a new library for Nørrebro


At the beginning of August a new public library opened in the old tram sheds in Nørrebro.

The building is set back from Nørrebrogade with a large square at the front where trams originally turned into the sheds and the original high and narrow openings towards the road have been retained but with new doors that have stylised versions of giant book cases.

Inside, the single huge space of the shed has been retained with arched openings in the brickwork along the east side towards Bragesgade kept as a strong architectural feature and to flood the space with light. The industrial roof has been kept and is now painted black.

Fittings are in pale plywood and divide up the space and there are integral breaks in the shelving with desk spaces and benches that create quiet places to work but also form views through the space.

Across the west side of the library are smaller spaces on two levels with meeting rooms above for meetings and teaching that the community can use and, like all libraries in the city, there is a play area for children to encourage even the youngest to see the library as a fun place to visit.

Further back from the road is a second huge tram shed and that was converted some years ago to a sports hall - Nørrebrohallen - and there is now a large entrance area and large cafe between the two - between the library and the sports halls - as a place where people can meet.

Running back from the road and along the west side of the buildings is the famous city park - Superkilen - with its outdoor play and sports so this area is now a major hub for the community around. It is anticipated that visitor numbers to the library could soon exceed 1,000 a day.


select any image to open the photographs as a slide show

sport and space consultancy KEINGART
have published a pdf file on line with
plans of the library and cafe area


Amaryllis Hus

The annual Building Awards in Copenhagen were established in 1902 but it was only last year that citizens were asked to vote for a public award for one of the buildings on the list of finalists.

Last year the building selected for that first public award was Axeltorv / Axel Towers by Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter.

The winner this year is interesting. From a diverse list of unusual and quite adventurous building projects around the city, the public selected an apartment with a high-rise tower out of the city, just under 5 kilometres from city hall, out to the south west beyond Vestre Kirkegård … the western cemetery.

This is Amaryllis Hus on Paradisæblevej - designed by Mangor & Nagel and part of a major redevelopment of Grønttorvet - the old wholesale vegetable market - a short walk from Ny Ellebjerg station.

It is a long single block - in terms of the foot print - but with four different heights along that length so with a tower with 15 floors at the east end against a section that has four floors then stepping up to six and then back down to 5 floors at the west end. The building is clad in brick but the impact of the tower is reduced by having a copper alloy cladding to the upper levels and the lower roofs have green houses and common open areas for residents that make the silhouette more interesting. 

To the north is a large public square with car parking below and across the south side of the building a more urban space, wedge shaped, well-paved and planted.

What makes the building so good is the restrained and subtle use of brick facing from Egernsund Tegl along with Corten used for the balconies. The brickwork is also used to reflect, at least in part, the structure underneath with raised bands of brick at each floor level and vertical raised brick 'pilasters' forming a regular system of bays across the façade that frame the panels of brick.


on the north side of the lower apartments there are window boxes rather than balconies
some windows on the tower are set back which increases the effect of shadow

There is also a clever use of the mortar joints to emphasise the different sections and to give a good texture to the brickwork while retaining a sense of consistent and restrained colour … to use an often misused phrase this is tasteful. The main framework of brickwork has pale flush pointing, while the panels below windows have dark pointing and the large panels have recessed, or sometimes called raked, pointing, giving the larger areas of brickwork a stronger texture.

Too many of these new developments take what is a fairly standard arrangement of apartments with a sensible and practical concrete substructure and then make it individual or quirky or distinct or, worse, fashionable, by pulling forward an odd brick here or there or choosing brick colours that really were not meant to go together or by scattering windows across the façade like people strew cushions across a sofa.

In their publicity, Mangor & Nagel explain that their approach is to build on the best traditions of Danish architecture and that is clear here and even more so in other recent projects where it is possible to see sensible and sensitive interpretations of roof forms or arrangements of balconies or patterns of fenestration found in good Danish houses and apartment buildings from the 1950s and 1960s.

 Mangor & Nagel




The choice of Amaryllis Hus in a public vote is interesting for several reasons - unless of course all the current occupants simply ran a well-organised campaign of lobbying - because this area of development, which when finished will have some 2,200 new homes, is generally overshadowed in the architectural press by the more obvious and more often written about developments around the inner harbour and at Ørestad and Nordhavn.

Hopefully, the choice indicates that citizens are becoming more critical of some of the most recent housing developments and are here registering a preference for a more traditional or, at least, less severe treatment of the exterior.

Grøntorvet is alongside the suburban railway lines in an area of industrial development from the late 20th century with out-of-town DIY stores, fairly busy main roads, a football ground and suburban houses and some low, three-storey apartment, buildings. But this new development is deliberately of inner-city scale and height of development where just twenty or thirty years ago, this far out from the centre, any development would, almost certainly, have been more suburban.

Of course, this partly reflects the problem that inner city land is no longer available or is much more expensive to develop because of land costs but also the development around Ny Ellerbjerg makes sense when you understand that when the south line of the metro - that will run out to the south harbour - is completed around 2023 it will continue out and swing north up to Ny Ellerbjerg where it will terminate to form an important new transport interchange with the suburban railway system. Then, the station will be comparable to Østerport, by then a major interchange between the suburban lines and the metro at the north-east part of the city, and comparable to the interchange at Flintholm at the end of the existing metro line. Is Valby the new Amager?


Dorotheavej apartments by BIG


This new apartment building on Dorotheavej - affordable housing designed by Bjarke Ingels Group - has just been nominated for the Bygningspræmiering - the annual city architectural award.

Out to the north-west of the city centre, just over 4 kilometres from city hall, this is an interesting area just below Bispebjerg and Nordvest cemetery, with a mixture of older apartment buildings and new apartment developments but also older industrial buildings on either side of a main road and, to the west, just beyond this site, low suburban housing.

The main road, Frederiksborgvej runs north - climbing up the long slope up to Bispebjerg - and Dorotheavej is on the west side, itself rising up a slope across the hill, with the new apartment building just in from the main road and on a very wide site with a long frontage to the street that faces south.

The form of the block is a long, gentle and sinuous curve back away from the street towards the centre but hard against the pavement at each end with the area in front planted with grass and trees. There is a high and wide archway through to the back of the building at the point where that curve is furthest back from the street.

The apartments have the typical through form - typical for Copenhagen - so here with a series of seven separate entrances along the façade and each giving access to a staircase with an apartment on each side at each level those apartments are relatively narrow but deep and run through from front to back of the block.*

There are 66 apartments on five floors although at the west end, furthest from the main road, the block steps rapidly down to a single storey to form a transition to the smaller scale of buildings in the next part of the street.

The design of the street frontage has a clear and neat articulation with wood on the façade creating the impression of a regular set of large wooden boxes stacked up corner to corner with the spaces between glazed but set back to form balconies. Unlike the 8-House in Ørestad - also by Ingels - this gives vertical and horizontal lines across the front a rational coherence … my main criticism of the earlier apartment building in Ørestad is that with the underlying arrangement of apartments along, in effect, a ramp that spirals up the building, then vertical and horizontal lines get chopped up and broken … it's not by a huge amount but enough to make the façade there look and feel restless or uneasy.


At Dorotheavej, the back of the building has windows that look across a large open area of grass and services, including car parking and the square division of the front elevation is repeated but more simply expressed with very shallow stepping backwards and forwards of the elements making it look more like a checkerboard in shallow relief. That might sound like damning with feint praise but actually it makes the façade look honest and straightforward but still expresses the internal arrangement and internal divisions but avoids the grimly stark, cliff-like backs of most modern blocks. In too many buildings you find that money and thought has been spent on the front but both run out by the time you get to the back but here, at Dorotheavej, it is actually a pleasant and elegant elevation and the gentle curve, determined by the footprint, even more than on the front, reduces and softens the impact of what is a very large block.

This complex curve also means an interesting dilemma or an interesting challenge for the inside.

If the front looks like a set of regular boxes repeated along the building, the curves means that cross walls are set at angles and there is a huge variety of arrangements in the individual, wedge-shaped apartments. There was a prospectus on line - issued for potential tenants - and the choice of internal arrangements of the apartments was bewildering - so rather like the different plans within the VM Houses by Ingels and JDS from 2005. 

At Dortheavej there are generous ceiling heights and, as an interesting consequence of the staggered-box design, there is a difference of floor level between the main box and the recess on either side so there can be interesting steps within each apartment and several of the apartments have an internal staircase with bedrooms on a separate level. Sizes of apartment vary from 65 square metres through to 115 square metres with most having one or two bedrooms although there are studio apartments and some of the larger apartments have a small study that could be used as a third bedroom. A standard trick here is to use interlocking L- shapes for adjoining apartments reached from different staircases so both have a large room running across the full width and then one has a front-facing room and the other a back facing room with internal bathrooms in the area between.

