communal landing with at least one other family and used a wash house in the courtyard for doing laundry and went to a communal bath house down the street or otherwise washed in the kitchen, sink how would they react? Would they be surprised or shocked or slightly disgusted? Their parents might not remember apartments like that but their grandparents certainly would. And if kids don’t appreciate how different life was in the 1940s or 1920s how do they see change with any sort of context? 

And, perhaps more important, judged by the standards of the day, a toilet on the landing, even if it was shared, was actually something to be thankful for, something strikingly modern, and much better than going down to a toilet in the yard like their parents … a toilet that did not flush but where you used ash or earth to cover over anything until the whole thing was emptied by a man with a shovel and a cart. Modern and convenient? Again all a matter of context.

It’s not nostalgia or any suggestion that the past was a better time but possibly just that it seems to be important to understand and remember how we got from there to here and why. Not just in political or economic terms but for the architecture and the design of the products we use every day.

But I'm also trying to understand why we are all so focused on now and so drawn to the novel and the new and the fashionable. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old and realising that maybe progress is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe I was just old fashioned when I was first new.

 

the petrol station on the coast road just south of Klampenborg designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1937

just to quote ...

In February 2014 the Danish Government set out a policy for architecture in Denmark in a well-illustrated publication with the title Putting people first. This is available on line in English and is important because it helps the visitor and architects and designers from other countries to understand why there is such a broad appreciation of good architecture in the country and why so much value is placed on an imaginative approach to the use and development of public space.

It is not a vague government promise of something that might or might not be done in the future but seems to reinforce and codify an attitude to the built environment in Denmark that has evolved and developed over many decades if not, in fact, over many centuries and it indicates a social and political context without which good architecture and good design could not be so strong or so important.

In the introduction is the crucial statement that:

“Danish architecture and design on all scales has helped shape our welfare society into a form that is characterized by humanism. The architecture reflects our democratic and transparent society. It binds us together and gives us an identity, both in local communities and nationally.”

our sense of place

 

In an age when most airports look like most other airports and our 24-hour media means we can know what happened on the other side of the World as quickly as we find out what happened at the end of our street, are we beginning to loose our sense of place? If architects can work anywhere in the world and people can buy design from anywhere, if they have the money, then do our buildings or our homes, our furniture or clothes belong to a specific place?

read more

outdoors in the city

the citizens of Copenhagen at Bakken

 

Looking back over the last year there is one theme that seems to stand out for me in architecture and planning and that is the importance of public urban space … how it is used and how it can be improved and how new developments have to add to and have to enhance the public spaces of the city.

At the very beginning of the year was the last week of the exhibition Reprogramming the City at The Danish Architecture Centre and their major exhibition through the summer was Lets Play, on outdoor leisure in the city. The current exhibition, Our Urban Living Room - the work of the Copenhagen architects COBE - is primarily about the interaction between public space and buildings and the role of that relationship in social change. 

I've put together a collection of photographs - most taken through this last year - of public events outside, the outdoor exhibitions and displays of art and sculpture, the importance of eating outside, the gardens - not just parks but also private gardens planted in public space and the amazing courtyards to apartment buildings that are part private and part public space and of course the water … the harbour, the canals, the inner city swimming areas and the beaches along the Sound are all important. Public areas are used for running, taking exercise and skating - on a number of evenings during the summer roads are closed so thousands of skaters can complete a circuit of the city - and there is an organised run where people cut through buildings and gardens on the designated route to show people as much of the city as possible (presumably as quickly as possible).

 
 

At every opportunity people move out of their apartments to sit and talk, to picnic, to play boules on the edge of a city square. There are now roof top playgrounds above car parks with amazing views over the harbour and gardens and restaurants on roofs. I've never lived in a city before this where so much is done outside and where so much of the planning and the new building is focused on encouraging and enabling even more life to be lived outside.

The seminal study of the urban spaces of the city is New City Life by Jan Gehl that was published in 2006. He states that “Copenhagen is one of the cities that has made the most targeted efforts to mould its space to match developments in society” and comes to the crucial conclusion that “In the 21st century, designing good city space where people want to be has become an independent and demanding discipline in terms of planning, design and detailing. The time when useable city space arose between buildings by coincidence or as a post-construction afterthought is definitively over.”

photographs

 

 

New City Life, Jan Gehl, Lars Gemzøe, Sia Kirknæs and Britt Sternhagen Søndergaard, The Danish Architectural Press (2006)

Copenhagen Green, 100 green things to see and do in Copenhagen, Susanne Sayers and Poul Årnedal, Foreningen By&Natur (2014)

 

 

Guldberg Byplads - kids play

 

Public space where children can play and good well-designed play equipment can be found all over Copenhagen. Many apartment buildings have courtyards with play areas but all parks, most public squares and many streets have play areas. Public buildings, particularly libraries, will have play equipment in an area outside and, of course, play areas inside.

In some parts of the city, the provision of play areas has had a much wider influence on traffic control and the wider urban landscape of the area and perhaps what is most important is that these areas are not fenced off or locked up but, even when they are part of a school, these play areas will often be open and available for all the local kids in the evening and at weekends.

One of the most extensive and most interesting schemes is around Guldberg Byplads north of the city centre. This was and is not the most affluent part of Copenhagen and relatively rapid and relatively cheap development in the late 19th and early 20th century has meant that historically the area has not had as many open or green spaces as other parts of the city.

read more

restoration and inspiration - the mast sheds on Holmen

 

The Masteskure - the mast sheds - close to the new opera house in Copenhagen - are on the south side of Galionsvej at the harbour end. There are seven sheds in a row each about 10 metres wide and just under 40 metres long with the narrow ends to the harbour with wide double doors to each shed. They were built in 1748 and were used to store the masts and spars of the naval ships … the masts and rigging were dismantled and stored and only re-fitted as the ships were prepared for battle. In line to the south is a later taller building now with two floors dating from 1829 and called the Mærshuset. This translates as maiden's house … the maiden apparently being the round look-out platform towards the top of a mast.

The buildings were restored by the architects Frank Maali and Gemma Lalanda and the work was completed in 2009. Land around the buildings had risen over the years so they were raised up by just over 80cm so they do not appear to be in a hollow.

Work included new gullies and drains and roof lights set back so they are not obvious from the quay. The rain water is thrown out from hoppers into a cobble-lined gulley around the building and there are steps and landings in corten at each door.

The restoration is striking and in a typically Danish way introduces innovative and good modern elements to allow the buildings to be used now as offices and showrooms. The architects were nominated for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Prize for this work.

more photographs

Frank Maali and Gemma Lalanda architects

Hal C Arsenaløen - Christianshavn sports hall

 

from Værftbroen - looking along the canal towards the sports hall

On the opposite bank of the canal to Kids' City in Copenhagen - the school designed by COBE - is a local sports hall called Hal C that was designed by the architects Christensen & Co and completed 2013.

There is a large sports hall open to the roof at the east end that is lit by large tall windows on both sides - to the canal and towards the playing field to the north - arranged in pairs. All these opening have large plain shutters that open outwards and these and the deep red timber cladding are inspired by the 18th-century mast sheds nearby.

The west end of the sports hall is on two floors with an entrance lobby at the corner, glazed on two sides, and offices and changing rooms on the ground floor and a small hall or meeting room on the first floor.

In keeping with the beautifully simple exterior the interior has large area of plain panels much pierced and a very simple straight staircase with a plain solid side panel but the railings of the landings are rather more complicated open grill.

The building makes really good use of natural lighting inside. The sports hall has areas of top lighting. On both sides of the sports hall are wide wood step where spectators can sit and on the canal side there are steps along the length of the building where people sit and a series of landings down to the canal.

 

Christensen & Co

a new bridge across the canal from Kids' City

the windows and shutters of the main sports hall from the other side of the canal

entrance at the south-west corner

large windows to the sports hall on the side towards the canal with pairs of shutters

windows and shutters of the main sports hall from the playing field to the east

From Infrastructure to Public Space*

 

Dronning Louises Bro in the evening from the city side

Our Urban Living Room, is an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about the work of the Copenhagen architectural studio COBE with a book of the same title published to coincide with the exhibition, and both are subtitled Learning from Copenhagen.

A general theme that runs through the exhibition is about the importance of understanding a city as a complex man-made environment to show how good planning and the construction of good buildings, with the support of citizens, can create better public spaces that improve and enhance our lives.

One graphic in the exhibition, in a section about infrastructure, shows Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) as the lanes of traffic were divided in the 1980s and compares that with how the space of the road is now organised.  