This interlocking of L shapes is found in the plans of apartment buildings in the city from the 1920s and 1930s and the large central archway is, of course, an echo of the archway through at Hostrups Have from 1936. That's not saying that Ingels here is being derivative … he is simply showing how well he knows and how well he understands the history and the conventions of housing in the city and is playing games with successful forms and styles for the building type to come up with clever and good variations on a theme. The building would certainly more than justify that Award if they do win.



 * this arrangement means that apartments run back the full depth of the block with windows to the front and to the back and there is no connection between one vertical set of apartments and the next except outside at street level. An alternative arrangement is to have a main entrance and then access from a central corridor or to have external galleries or long public balconies at each level with the front doors accessed from there but both alternatives usually mean a compromise with some apartments with windows on just one side of the building or, with gallery access, some compromise in privacy as people walk past to get to their own door.


Store Arne og Lille Arne / Big Arne and Little Arne 2019

These annual awards from Arkitektforeningen or the Danish Association of Architects began in 2007. Winners receive an acrylic statuette that is printed with the face of Arne Jacobsen and hence the name of the awards.

Winners for works from 2018 were announced in a ceremony at BLOX on 18 January 2019.

Store Arne / Big Arne


Elefanthuset / Elephant House
architects: LETH & GORI

A brick chapel dating from the 1890s that has been restored and converted into an activity centre for patients with cancer. The building was part of the former hospital and old people's home of De Gamles By.

“The project shows an exemplary balance between humbleness and a personal and distinct architectural vision. Precise interventions all characterised by a refined materiality defines the project, that despite its small scale is able to bring new life to the building. By adding new functional layers the transformation opens up for a new era for the historic chapel building. The project is nominated for a vital transformation of a historic building that revitalises the house as an attentive and caring frame that embraces a vulnerable user group.”

Leth & Gori 

nominated for the award

architects: BIG + Studio David Thulstrup

Hotel Herman K
architects: Dansk Ejendoms Management A/S (inhouse)

Enfamiliehus på Kålagervej / Family house in Kålagervej
architects: Solveig Dara Draško Arkitektur

Tingbjerg Bibliotek og Kulturhus / Tingsbjerg Library and Culture Centre
architects: COBE


Lille Arne / Little Arne


KADKs kritiske forskning om Københavns udvikling / KADK Critical research on the development of Copenhagen

Atlas of the Copenhagens and Boliger Bebyggelser By / Homes Ensembles City by Peder Dueland Mortensen

- Bolig og velfærd i København / Housing and welfare in Copenhagen

“We are incredibly proud that peers at their own prize, acknowledge research as a key contribution to the architectural profession. We work every day to create the world's best architectural education, and we do so on our unique three-legged knowledge base: the practice of the subject; artistic development and, not least research. Therefore, it really means a great deal to us that with this prize research is appreciated on an equal footing with the other architectural disciplines.”

Katrine Lotz - Head of the Department of Architecture, City and Landscape at KADK - the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation.


nominated for the award:

Klimaflisen /Climate tiles
architects: Tredje Natur

Principper for cirkulært byggeri /Principles of circular construction
Fællestegnestuen GXN, Lendager and Vandkunsten

Resilient Aesthetics / Resilient Aesthetics
Forskningsindsats v. lektor Nicolai Bo Andersen, KADK


There are photographs and brief descriptions of the nominated buildings and work on the site of the Association of Architects.

Arkitektforeningen / the Danish Association of Architects


UN 17 village on Amager by Lendager

January 2019 - the site for the UN17 Village by Lendager Group - the view is looking north along what is called Promenade - the west boundary of Ørestad - Kalvebod Fælled is to the left

Recently, it was announced that housing on the last large plot in Ørestad Syd where building work has not started will be designed by the Lendager Group and Årstiderne Arkitekter and the engineers Arup.

At the south-west corner of Ørestad, it is perhaps the most prominent site, in this major development area in Copenhagen with the open ground of Kalvebod Fælled immediately to the west and to the south an artificial lake and then extensive views out over pastures and meadow.

Given the character of the site, it seems appropriate that this project should go to an architectural practice that is establishing its reputation around its innovative approach to sustainability. In fact, the large development of apartment buildings here is being described as a village and promoted as the first development project in the world that will address all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Concrete wood and glass used in the new construction will be recycled materials but also the housing will be designed to provide an opportunity for the residents to have a sustainable lifestyle.

There will be 400 new homes here in five housing blocks with courtyards and rooftop gardens. Rainwater will be collected with up to 1.5 million litres of water recycled every year.

It is planned to be a mixed development - a very mixed development - with 37 different arrangements of accommodation - called typologies - with family dwellings; co living and homes for the elderly along with communal space; a conference centre to host sustainability events; an organic restaurant and greenhouses with plans for schemes for food sharing.

When completed, there will be homes here for 800 people and 100 jobs.

Initial drawings show that the design will break away from the grim style of many of the recent and nearby apartment developments in Ørestad, replacing flat facades of dark brick with what appears to be a regular and exposed framework of pale concrete piers and beams with balconies and glass set back within that grid and although high at the north end, the blocks will step down in a series of terraces so they will be lower in height towards the lake and the open common.

UN17 Village, Lendager Group


drawings from Lendager Group


UN17 village overlooking Kalvebod Fælled

With the area of Ørestad marked by a dotted white line and the plot for housing designed by Lendager at the south-west corner marked in orange - this aerial view of Amager was produced simply to show the site and the context.

From the air - and, of course, on the ground - you can see how the proposed housing will be at a key point between the densely built housing blocks of Ørestad and the open common of Kalvebod Fælled.

It also shows the extent of Ørestad for readers who have not been to Copenhagen or do not know this part of the city although, actually, the 8 Building by Bjarke Ingels, just to the east of the Lengager plot and also looking across the common, is now a tourist attraction.

The position and the extent of Copenhagen airport on the east side of Amager is obvious but what might not be so obvious is the odd small tongue in the sea in the centre of the east or right side. That is the end (or start) of the rail and motorway bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmö. The road and rail links drop down into a tunnel between the shore and the bridge.

The road and the rail links run east west and straight through the centre of Ørestad which is why Ørestad City, with a rail and metro interchange, was planned as a major business centre.

At the centre, at the top of Amager, are the distinct lakes and 17th-century defences around Christianshavn and above that part of the historic centre of Copenhagen.

It is the first time I have produced a map of this part of the city for this blog and I realised that I have a slightly distorted view of Ørestad. Over the last five years or so I have done the trip out to this part of the city at fairly regular intervals - partly because I like having a coffee in the lakeside restaurant in the 8 Building with a view out over the common - but mainly because I want to observe and to photograph the area as it develops. A standard trip is to get the metro out to the end of the line, have a coffee and then walk back to where I live in Christianshavn exploring and taking photos.

The metro emerges from its tunnel alongside the university area at the north end of Ørestad and then curves round past the distinctive blue cube of the Danish Radio concert hall before running the full length of Ørestad on an elevated concrete track.

The image I have is of a very large or rather a very long and densely built development but flanked by the much older areas of small plots and gardens and individual houses to the east and open common land to the west and south. That much is true but somehow I had set in my mind that Ørestad was almost a sixth digit on the famous Copenhagen Finger Plan … even if that seems like a slightly perverse understanding of anatomy. But it's not a finger. The Fingers are much much larger, and much longer and much more suburban in character, so each finger is a string of housing and centres for shopping and commerce and based along the lines of the suburban railway. I'm not sure how Ørestad fits in my mind map of the city now … maybe a name tag hung from the wrist.

Resource Rows, Ørestad Syd by Lendager

June 2018 - rapid progress



A major housing project in Ørestad by Lendager is moving fast towards completion.

This is housing around an enclosed courtyard on a plot about 250 metres south of the new Royal Arena

It is a wide site from east to west but relatively short north to south and there will be three-storey row houses along both long sides and taller blocks across the shorter east and west ends of the courtyard.

Drawings for the scheme show extensive planting in the courtyard with well-established trees and with climbers or plants on the walls of the courtyard and extensive gardens and green houses across the roof.

drawing by Lendager Group

But it seems, from walking around the site, that there could be a very real problems with shadow across the building and across the courtyard. This is not just a problem with this development but a significant problem across the district.

A masterplan for this part of Ørestad was produced by the Finnish company ARKKI in 1995 and although the specific form of key buildings - like the new Royal Arena and the recently completed school - have changed from the layout shown then, the arrangement of roads and building plots has survived. However, the housing and apartments as built, over the last year or so, appear to be much higher than originally planned with more floor levels - to increase housing density - so the buildings have a much longer and unbroken area of shadow and that is obviously much more of a problem at this time of year when the sun, although often bright and in a clear sky, is low in the sky.

Here, there are tall buildings immediately to the south with just a narrow road between the two developments but the higher blocks at the east and west ends of the Lendager building itself will also throw shadows across the courtyard from the early morning and the evening sun.

To be more positive, the really striking feature of the building will be the facing panels of recycled brickwork. These are not old bricks that have been salvaged and cleaned and re-laid but they have been cut in panels from buildings as they were demolished … in this case buildings on the Carlsberg site in Copenhagen.

Old lime mortars tends to crumble away as a building is demolished and individual bricks can be cleaned and reused but modern mortar is so tough that bricks are damaged or shatter if you try to salvage them individually.

This method of creating facing panels for new buildings has been shown by Lendager at exhibitions at the Danish Architecture Centre.


Resource Rows, Lendager Group

January 2019 - a much clearer idea of the final appearance with windows fitted and the strong black skyline but note the deep shadow across the south-facing row houses on a bright winter day early afternoon - general view taken from the south-west


Nansensgade 57


This plot on Nansensgade - a street a few blocks out from Nørreport - has been empty since the late 1980s … simply a gap in the street frontage with a garden behind a fence.

The new building here was designed by Christensen & Co and completed last summer.

Built by the city social services, the apartments are for vulnerable young people and are used as a staging post to give them help and support before they move on to more independent lives.

It is a narrow plot, so the entrance door is set off to one side - leaving space for one shop on the ground floor and the staircase is at the back, turned to run up across the garden side. On the floors above, the apartments are arranged to follow the well-established Copenhagen form with two apartments at each level, one to the right and one to the left, with the pattern broken at the top floor where there is a ninth apartments on one side and a roof terrace to the other.

To the street the façade has a checkerboard pattern of plain copper panels that step forward boldly to give privacy to the balconies of each apartment and narrow windows in the sides give views up and down this lively street.

My career has been spent working on historic architecture and conservation but that does mean that I can't appreciate good modern architecture even if, as here in a good street of good buildings with a distinct character, it seems to break many of the conventions.

Breaking rules or breaking conventions or, as here, breaking forward of the regular line of the facades along the street, is fine if it's done knowingly. Rules and conventions should not be broken just for the sake of it but here it clearly adds a dynamic to the street frontage and the choice of material and the colour is spot on.

Christensen & Co


the colours of Thorvaldsens Museum


The sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and then,  in 1797, travelled to Rome where he established a successful studio.

When he returned home to Copenhagen in 1838, he was was welcomed as a hero.

He donated his collection to the nation, on the condition that a specific and dedicated building should be constructed to house his sculptures and his studies, and a site adjoining the royal palace, the Royal Coach House, was granted by the king. A new building was commissioned that was designed by Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll (1800-1856).

Completed by 1848, it was the first art museum in Denmark.


Frescoes around the exterior depict the triumphal arrival of Thorvaldsen in the city with his sculptures carried in triumph from the ship and watched by local people.

The painter was Jørgen Sonnes (1801-1890) but his colours were lime based but over a cement mortar and changed over time so had to be repaired in the 1860s and then recreated by the renowned Danish painter and ceramic designer Axel Salto in 1951.

The colour scheme is a combination of rich, deep-ochre tones with the background in a blue/grey base with figures in outline and fabric of costumes picked out in a limited range of colours with solid ochre, iron red and stone which gives the frieze a strong unity.

Colours of the interior of the building are richer and darker, based in part on studies of classical Pompeian art, with strong solid wall colours as a foil to the marble statues and plaster casts.

Documents survive to show that, from the start, the architect considered the role and the control of natural light in the galleries as crucial … in part, it is said, to copy the form of controlled lighting in Thorvaldsen's studio in Rome. Light was to fall from above with the brightest light on the heads of the statues with a more suffused light across the floor. On the upper floor is what was called "the sunshine corridor" where natural light was reflected to illuminate the works. Etched glass was used in the large windows on the ground-floor that look into the courtyard and this modifies the natural light in these inward-looking spaces. 

The colour scheme of the large courtyard is different from the exterior and has strong, deep, slate green and a dull blue that are used to emphasise architectural features. This is not just a museum but was conceived as a mausoleum and the grave of Thorvaldsen is at the centre of the courtyard so plants etched in the window glass and palms in the design of the frescoes are an allusion to the Garden of Paradise.

When completed, the whole composition must have seemed astounding to citizens, at a time when the city had been dominated for half a century by subtle and subdued classical taste, with most new buildings painted in tones of cream, grey and stone. Here, at Thorvaldsens Museum, was a return to the strong colours of 17th-century Danish buildings and interiors and the building marks a key point in the development of Danish historicism with a new interest in the idea of a national style based on historical precedence. 

Thorvaldsens Museum


through a glass darkly


Over the last twenty or thirty years, much of the new architecture in the city has been designed with huge areas of glass across outside walls and this reflects back blue from the sky and the water but also, as you look through the building, you see colours or distorted colours of sky or water or an urban landscape beyond. 

The glass used varies in quality and does not reflect light in the same way from one building to another so some windows seem blank and flat, like holes in the façade, sucking in the light, while others are like tinted sun glasses, hiding everything inside but reflecting back everything outside. 

Some glass, particularly older and more irregular glass, can have really amazing qualities seeming, in comparison with modern plate glass, like comparing pewter and polished steel in metal … because the older glass has a warmth and softens and distorts images and reflections.

Certainly, the way the light is reflected by the glass means that the appearance of a building can change dramatically at different times of day, as the sun moves round, or can look very different if you approach from a different direction so you, rather then the sun, moves round.


brick cladding


Out near the beach on the east side of Amager there are large new apartment buildings that are going up and at an incredible speed because of the method of construction being used with large panels of preformed concrete lifted into place by huge cranes before then being fixed or linked together. 

Then, on the outer face, goes insulation and a veneer of brick in large sheets made in a factory …. and that is where I begin to have reservations.

There is nothing wrong with the building method - and the advantage is that very speed of building - but then my inner puritan kicks in. I notice the long straight joins between the panels and think that this really has little to do with real brickwork … basically because brickwork isn’t, curiously, just about bricks but also about the mortar and the courses and the patterns - created by how the bricks are laid - and how different colours of brick and how different colours of mortar effect the appearance.

Then there is the thing about honesty … that’s not honesty as in money and value but honesty in design so about using building materials in an appropriate way that reflects and uses the intrinsic qualities of those material. Here I can see that brick facing is used for these modern apartment buildings because people like it - it’s somehow more reassuring and warmer and more comforting than concrete or glass - and because it can be a good attractive colour and, at least, brick does provide an element of texture that can be missing from many cladding materials. 

Which is sort of part of the irony here … it is a factory made product - manufactured - but it appropriates the qualities of something made by hand. On Grundtvigs Kirke every brick was laid one at a time by hand … is that one of the reasons that makes it such an amazing building?

Obviously the apartment building is a very very different type of building so is that voice of my inner puritan wrong and misplaced? Is it perfectly OK to use current technology to achieve some of the benefits for none of the skill or effort?

But Copenhagen has a long and well-established tradition using brick in its buildings and it’s not simply a practical solution simply because these new apartments are very tall blocks so traditional brickwork would not be appropriate …. just look at the huge power stations in the city from the 1930s or some of the very large brick apartment buildings from the 1920s and 30s and you can see good traditional brickwork on very large buildings.

I guess in the end it comes down to thinking that the finished buildings look a bit mechanical because it’s all rather too flat and rather too regular. Presumably the developer would argue that the cost benefits outweigh any quibbles about trying to keep alive traditional building methods and they would probably tell you about 19th-century apartment buildings with thin walls a single brick thick where cold and condensation and noise were and are a serious problem. 

So do cost and comfort always trump aesthetics and rapidly-disappearing craft skills? 

select any image to open the photographs in a slide-show gallery ….

it really is interesting to look at how the concrete and insulation and brick panels are sandwiched together


is design all in the concept ....


For any design - a design for a building, a chair or a teapot - the starting point has to be the idea, the concept. It is that first attempt to imagine the what and then think about the how. 

If you are cynical or pedantic or just being realistic - in this tough world - you could argue that a commercial design actually starts with the commission and the contract but for me what is fascinating about looking at a great design is to try and understand that initial concept and to see how it was realised.

My apartment is about 200 metres from Cirkelbroen - The Circle Bridge - that was designed by Olafur Eliasson and completed in 2015. So whenever I walk into the city I either see the bridge at the end of the canal or I actually cross over the bridge to get to Islands Brygge or get to the west part of the city centre. 