The stone bridge, in its present form dating from the late 19th century, crosses an arc of large lakes on the west side of the city centre and is the main way into the centre of Copenhagen from the north so many people have to cross the lakes on their commute into the city in the morning and then again in the evening as they head home. In the 1980s vehicles were given priority with 6 lanes for traffic - two lanes of cars in each direction and in the centre a tram lane in bound and a tram lane heading out - so the pavements on each side were just 3 metres wide and cyclists had to compete for space with cars.  

Now, the width of the lanes given over to vehicles has been narrowed down to just 7 metres in the middle for a single lane for driving into the city and a single lane heading out but on each side there are dedicated bike lanes that are each 4 metres wide and then generous pavements that are 5 metres wide on each side of the bridge for pedestrians. So the space for cars and the space for pedestrians and cyclists has been swapped around. The bridge is just as busy - if not busier - with an almost-unbelievable 36,000 or more cyclists crossing each day and the pavements are actually a popular place for people to meet up … particularly in the summer when the north side of the bridge catches the evening sun so people sit on the parapet or sit on the pavement, leaning back against the warm stonework, legs stretched out, to sunbathe, chat or have a drink.

 

 

graphic showing changes made to the width of the traffic lanes over the bridge ... taken from an information panel for the exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

the bridge looking towards the Søtorv apartments on the city side

 

* the title of this post is a section heading from the exhibition Our Urban Living Room and a chapter heading in the catalogue

The Danish Chair

 

Part of the collection of modern chairs at Designmuseum Danmark, has been moved into a newly refurbished space in one of the long narrow galleries in the south wing to the right of the entrance.

The new display is stunning and with each chair shown in a self-contained box and with good lighting and clear succinct labels it is possible to really appreciate each piece of furniture. The chairs are arranged on three levels … the middle row at about eye level, the lower chairs angled up and the upper tier angled down slightly so the gallery has something of the feel of a barrel shape or barrel vault and each chair is angled to optimise the view point for the visitor. Of course, there are some down sides in that it is not as easy to get a sense of the chair as a three-dimensional work but this new arrangement does let you get very close to look at details and for the middle and upper rows it is possible for the first time here to see the underside of the chairs if you are interested to see how they are constructed.

read more

The Danish Chair - an international affair Designmuseum Danmark

Johansen Skovsted Arkitekter at DAC

 

the entrance to the gallery with model of Tipperne Bird Watch Tower at a scale of 1:10

This exhibition of the work of Søren Johansen and Sebastian Skovsted is the last of a series of three exhibitions in the Dreyer Gallery at the Danish Architecture Centre that over the Autumn have focused on young architects in Copenhagen.

To quote from the pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition: "The series … will give visitors and the industry special insight into the dynamic daily practice and reality of these firms, where creativity and business savvy go hand in hand.”

Clearly, business acumen is important if an architectural practice is to succeed and expand but actually one theme that linked the three architecture studios - Johansen Skovsted, Norrøn and Sted is their strong awareness of place and and a strong empathy for nature that seems to be the starting point for all their work.

For Søren Johansen and Sebastian Skovsted, architecture "is about finding a place in the world and setting the stage for our interactions with each other ... we view architecture as a way to play with the landscapes, cities and buildings, saturated with meaning and history, that makes up the world as we know it. In construction, materials, form and space, architecture becomes the creation of the place anew ... "

 

the exhibition continues at Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 15th January 2017

Johansen Skovsted

 

Skjem Å - Pump Station North transformed as a new visitor facility 

Courtyard Nørrehus, Nørrebro, Copenhagen - many of the large older housing schemes are apartments around a large courtyard that initially had laundry drying yards, dustbins, and, in many, toilet or bath blocks, As the buildings have been upgraded and improved, many of these courtyards have been cleared or rationalised and landscaped to provide important communal garden spaces with play equipment for children, places for eating outside or, at the very least, a quiet pleasant place to look over from windows or balconies

the exhibition included portfolios of presentation drawings ... a good way for a non-professional but interested visitor to see how the schemes evolved and to see some of the technical details ... the real complexity beneath a structure that ostensibly seems quite simple or straightforward

 

Ordrup … the garden of the landscape designer G N Brandt

 

While tracking down material about how Arne Jacobsen used geometry and proportion in the process of design - specifically to see how and where he used the Golden Rectangle - there were several intriguing references to work by the Danish gardener, landscape designer and teacher G N Brandt.  