When it first opened I thought it was stunning … and to be honest also rather useful as it made it possible for the first time to walk from Christianshavn on south along the harbour … but mainly I thought that it was stunning.  

Unique as well. Elegant and curiously delicate, almost ephemeral, when seen in sunlight but particularly if it is misty or the light is failing at the end of the day - but at night somehow stronger and much more dramatic. 


Sometimes a clever idea for a design looks exciting the first time you see it and then you begin to think well so what and then it becomes just part of your streetscape, maybe even a bit mundane or worse, because when the novelty wears off, you stop even seeing it. 

That is certainly not the case with the bridge and, living so close, I have the opportunity and sometimes find time to watch and see how people react to the design … so, for a start, it is obvious when people are seeing the bridge for the first time.

It is fascinating but not surprising that the city - because of the prominent location - wanted and commissioned something much more than a basic bridge that could be raised or swung open to let boats sail out from the canal into the harbour. 

And I guess it’s not that surprising that Nordea-fonden were sufficiently taken with the design to finance the work as a gift to the city but, at some point, someone, some how thought about commissioning Olafur Eliasson - the Danish Icelandic artist - to come up with the concept for the form and design the bridge. That is interesting.

His studio is in Berlin and his work challenges you but in a way that is subtle rather than hectoring or shocking. You seem to get drawn in and it is at that point, once you are involved, that you start to question your assumptions or question what everyone, including you, just accept without thinking.

For The River Runs Through It at Louisiana in 2015 the galleries were filled with rocks and gravel - scree from Iceland - with a stream running down the centre through the rooms. In the first space the rocks simply covered the floor but as people walked further in most seemed to slow down, look carefully at different rocks, touch the water, and slowly you could see people realising that in climbing up slowly through the series of galleries, they had just ducked to get under a doorway that they knew to be 4 metres or more high and then you began to see just how monumental the installation was and how radical and how it challenged your perception of what an art gallery could or should be and then question what we take for granted as being inside and what should or should not be outside.

Cirkelbroen if you let it slow you down on your walk - or on your bike - it makes you look in a different way at the harbour and it really doesn’t work like you expect a bridge to work.

The basic concept is that rather than a single arch over the canal, there are a series of five interlinked but offset circles set horizontally to form the deck. This is, in part, the way people are slowed down … so for cyclists it should be more than racing up the ramp, sprinting across the top and racing down the other side … although some do that … and in part it is so that people walking can stand to one side, on one of the great outward-curving bows, to look at the harbour or to look along the canal and watch the boat traffic there. 

Each of the circles has a tall mast at its centre and there are wires down from the top of the masts to the deck, held taut, like standing rigging on a sailing ship so, as you approach along the quay, you have the impression or perhaps, - even less tangible - an echo or a sort of ghost of the large masted boats and sailing barges that in the past docked along the harbour as they unloaded and loaded. Large sailing ships still come into the harbour so you can sometimes see what the harbour must have looked like when this really was a working commercial port. But because the masts on the bridge are off set then this never becomes a pastiche … never an attempt to look like a boat docked here … simply an evocative impression. 

The railings of the bridge are inside the wires and are set to slope inwards to respect the angle of the rigging so again, with the timber hand rail, there is an echo of the railings of a ship but, because of that angle inwards, more dramatic.

And when the bridge opens there really is a sort of magic. Bridges should clink and clunk and chains should pull. Most bridges that open do that. Cirkelbroen glides and, because of the circles and the masts, it seems to pivot and spin. That’s the brilliant part of the concept.

.... or all in the engineering ....

the bridge open for a boat to move out from the canal and into the harbour beyond


To be mundane, I suppose Cirkelbroen is simply a bridge over a canal, where there had been no bridge before, but it means that, for the first time, people on bicycles or walking can get along the waterfront of the harbour between Knippelsbro - the historic bridge at the centre of the harbour that links the historic centre and Christianshavn - and Langebro - the main traffic bridge between the city centre and Amager. All that was needed was a simple steel bridge that could either be raised or swung open to let boats from the canal sail out into the harbour.

Of course the bridge designed by Olafur Elliasson is so much more than it … but even so …  in the end … it all has to work and it has to be robust and it has to be relatively quick to move and and easy to operate. So that it is the engineering part of the design that allowed the concept to be realised.

Rambøll - the engineering company - were responsible for the construction of the bridge, and there are a number of interviews on line and a video on YouTube that shows the parts of the bridge deck arriving by barge and being lifted into place by a giant crane on another barge. There you can not only get a real sense of the size and weight of the parts but also get some sense, as it is lowered in to place, how it works. 

the bridge closing and, on the right, almost closed as cyclists wait to cross


You can see that although the bridge appears to pivot around the largest mast at the centre of the bridge, when it is opened, there is, in fact, a substantial substructure below the water that swings back and that carries the outer two circles at the Knippelsbro end of the deck in and away to create an opening for taller boats to pass.

The quay here is just 1.6 metres or so above the water and although a bridge deck at the level of the quay would have been simpler, and less intrusive visually, it would have given no head room for vessels to pass under the bridge without it being raised or swung open. By taking the deck up - just 1.1 metres above the quay - most tour boats and smaller pleasure boats and canoes can pass under the bridge with the deck in place. 

But the consequence is that there have to be long ramps up to the deck and because the ramps extend well beyond the quays on either side of the canal then there are also steps up onto the deck from the quay of the canal.

The length and the gradient of the ramp has to be a compromise: short but steep and the ramps would have been difficult for cyclists - particularly if they are riding family bikes, the famous Christiania bike, which can be heavily loaded or they are riding bikes with fixed gears - but too shallow a slope would make the ramp too long. In fact, the ramps seem just slightly too short and steep because cyclists seem to be pushing hard to get the top but then on reaching the deck it is not easy and certainly not an intuitive change to quickly reduce the effort on the pedals so bikes tend to come across the bridge just slightly too fast and, curiously, the curves on the route across either mean people cut the corners slightly - making their route less predictable for other users - or some faster cyclists even do that thing of leaning into the curves as they snake across and actually gain momentum … or at least appear to.

The other problem, of course, is that with tourists they are distracted - looking at the bridge or absorbed by watching what is happening on the harbour or they are looking at the back of a camera or holding up a phone for a selfie rather than watching out for the bikes coming through - so it is also a good place to pick up a smattering of Danish and foreign swear words. 

That’s not to suggest that the concept or the final design is wrong … just that, with any concept, the most difficult part is anticipating how human beings will behave.



.... or all in the detail?


So at the start there is an idea - a brilliant concept - and then the engineering is the how that makes it all work. But I’m fascinated to find out who frets about the small stuff and when. Are the details of the design really just a part of the design process or part of the execution so the responsibility of the people who manufacture or construct or build the design? 

Arne Jacobsen had a reputation for designing every detail and he seems to have kept tight control of a small drawing office so presumably everything, even for a large project, went across his desk but at the other extreme there are architects and designers who present their ‘brilliant’ idea with a flourish, and while others worry about how or if it can be realised, they are off and away on the next exciting idea. Presumably, most major projects have to sit somewhere between those two extremes. And, of course, the details and the quality of the parts always depend on the size of the budget.

And the truth is that in the end, when it’s all finished, all that beautifully executed and expensive detail can be overlooked by people distracted by the excitement of experiencing that dramatic concept. 

The details are not quite the boring bit but more the ignored or under appreciated part of designing and making or constructing something because when you see people looking at Cirkelbroen not one is looking down at the surface they are walking on or looking at the amazing quality of the stonework of the ramps or looking at how the handrail and railings are made or how the curved and angled sections of the railings are spaced so that they slide apart as the bridge opens. Does anyone wonder who designed the beautiful stonework of the steps? One or two twang the wires but that seems to be the extent of their curiosity.

I’d like to see the drawings for this project … the concept drawings to see just how many ideas were discarded and how many stages it took to hone down the idea. And see how many engineering drawings were needed to make sure the bridge would actually open and shut and work and then see how many drawings there were to work through those details of how the precisely-rounded stone blocks for the edge of the ramp would be cut and spaced or the uprights of the railings would be set into the ramp or into the deck of the bridge? And that’s not even beginning to consider the design for lighting the bridge at night and all those diagrams for electric wiring and drawings for the planners and drawings for the press to ensure the public were on side.

Not to wonder about all those things is like being swept away by the power of a complicated piece of music but never once wondering how the composer could possibly have imagined the sound of all those instruments together in that way in their head let alone to be curious about who wrote out all those scores for each instrument in the orchestra.

For a great design you really can’t separate out the concept, the engineering, or the manufacturing methods, that are the how and the details of the what. The simple answer is that for a good or a great design you need an idea followed with the hard work going through the details and the design drawings that ensure it will work and the skills, when making or building or constructing, and materials that are appropriate and of a quality to do justice to the concept. Easy to say. Not easy to do.