Brandt was a generation older than Jacobsen - some twenty-four or twenty-five years older - and they might not normally have known much of each other’s work particularly in the late 20s when Jacobsen had just finished his studies and just qualified as an architect but in 1927 Jacobsen married Marie Jelstrup Holm whose family lived in a villa in Ordrupvej and in 1929 the couple moved to Ordrup - to a house at Gotfred Rodes Vej 2 that Jacobsen designed and had built for them and where in 1931 he then added a design studio and office for his architectural practice … so for some fifteen years, until Jacobsen fled to Sweden in 1943, he lived and worked just a few streets away from where Brandt lived in Ørnekulsvej. The walk from one front gate to the other is 450 metres so each must have known of the house and the garden of the other.

read more

defining our urban space

 

A recent post was about a new school - Kids’ City in Christianshavn designed by the architectural studio COBE - where the spaces - both the spaces within the buildings and the spaces outside between the buildings - have to be flexible to respond to a huge range of very different activities - and many of those activities are about creativity and things done together and achieved together.

At the opposite end of Christianshavn, but possibly a world away, is a large city block, that covers more than 10 times the area of the school. A local development plan was drawn up 20 years ago for the site of what had once been an important ship yard and diesel engine works - a tightly-packed group of industrial buildings of different periods and different styles - that were all to be demolished. Now, in their place, there is a line of imposing and expensive commercial office buildings - six blocks lined up along a harbour frontage - and three large courtyards of expensive apartments. But in those buildings and in that plan too there are interesting lessons to be understood about how architects and planners create and manipulate urban spaces and how we, as occupants or as users or maybe simply as citizens walking past, respond to and use those public spaces.

Also, these Christiansbro buildings designed by Henning Larsens Tegnestue seemed to be a good place to end, at least for now, the series of posts on this blog over the last couple of months about cladding on modern buildings. Perhaps more than any other group of buildings in the city, they illustrate an important aspect of modern architecture that is not often discussed in books or in the more general media. That is that we live in an age where the individual - the star architect or the latest iconic building - takes centre stage so we tend to read a facade as belonging to and defining the building … so the facade is the public front to the building behind. On a narrow plot in a narrow city street the public will see and recognise a building from just its single entrance front although on a larger and more open plot, a prestigious new building will have four or perhaps more sides to admire and those facades define the volume of the building and possibly, but not always, define and express how the internal spaces are arranged and used.  

But what you see - and see clearly in the Nordea Bank buildings at Christiansbro by Henning Larsen and the apartment blocks at the end of Wildersgade - is that actually it is the public spaces that are defined by facades and, for people walking through the area or using those open spaces, what is behind the facade is probably not accessible, unknown and, to some extent irrelevant. So, for us, the materials used on the front of those buildings and the design and character of the facades define the urban spaces that we use and move through. At its simplest, a public square or even a space between buildings can be read as a volume - a box without a lid - defined by four walls that just happen to also be four facades. Looked at in that way then maybe our response to the design of some modern buildings should be different. Perhaps we should not see a facade as the interface they, the architect and the developer, provide between our space and theirs but as the walls and boundaries of our space.

read more

 

the office buildings by Henning Larsen and landscaping by Sven-Ingvar Andersson with the tower and spire of Christians Kirke - photograph taken from the harbour ferry

Our Urban Living Room

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen has been published as the catalogue to the current exhibition of the same title at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. The exhibition continues until the 8th January 2017. 

The book is not far short of 500 pages and is packed with photographs and drawings about the work of Dan Stubbergaard and his team at COBE with a dialogue between Stubbergaard and the Copenhagen planner and author Jan Gehl and, in the middle of the book, there is an interesting and revealing discussion between Stubbergaard and his contemporary, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

The layout and form of the book is interesting because it adopts some of the ways that material is now presented on the internet ... so there are various levels of information, extended captions and spotlighting of important ideas that lead you somewhere else and themes that reappear but not within a rigid narrative.

It is a brilliant exercise in communicating complex ideas - so there are graphics with several sequences of drawings that show how solutions evolved and there are simple graphics to show what is actually a complex process to draw out of the confusion of a complicated place the key ideas that might not be immediately obvious … so for the square above the station at Nørreport it is about actually understanding how people really do cut across the space or where they leave their bikes or for the recently-completed development of Krøyers Plads the drawings show how the orientation of historic warehouse buildings along the harbour and the architectural vocabulary of these earlier buildings inspired the final form and orientation of three new blocks of apartments on two sides of an existing basin of the harbour. 

 
 

the model of the square above the railway station at Nørreport in the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

There is a sequence of drawings for Krøyers Plads that COBE publish on their internet site that did not make it into the book or the exhibition but they show how the architects look at an extensive area - a surprisingly extensive area - to understand the wider existing urban context of their new buildings.  So for Krøyers Plads they not only looked at how the harbour immediately around the site had developed but also looked at the whole length of Strandgade - the spine of the harbour side of Christianshavn. There is an incredible mix of complicated buildings along Strandgade but COBE simplified the streetscape to the outline shape and the orientation of the buildings, stripped of detail, and by doing that revealed an underlying order and a potential new relationship between one end of the street and the other … a relationship between a tall narrow building - an important 18th-century church tower and its spire, and the space of a square in front of the church - that is at one end of Strandagde and at the other end a new arrangement of a new public square they are creating at Krøyers Plads with the tall end elevation of one of the new apartment buildings as a key element.

 

a sequence of drawings to explain the arrangement of the three new apartment buildings and the new public square at Krøyers Plads from the COBE on-line site

 
 

In the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre there is a wall of CGI images that appear to have been annotated and doodled on in the course of a discussion and on one view of a rather different proposal for the Krøyers Plads buildings you can see a felt-tipped sketch of this Strandgade axis

At one point in the book Stubbergaard says, "I believe we have come to read architecture" but he also understands just how important it is to explain that to people … to explain what they, as architects, are trying to do and why. The book tries and succeeds in showing his thought process as his ideas evolved for certain projects and it is clear that in a discussion Stubbegaard wants to take the listener or the reader to the same conclusion for the same reasons … what appears to be important to him is the idea of architecture by consensus.

He is inspired by architecture and appears to be exceptionally good at explaining his views and ideas and at one point in an interview he talks about how much benefit could come from teaching about architecture in schools.

Headings for the separate sections of the book and the sections of the exhibition are revealing so they are:

  • From Infrastructure to Public Space
  • Culture as a Social Engine
  • Transformation as Resource
  • A City for Kids
  • Architectural Democracy
  • Copenhagen Tomorrow

The book ends with an important and revealing interview with Stubbergaard with Marc-Christopher Wagner where he explains that architects have to have confidence:

"As architects, we must be able to interpret, moderate, to be communicative and able to pull together a lot of people. Architecture today is so much more than drafting lines and building models. It demands enormous social skills, both internally and externally. We have to be able to manage enormous budgets, coordinate complex logistics and physical situations on society's behalf."

It is that last phrase … "on society's behalf" … that is probably crucial if you are trying to understand what COBE are trying to do through their work.

When asked if COBE has a signature style Dan Stubbergaard replied that the main characteristic of their projects is that "they are not recognisable" … and goes on to explain that the idea of iconic buildings is foreign to him.

Is that completely true? The conversion of The Silo in the Nordhavn area of Copenhagen will see a well-known feature of the dock skyline become a key building of the area that will be fairly iconic and the back catalogue is putting together some buildings with distinct family features ... the piling up of small units of a domestic scale to form child-friendly schools at Frederiksvej Kindergarten and Kids City or the stacking up of large metal boxes at Library Nordvest or the Danish Rock Museum.

What comes across so well in the book is the importance of the city itself in Stubbergaard's work so hence the title of the exhibition and the book. He explains that, "Copenhagen is our laboratory, our playground. This is the place where our architecture was allowed to unfold and develop. Knowing the city, the culture, Copenhageners, is a prerequisite for experiment and new thinking, for being bold, even radical in the creative sense of the word."

He has a deep understanding of the city - a sense of the place, an understanding of the history and the people of the city that formed the buildings and how those buildings influence the way that everyone lives so he looks at how people use their built environment and is clearly focused on how the city will influence what the next generation does next.  