So what I am saying, I suppose, is that a great design should be seen not only as a brilliant concept but also as the sum of its parts.


all in the detail



There have been several posts on this site about the stone cobbles or setts used for roads and pavements in the city. This is obviously far from being a cheap option but it is hard wearing and it is practical … unless you are wearing stiletto heels or you are trying to control a suitcase on wheels … and almost impossible if you are doing both. 

The first photograph is of the old meat market just to the west of the central station. There are no longer carts with metal hoops on their wheels clattering and bumping over these lanes and they no longer get covered with blood and gore - or at least not often - but the cobbles form a fantastic foil for the buildings.

Cobbles in the city range in colour through greys and dull purples and form an appropriate base for the buildings and create a texture that concrete paving or tarmac really cannot match.

The cobbles are laid with blocks of stone and together they form pathways that are used to direct the walker and cobbles can also be used on more prominent features to form embankments or gullies for drainage - as in front of the warehouses on Holmen. Cobbles are laid with considerable skill - part of the cost - for changes of level or to direct away water as in the example shown here which is at Højbro - the bridge over the canal from Christiansborg - where the curve of stone steps and the slope of the cobbles are necessary where the levels change dropping down from the bridge and round to the lower level of the quay at Ved Stranden.

At the top, two photographs show the corner of a street in Christianshavn … not an old surface - because until the 1990s this was the site of industrial buildings of a large engineering works - but cobbles have been used to respect the importance of this historic quarter of the city.

A trench was dug across part of the road fairly recently but with the cobbles back there is now no trace of the work so not just stylish but also practical … as long as you don’t insist on wearing those stiletto heels.


concrete and steel in the 1930s


The Deutscher Werkbund - the German Association of Craftsmen - held an exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927 that included houses and apartment buildings - the Weissenhof Estate - designed by German architects but also by architects from Belgium, France and the Netherlands. New construction techniques for domestic buildings were shown … here an open steel frame infilled with concrete blocks for an apartment building designed by Mies van der Rohe


Arne Jacobsen at the SAS building during construction with Copenhagen City Hall in the background

Until the 20th century, the main materials for building construction in Europe were natural … so stone as a strong but usually expensive walling; timber for wall framing, roofs and architectural fittings including windows and doors. Natural materials were not of course always used in their found state but were modified or transformed by builders so sand for glass; plaster for covering internal and external surfaces; clay fired for bricks and roof tiles and, of course, lime for mortar and for cement. Perhaps the biggest change to the structural form and then, as a direct consequence, to the appearance of buildings in modern Denmark came with the more and more frequent use of concrete and steel … not just for industrial buildings but for housing and apartment buildings and for new large building types and particularly where high or wide and open enclosed spaces were wanted that were unencumbered by walls or internal supports.

The use of concrete and steel are now so common for building that we rarely stop to consider that both can be used in many different ways. Someone might say “… oh it’s a glass and steel block …” but that’s about as useful in helping to conjure up an impression or mental image of a building as saying that a meal was meat.

In the 1920s and 1930s steel was not always used for a complete frame of a building but could be used as simply a reinforcement for lintels and supports for wide openings but with traditional building materials for the wall itself and similarly concrete could be used for piers and frames to support large open floor spaces or it could be used poured into shuttering for panels for walls that could support considerable weight or concrete could be used cast in moulds for building blocks, used with mortar like stone or brick, or used for ornate features that could be reproduced easily and much more cheaply than when previously such features of a building were carved in stone. Above all, in terms of how the appearance of everyday buildings changed, reinforced concrete can be used with minimal support or can be cantilevered out from the facade for thin canopies or for balconies.

Arne Jacobsen’s own house in Ordrup should be seen as an important building at a pivotal stage in house design. Completed in 1929 it appears to be a modern and ground-breaking house with plain smooth white walls in the International Style that was then becoming fashionable but in fact, at that point, Copenhagen regulations did not allow concrete to be used in house building so the walls are actually built in brick and were then rendered and even the apartments at Bellavista completed in 1934 - perhaps the most iconic representation of the modern style of the 1930s in Denmark - are again brick rendered with plaster. 

Jacobsen did use concrete in the Mattsson riding building just north of the apartments - also completed in 1934 - to roof over a wide high space and concrete became more and more important in his work in housing but more frequently for the industrial and commercial buildings he designed.

There is an amazing photograph taken of Jacobsen with others at an upper floor of the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen looking out over the city before the tower was clad in glass. The impression of the building now, for most people, is of a light and thinly elegant block but the outside cladding and the internal fittings cover the underlying structure and this photograph and photographs of the tower under construction show clearly a massive and robust concrete structure. 

With potential problems with transport and access to the site, the concrete parts were not formed in a factory and brought to the city centre - a later and the more usual method - but the floors and cross walls were cast on site.

One obvious benefit from this substantial sub structure and the substantial internal supports is that there are no corners to the building … or rather the corners are formed by the windows and panels of the adjoining fronts being abutted to form a thin and almost invisible corner.


... of balconies and bays

Store Mølle Vej in Copenhagen designed by Frode Galatius and built in 1938


Extensive use of concrete and steel for the construction of buildings in the 20th century - from the late 1920s onwards - meant that the outside walls - the facades of a building - became less crucial for supporting the weight of walls and the upper structure - particularly the weight of the roof - and walls could be broken through and pierced with larger and wider openings until the outside wall can, in some buildings, disappear completely with all the weight of the building taken on piers in steel or concrete that were set within the building or with the structure depending on strong internal cross walls.

Particularly for apartment buildings this meant that wider and wider windows could be constructed, sometimes in metal, often made in a factory - even when they are in wood - and then brought to the site, so standardised and by using reinforced concrete, balconies could be cantilevered out from the facades and became larger and, in many buildings, much larger so that they become a dominant feature.

In Copenhagen this resulted in a dramatic change in the appearance of apartment buildings through the 1930s. The walls of the building were increasingly plain … so without ornate decoration around windows and without ornate cornices or features like pilasters.

With the use of wide runs of window or with windows that wrapped around the corner of a bay or even around the corner of the building itself, these become the decorative features and, repeated at regular intervals across a facade, they create a strong sense of coherence and unity in the design.

Balconies become not just larger but they take a variety of forms … some with at least one solid side wall for privacy or with screens in metal or there were full-height railings - often on the side in shade or on the side away from the better view out - and these screens were often combined with built-in troughs for plants. 

The type of balcony that is now generally recognised to be the most distinctive from this period is a balcony where part of the space was within the building - created by setting back a window - and part of the balcony projected, so was cantilevered out from the facade.

In apartment buildings in the late 19th and early 20th century only some apartments were given balconies … so perhaps those on the corner of a block or those in the centre - so the balconies are really just decorative and there to ‘articulate’ or add interest to the facade and most are too shallow to be used for anything more than a few plants and are certainly not intended to be used by the tenants for sitting outside. 

However, by the 1930s it becomes common for every apartment or at least the majority of apartments in a block to have a balcony and, in some buildings, this proliferation of small balconies dominates the design of the facade to the point where the balconies, when seen from the street, take on a the character of a pattern or texture across the whole front.

Again, that is not to suggest that the balconies are simply decorative because, unlike in apartment buildings of the late 19th century and early 20th century, balconies in the 1930s and later were seen as important private outdoor space and very important for bringing fresh air and as much light as possible into an apartment.


background ......

In the late 19th century and through the first two decades of the 20th century, a phenomenal number of purpose-built apartment buildings were constructed in Copenhagen to house working-class and middle-class families as more and more people moved into the city and as densely-packed and badly-built inner courtyards in the older part of the city were cleared.

These apartment buildings were often on just a single plot but they could extend across a whole city block. More expensive apartments were usually given ornate facades with decorative details taken from historic sources so vaguely renaissance motifs or gothic arches or in a style that could be Flemish or German. In contrast, massive housing schemes that were constructed for workers in the docks - apartment buildings around the Free Port north of the city or on Amager for workers on the new wharfs of Islands Brygge - could be grimly stark and more like industrial buildings in their severity but the priority was to house these workers and their families in well-built and safe if small apartments and to build those as quickly as possible … so little decoration and certainly no balconies. 


around 1900 .....

An apartment building from the late 19th century on Israels Plads. What appear to be balconies with stone balustrades are fake with the balustrades across blind panels below the windows.

Apartment building on Dantes Plads opposite Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Dating from the late 19th century and with a fairly standard plan with central entrance and apartments on each side on each floor. A sort of French baroque style with mansard roof and ornate bay windows at each side that are linked by balconies rather like galleries with stone balusters for the main apartments on the second floor and with iron railings on the two floors above.