Although he is a designer of innovative modern buildings he also understands the importance of learning from the past. He is "personally very interested in historic buildings, because they reflect their times and contemporary society" but is also refreshingly honest about how much control architects have over how their buildings will be used after they hand them across. "What an architect imagines, drafts and plans is one thing, but life itself is powerful and unpredictable. It will take over a building."

So he has an awareness not only about how people actually do move around the city and use its buildings and its public spaces but he is working hard to take his observations and his perceptions and ideas forward to use new buildings and new public spaces to improve the way people can live in the city, to merge as a whole "function and surroundings" which are his "particular source of inspiration."

As Stubbergaard explains in the forward, the book is a 'compendium' of what these architects have learnt from their urban experiments in Copenhagen.

 

Our Urban Living Room, Learning from Copenhagen

Arvinius + Orfeus Publishing AB

published 2016 - ISBN 978-91-87543-39-5

COBE

Kids' City Christianshavn

 

the front of the school to Prinsessegade - the yellow box-girder structure is courts for sports over the main entrance and the glass roof structure is a greenhouse over the restaurant

The first stages of Kids’ City - buildings along Princessegade in Christianshavn in Copenhagen - have opened although there is still construction work on part of the site and work on hard landscaping and planting is ongoing but already it is clear that the design of this new school will be innovative and inspiring. 

When finished there will be up to 750 children here, ranging in age from babies in the pre-school area through to young adults of 17 or 18 in their last years of schooling so Kids’ City will be the largest ‘pre school and youth club’ in Denmark. 

That presented COBE, the architects, with distinct challenges. On a relatively tight plot of around 11,000 square metres, the buildings have to be extensive but have to allow for as much space as possible outside for sport and play and other activities. As a single unified block it could have been over bearing and even rather daunting for small children but this school also has to provide an appropriate setting and the right facilities for such a broad range of age groups that it could never be a place where a one-class-room-fits-all approach was possible.

The solution has been to link together a number of simple blocks, most of two stories and some with gabled roofs and some set at angles to create groups and small courtyards and to treat the site as a small city with different neighbourhoods and public spaces. The separate parts are even described as if they are the distinct and recognisable elements of a diverse but well-established community so rather than an assembly hall or school hall there is a Town Hall; rather than a dining hall or canteen there is a restaurant,  and there will be a stadium and a library and a museum and even a fire station and a factory.

Play and fun are an incredibly important part of the whole scheme so there will be a beach along a canal where there will be canoes and places to have a bonfire "to roast marsh-mallows." 

read more 

Krøyers Plads

As at the Pakhus by Lundgaard and Tranberg on Langeliniekaj, the development designed by Cobe and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects at Krøyers Plads takes the historic brick warehouses along the inner harbour in Copenhagen as inspiration but the interpretation could hardly be more different.

Where the starting point for the Langelinie Pakhus was the scale of the earlier warehouses but otherwise the site was open with few other buildings to take into account, the Krøyers Plads site is at the centre of the harbour and within the historic district of Christianshavn and previous designs by a number of different architects for the development have been much more difficult and controversial.

read more

testing the alternatives

At an early stage in a building project, a trial section of wall can be constructed on the site to get a clear sense of the colour of the main material in the actual location and it is also a chance to judge the effect of different colours or different textures of mortar which can have much more of an impact than many people would expect … dark mortar tends to act rather like the black leading in a stained glass window by making the colours of the main material, stone or brick, darker and will certainly emphasise any pattern in the bonding.

The appearance and the character of a facade will be modified by the light as it changes through the day and materials will certainly look very different from their appearance in the studio or even as seen on an another building. And colours and textures look different if they are in shadow, on a side away from the sun, or face towards the sun and are brightly lit and architectural details can look very different in bright light reflected up off water… bright light can make even strongly-projecting features look thin or flat or bleached out.

ATP Pakhus by Lundgaard and Tranberg on the Langelinie Quay in Copenhagen has just been completed but trial sections of wall were built at the construction site on the quay. Clearly two very different colours of brick were considered. Perhaps the deep orange brick was chosen rather than the very dark brown because a heavier tone, for such a large building, could have looked oppressive. It is interesting to compare the brickwork on the finished building with the appearance of the historic brick warehouses along the inner harbour and in Christianshavn.

ATP Pakhus, Langaliniekaj (2016)

Nordatlantens Brygge, Strandgade (1767)