Corner of apartments at the junction of Møntegade and Christian IXs Gade … vaguely reminsicent of a French or German chateau. Good views out at an angle towards the King’s Gardens but again not a place for sitting out.

Strandgade in Christianshavn … small balconies supported on shaped corbels with awkward access with outward-opening door and as lower part of the door has a solid panel there is no additional light to the room.


Polensgade … one of the blocks for workers that were built south of Holmbladsgade around 1900. Stark and severe, most of the buildings are around long narrow courtyards. Details like doorways and the treatment of the corner of blocks differ slightly to try and give the buildings some character but marked similarities show where one builder constructed several blocks. Presumably few of these buildings were designed by architects but by the builders.


On wider main thoroughfares … this block is on Amagerbrogade … the fronts to the street could be given more decoration and the bowed window bays must have provided much more light in those rooms which get the sun for the second half of the day and through into the evening. Dating from around 1900 there are balconies but only for four apartments at the centre of the block on the second and third floors. Windows at intermediate levels, above the doors from the street, mark the landings of the staircases and they have projecting sills with low iron railings presumably for plants in pots though it is seems likely that they were rarely if ever used. What is important to note here is that bays or bow windows were certainly not new in the 1930s and, as here, bays were often cantilevered out so they started on the first or second floor to keep the pavement free but with the building right up to the edge of the plot.


into the 1930s .....


An apartment building by Thorkild Henningsen at H C Ørstedsvej and, dating from 1930-1931 the building is generally recognised as one of the earliest Functionalist designs in the city. The brickwork is plain, without decoration, and there are no architraves or cornices or plat bands. Windows are spaced carefully and regularly across the facade and the apartments have prominent, square-sided window bays with the north side blind and the windows across the front returning back down the south-facing side. 


Windows returning around a corner with no obvious structural support become perhaps the most common feature in designs from the 1930s.


The most amazing and stunning corner windows are on the apartment building by Ib Lunding at Grønningen 9 which is an L-shaped block at the north-east corner of a trapezium-shaped courtyard of several very different apartment buildings. The windows have views over the embankments of the 17th-century fortifications of Kastellet. Note that the windows run well back from the corner of the building and have thin but deeply projecting window sills that must have been intended for house plants.


When there are corner windows in a room, they create a very different dynamic so the diagonal view across the space becomes important and light comes directly into the room for a longer part of the day. This is the bedroom in the house in Ordrup that Arne Jacobsen designed that was built for himself and his wife in 1929.


At Vestersøhus by Kay Fisker and C F Møller, where building work was from 1935 onwards, the distinct feature is the corner window combined with a balcony with the space half into the building but with the balcony also projecting out. The window of a smaller room is set back and here the corner window of the main sitting room looks south and west across one of the city lakes and makes the most of the late afternoon and evening sun.

The ground floor apartments are smaller - loosing the space of the entrance hall - but are at least raised up above a  half basement with service rooms - half below ground level and half above - so people walking along the pavement cannot look directly into the sitting rooms.


Vodruffsvej, on the west side of the lakes was also by Fisker and Møller but completed in 1929. Here, long runs of window are combined with box-like balconies with a solid brick parapets. The effect is almost like some form of filing cabinet with some drawers pulled out.



The effect of boxes sliding in and out or across a facade is particularly marked at Aboulevarde 10 where the building - next to the Bethlehem Church by Kaare Klint - is a simple block but the balconies with solid brick parapets create a very dramatic front with what appears to be a deep channel in shadow above the door from the street and the apartments on the top floor have a continuous balcony with the bay windows omitted.

The building is dated on an inscription above the door to 1939, but I have not been able to identify the architect. Any information about this apartment building would be gratefully acknowledged.


Perhaps the finest of these apartment buildings with the solid, box-like balconies with brick parapets is the large development of Hostrups Have on Falkoner Allé in Frederiksberg.

Designed by Hans Dahlerup Berthelsen and completed in 1936, some apartments have a recessed balcony with a parapet that barely projects and others have balconies that project out over the pavement with views over the gardens in the central square. The blocks continue out into adjoining streets and there are back service yards but again with interesting balconies that seem to break away or undermine the corners of the blocks and at one corner, where the apartments run into an adjoining street at an angle, there are angled windows and balconies.

Hostrups Have


At Blidah Park housing scheme, by Edvard Heiberg, Karl Larsen, Ivar Bentsen, Vagn Kaastrup and Ole Buhl, the apartments are not around a courtyard but are in a number of individual blocks with the ranges set at an angle in a park-like setting to make optimum use of light and views.

North of the centre of Copenhagen, in Gentofte, and finished in 1934, these apartments have probably the most sophisticated design from this period in the city with clever combinations of render and high-quality yellow brick and curved and square balconies. The top of the parapets are at the level of the sills of windows to give unbroken lines and, presumably, from the inside blurring the distinction between room and balcony. 


A very different form of balcony has a concrete apron cantilevered out from a building with a railing or with metal sheet or with poured concrete parapets often using corrugated shuttering. 

This example from 1937 is from an apartment building designed by Povl Baumann on Skoleholdervej … one of several very large blocks of workers’ housing across the south side of the cemetery of Bispebjerg Kirkegård in the north part of the city close to Grundtvigs Kirke.

Drawings showing the construction of these balconies (inv. nr. 12356 a-b, d-s 12356c) are in the collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek along with drawings of the technical details for the construction of staircases and windows in the building.


The effect of these long lines of balconies can be seen best at Vestersøhus above and left and at Store Mølle Vej at the top of the post. The balconies when seen from a distance become a texture - almost like a basket weave - across the facade



The relatively small balconies at Grønningen 9 have modesty or privacy screens on one side but they also illustrate clearly two other important features found in many of these balconies. There are relatively narrow doors for access onto the balconies and the balconies are offset away from the windows primarily so that they do not throw a shadow across the window of the apartment below.

Blidah Park housing scheme, from 1934 by Edvard Heiberg, Karl Larsen, Ivar Bentsen, Vagn Kaastrup and Ole Buhl.


The balconies of the Storgården housing scheme from 1935 by Povl Baumann and Knud Hansen have screens on one side and integral plant troughs but what is perhaps more interesting here is that the plan shows that the lines of balconies impose a very grand regularity to the long south-facing frontage but actually the position of windows within the rooms is not exactly compromised but is not completely rational or symmetrical within the spaces. 


Ved Volden on Torvegade in Copenhagen designed by Tyge Hvass and Henning Jørgensen was completed in 1938. Balconies on the east block have the half in half out form with small integral planters. For the large apartments at the end of the range, overlooking the outer defences of Christianshavn, both the windows and the balconies wrap around the corner of the building.


Frode Galatius designed a number of large apartment buildings on Amager in the 1930s. This building is on Englandsvej with ranges running back at each end to form a U shape as one half of a large courtyard development. The design is not successful as it tries to put together too many different elements with white rendered parts at the ends and at the centre of the main front and with corner windows. One better feature is towards the end of the side range towards Peder Lykkes Vej where there is a wide double-width bay and quadrant shaped balconies are set into the return angles.


A smaller block, Geislershus off Holmbladsgade and closer to Christianshavn is more successful in part because it is less ambitious. The block is L-shaped at a road junction and at the south-west corner of a courtyard surrounded by different buildings of different dates. The two streets do not meet at a right angle so the blocks have been staggered and balconies set into the angle. Date and architect not known so information would be gratefully acknowledged.


to finish with the best …..

Above is one of the bay windows and small balcony on the lake frontage of the apartments at Sortedams Dossering 101-103 and Østerbrogade 19 by Ib Lunding and completed in 1938. The balcony is angled to make the most of light and views down the lake and note how carefully and how precisely the bay windows and flanking windows are set across the front. This is almost like origami. A few lines or cuts and the facade suddenly folds in and out but with a real mathematical precision.


Below is Bellevue, along the coast at Klampenborg just to the north of Copenhagen, by Arne Jacobsen where building work started in 1932, With the combination of corner windows and balconies in white rendered brick this is possibly the quintessential International Modern housing from the 1930s in Denmark.


Functionalism - apartment buildings in Copenhagen in the 1930s

Grønne Funkishus Nordre Fasanvej 78-82


In Copenhagen, there is a clear change from the apartments buildings that were constructed in the late 19th century and early 20th century and the apartment buildings from the 1920s and 1930s. 

In the 19th century each building was different from the next, often with relatively ornate doorways, carvings and complex mouldings for the street frontage 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, plans of individual apartments became simpler and they were generally more compact and certainly more rational in their arrangement of the rooms and staircases. Because many of these new buildings were on new sites outside the old city, or if they were within the city a whole block could be cleared of old buildings, so there is generally a greater sense of uniformity within larger and larger buildings. 

In part, this was because, 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.

Externally ornate decoration, such as pilasters or pediments or heavy stone or plaster window surrounds were omitted completely and the design, or rather, the articulation of the facade, depended on windows or balconies repeated regularly across the full width of the front. 

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. 

Perhaps the most obvious change, between the buildings of the 1930s and developments constructed now is that, in apartments then, kitchens were relatively narrow and usually were to the rear of an apartment whereas now, in many modern apartments, the kitchen area is within the main sitting room or is even open to the sitting room or a sitting room, dining area and kitchen are a single open space. 

In the last decade or so, some architects have tried to re-introduce more diversity in planning, to create more individual apartments within the same building - the most extreme example being the VM building by Plot where there are 40 different plans for apartments in the V building and 36 different plans in the M building - and there has been a return to having more prestigious apartments (so more expensive apartments) on one level. In the 19th century the best apartments were usually on the first or second floor - above the noise of the street but not up too many stairs. In the 1930s, if apartments were different in any way, it was probably only on the ground floor where they could be smaller as some of the area was taken up by the entrance lobby and lobbies and doorways to the courtyard. Now, of course, the best apartments are usually on the top floor if the building has a penthouse.

Changes in the way that people lived, at different social levels, can be seen clearly in the changes between 1870 and 1920. Of course there have been changes between 1920 and 2017 but many of those changes are architectural so structural or technical and to do with new materials but with little effect on the plan of the apartments or the changes are perhaps better described as improvements … so faster lifts, triple glazing, micro-wave ovens, dish washers and underfloor heating that all make life easier or more comfortable but do not in themselves actually indicate radical changes in the way people live … simply rising levels of prosperity. 

Equally, major changes in people’s lives, so the ever increasing number of people living alone or the number of men staying at home to bring up children or even the rise and rise of computer technology in the home that would hardly be comprehensible to someone living in Copenhagen in 1930 have barely required any changes to the apartments people live in or the furniture they need and buy today.

Really, this is a long way of saying that we tend to see ourselves as living a very modern life - specifically a contemporary life by definition - but if people look for a starting point - a point of change in the way that most of us live - then the first truly modern housing and modern furniture - although many Danes would see the Classic period of modern design in the 1960s as the crucial point of change, in fact, the real context for what we call modern housing and for what we would recognise as modern design is back in the 1920s.

Through the late 1920s and the 1930s it was the technical methods of construction and the style of the buildings and, of course, some of the architectural features that changed. So there was the more and more frequent use of concrete for floor structures so, in many buildings, the outer walls were no longer load bearing. As a consequence, a distinct feature of this period is long horizontal runs of windows because long windows, with few or no intermediate vertical supports, are only possible when the outer wall is no longer important in taking the weight of the building above. By the 30s, many buildings have square bay windows for the living room or large balconies off the main living space - again partly to do with style or fashion but, for more rational reasons, again it was a fashion that was only possible because of those changes in the way that the building was constructed.

By 1930, decorative elements had been reduced or even omitted so there was relatively little or no decoration on either the exterior of apartment buildings or inside - so plain doors and simple door architraves became common - so that is doors and architraves without ornate mouldings. Most fittings were industrially produced so apartments had factory-made window frames that were often metal rather than wood and iron radiators and fittings in the kitchen that had been made away from the site. So this period also marked a clear change in the way that builders and artisans were employed with less on-site skilled labour. Carpenters were needed for the construction of the roof and floors, if they were not concrete, and of course brick layers had to work on the site but there were fewer joiners and, because ceilings were plain, there was no longer a need for highly-skilled plasterers who could run a moulded cornice or form decorative feature.

Staircases in the 30s were generally plain or restrained - so no great sweeps or curves of moulded handrails with shaped or turned balusters - but actually some architects did use quite expensive new materials like bakelite or chrome or brass - and the staircases often provided an opportunity to show off new engineering skills with cantilevered flights or thinly elegant landings and large walls of window that in some buildings rise up through several levels. 

The standard arrangement in most apartment buildings was to have a main staircase reached by a lobby from the street with just two apartments at each level - one each side of each landing - but with secondary or back staircases that were usually reached by a door in the kitchen and gave access to the basement if there were service rooms like washing or drying rooms there and access to the courtyard for rubbish and so on.   

In Copenhagen, the plan of the apartments - the way that rooms and staircases were arranged - developed through the first decades of the 20th century. 

By the 1920s, there was usually one sitting room, a small kitchen and one or two bedrooms, in part depending on the size of the apartment, but even in Copenhagen now, many surprisingly-large apartments have just one bedroom.

In some buildings a distinct feature found in some apartments was to have wide door openings with double doors between the living room and the main bedroom, with the doorway in the centre of the wall rather than in the corner of the room. If there was a second bedroom it was smaller and often alongside the kitchen which meant that the way the rooms could be arranged was flexible. 

Some contemporary plans show furniture so that it is obvious that in one flat the room adjoining the main sitting room was used as an extension of the living space but in another apartment, with the same overall plan and even though the two rooms were linked by wide double doors, the room was used as the main bedroom.

By the late 1920s perhaps the most important change was that many if not most apartments had a small private toilet or bathroom within the apartment - although some toilets had internal windows onto a staircase for ventilation. Earlier apartment buildings, particularly for working families, might have had toilets on stair landings that were shared between two families or more or the toilets were down in the courtyard and all families used a nearby public bath house.


The following apartment buildings are not necessarily the best or even the most typical from the period but they illustrate interesting points and two - the Grønne Funkishus apartments and Hostrup Have - are important buildings that are out from the centre of Copenhagen so, for visitors not familiar with the city, they are less known and less likely to be just discovered on walking around.




The apartment building on Vodruffsvej was designed by Kay Fisker (1893-1965) and C F Møller (1898-1988) and was completed in 1929. It is at the south end of the lakes on a triangular plot on the south-west corner of Sankt Jørgens Sø and the narrow and restricted site of the building, with the lake to its east and with the shortest elevation to the south, explains the importance of the balconies and the long runs of window. 

It has the typical feature of many Functional buildings - bay windows, long runs of windows, flat roof, plain undecorated exterior - but rather than being arranged around a courtyard, it has, almost literally, an A-typical plan because of the long and narrow triangular site between a road and a lake.

The plan, like a capital A, has service rooms and secondary staircases moved into the centre to place the maximum number of good rooms looking outwards. 

Broad alternating bands of yellow and red brick and the projection of window bays with the cutting back of corners creates a complex design of layers and planes that are particularly interesting at the south end where you can see that the apartments on the lake side are set up half a level from those onto the street because the lake and the lakeside path on a man-made bank or dam are at a higher level than the road.


Grønne Funkishus Nordre Fasanvej 78-82 and Guldborgvej 25-27 

Designed by Hans Dahlerup Berthelsen (1888-1939) and completed in 1932

Again, this is a relatively unusual site that is between two existing roads, with a separate block fronting onto each road and with a narrow courtyard between the two blocks. It is a wide plot - but not particularly deep - and with the main frontage of the main building set back from the pavement with front gardens - to respect the building line of earlier apartments to the south - and there is also a shorter frontage to the secondary road so the ranges are also of different lengths. They are relatively shallow blocks from front to back, with no projections to the rear, and, even so, there is only space for a narrow courtyard between the two ranges that is reached through a wide opening at the centre of the Guldborgvej block.

The buildings have load-bearing steel frames and it has been suggested that this was important because it allowed for thinner outer walls … again to keep the buildings as shallow as possible from front to back.

However, the apartments themselves are wide - unusually wide - and vary in size from 89 to 168 square metres 

There are three entrance doors across the main frontage with each door leading into a stair hall with apartments on each side - so six apartments on each floor in the main block - but there are also secondary staircases for every apartment - the second staircase out to the side rather than out to the back - again dictated by the relatively shallow plot. 

The apartments are rationally laid out and well proportioned with the windows of the main rooms to the street rather than to the courtyard. From the main staircase there is a lobby, with a window to the courtyard, and then from there a door into a series of three good rooms along the street frontage that are interlinked by wide doorways on the central axis and the set of rooms culminates in a main bedroom. From the entrance lobby there is also a door into a small second bedroom with its window looking into the courtyard. The kitchen and bathroom are not reached from this entrance lobby but from the centre room of the three on the street side.

The two ranges have pitched roofs with clay tiles and there are no balconies - again possibly the consequence of having to build ranges with a restricted depth - but there were drying balconies in the attic on the slope towards the courtyard.

Nordre Fasanvej 78-82

the parallel building - Guldborgvej 25-27 

the courtyard with the windows for the service or second stairs at intermediate levels 



Hostrups Have, Falkoner Allé  

This very large housing scheme in red brick was designed by Hans Dahlerup Berthelsen and completed in 1936. There were 680 apartments, that vary in size from 60 to 205 square metres, and also 30 commercial leases for shops and businesses ... so extensive that it should perhaps be seen as town planning. 

It was on the site of Rubens Clothing Factory that had been established here in 1857 but was closed and demolished in 1927. One large factory chimney was retained, for the heating system of the new apartments, but that too has now gone, demolished in 2013.

A ceremony was held in 1935 for laying a foundation stone of the buildings and that ceremony was attended by the prime minister Thorvald Stauning and Marius Godskesen, mayor of the city. The builder was Harald Simonsen.

looking through the arch to the square from Rolighedsvej


from above the apartment buildings of Hostrups Have could not be easier to pick out ... they are the buildings with red clay-tile roofs. Air view from Google

the square from the south

Large housing schemes at this time might take up a whole block or one side of a block with a large internal courtyard but the apartments of Hostrup Have reverse this with the main blocks looking inwards into a large public square with gardens with a service or access road round the square between the apartments and the garden. The square is 70 metres across from east to west and 150 metres long from north to south. There is a main entrance range, across the north side of the gardens, that also has an important front to Roliighedsvej that is 125 metres long and there is a wide opening through the building at the centre of this north range to connect the street with the square.

At the centre of the west side of the square, there are additional apartments on both sides of a relatively short street running out to Falkoner Allé, one of the main streets in this area, the south range shorter, continuing for about half the length of the street but the north range for the full length of the street of 70 metres and with apartments in a range returning along Falkoner Allé.

There is a second street out of the square at the south-east corner that is 115 metres long with ranges of apartments on each side running down to Sankt Nikolay Vej and again those apartments return with frontages to Sankt Nikolaj Vej, and that to the east longer, continuing to an angled corner and a short block returning north along the side street to the east of the square called Dr Abildgaards Allé.

There are service yards to the south west and north west and a very long service yard across the east side of the long east range.

Hostrup Have seems to inspire considerable loyalty among residents as people advertise to move within the scheme, to move to a larger or smaller apartment, but want to stay within the square. Over the years there have been famous residents including actors, authors, and the designer Børge Mogensen.


inscription above the way through from the square to Rolighedsvej and the clock on the parapet above the inscription


the south-east corner of the square with the road leading down to Sankt Nikolaj Vej


Sankt Nikolaj Vej (above) with the apartment buildings on either side of the road leading up to the square and (below) the range set at an angle at the corner of Sankt Nikolaj Vej and Dr Abildgaards Allé


the north-east corner of the square with the passageway through to the east service yard. Note the two different forms of balcony and the change of angle at the corner as Rolighedsvej to the north and Dr Abildgaards Allé do not meet at a right angle


views of the west service yard (above) and the staircase at the south end of the east service yard (below)


staircase at the north end of the east service yard



Built between 1935 and 1939, the Vestersøhus apartments were also designed by Kay Fisker and C F Møller. This building is also unusual for the period in that despite being a very large housing scheme it is not built around a courtyard but has a single long range although there is a short return of apartments at the north end and a long narrow service area to the back. That main range faces onto Sankt Jørgens Sø, and is just under 300 metres long and occupies almost all of the west side of a long narrow block between Vester Søgade and Nyropsgade.

There were 242 apartments in the block with ten shops and, more unusual, a hotel that had 43 rooms.

The most striking feature of the front to the lake are the lines of white balconies that, from a distance, give the facade what looks almost like the texture of a woven basket. The apartments have two rooms to the front - with a large living room and a smaller room that is set back behind the balcony - so although the balcony projects it is also set half back into the building - and that allows for a corner window in the sitting room that looks out to the lake and into the balcony and makes maximum use of south-west light through the afternoon and evening.

Vestersøhus from the west - from the far side of the lake


Although the facade is strictly regular in its arrangement of doorways, window bays and balconies, in fact the apartments alternate, larger and smaller, down the length because the main staircases are not set between apartments, taking an equal amount of space from each side, but are to one side, taking up part of the space from one apartment, reducing its size. The main staircases also project slightly to the back giving a bay rhythm to the courtyard side that is otherwise rather stark and severe. 

Following the well-established plan form, there are second or back staircases for each apartment with access from the kitchens. 

There are service rooms in the raised or half basement so, although front doors are at street level, there are steps up inside the front door to the first apartments on what is a raised ground floor. This has several advantages as the basement rooms have ventilation and light from openings with their sills at pavement level but, more important, the ground-floor windows of the rooms to the front have some privacy as those sills are well above the head height of people walking along the pavement so they cannot look directly into the apartments.

Plans show rooms with grand or baby-grand pianos so clearly these apartments, with relatively large rooms and views over the lake, were a prestigious place to live.



Sortedams Dossering 101-03 / Østerbrogade 19

Two examples of buildings designed by Ib Lunding (1895-1983) have been included here to show that Functionalist architecture does not have to be severe or stark.  

Lunding graduated as an architect from the School of Architecture in 1925 and worked in the Department of the City Architect but also had a private practice. Although his apartment buildings have many of the hallmarks or use the elements and architectural vocabulary of Functionalism his buildings also have a distinct sense of quirkiness.

It is the lively arrangement of small balconies across the front of the apartments at Sortedams Dossering that is striking, with windows projecting out at an angle to make the most of views down the lake, and in vertical lines are Lunding’s signature feature of round windows.



Grønningen about 1910 looking north. The apartment buildings at each end of the street were completed first but the plots in the middle remained vacant for many years. The building by Ib Lunding was in the space on this side of the narrow road, now called Hammerensgade, that is shown as already surfaced between two plots of land. The trees to the right are Kastellet

7-9 Grønningen 

Round windows are also used at the apartment building at 7-9 Grønningen in Copenhagen in a line rising above the entrance door and light the staircase. These round windows are of different sizes, rather like a stream of bubbles, and the building is called fondly the Champagne Building. The entrance doorways are different and with arched heads are certainly not functional but are late echoes of romantic historicism but perhaps the most striking feature is the large windows at the corner of the two ranges where there is almost a bravado design to show that there is no corner support and the large windows are set out from the facade with relatively deep window sills. These windows look out across the street to the 17th-century earthworks of the Kastellet. The apartments were completed in 1936.



For other examples of apartment buildings in Copenhagen and for a broader context for the period there is a time line for apartment buildings on the architectural site copenhagen by design


​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.”

Radiohuset - immediately opposite the Forum - is another key building of the period. Designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen, it was the radio studios of Danish Radio but there was also also a large concert hall. It is now the Royal Danish Music Conservatory. Building work there did not begin until 1936 and it was not finished until 1942.  

Lauritzen was eight years younger than Gundlach-Pedersen so eight years older than Jacobsen and Lassen. He had graduated in 1921 and in the following year started his own office. Of the four architects, he was the only one to visit Stuttgart in 1927 to see an important exhibition there of modern houses - the Weissenhoff Exhibition - that was organised through the Deutsche Werkbund but coordinated by the architect Mies van der Rohe with buildings from seventeen architects. Most were from Berlin, with two buildings designed by Walter Gropius, but there were also houses by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Josef Frank. This major exhibition really marked the crucial point of change for modern European architecture when the terms Futurism and Functionalism were broadly adopted for houses that were designed for what was seen as a very different society and a very different style of living. 

Many of the buildings had metal-framed windows in long horizontal strips, balconies with metal hand rails, simple plastered external walls - usually white but some painted in strong colour - and there were flat roofs used in housing rather than for industrial buildings. These were all features that were to be adopted by Danish architects through the 1930s and 1940s … in fact, all features that are accepted as normal in designs for housing today.

In 1929 Jacobsen was in his late 20s, having recently completed his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and recently married. Both he and Lassen, as ambitious young architects, had a pretty clear and a confident idea of what should be possible in their work in the future and it is generally accepted that the House of the Future, one of the first buildings by what was to be called the Functionalist School of architects. was the building that launched Jacobsen’s career. 

The plan of the house was a ring of rooms around a central living room that were set out to take advantage of natural light as the sun moved round. There was a flat roof to the house where the owner could land in his helicopter and a garage for a car that appears in the drawings to be a swish sports car with a drop top. At the bottom of the building, that was set by the water, was a boat house for a stylish if not very streamlined speed boat. 

The vision of a bright future for all or just wishful thinking for the few? 

The garage door opened automatically as the car approached; there was a mat at the entrance where suction removed dirt from the visitor’s shoes; windows dropped down with the turn of a handle, like the windows in contemporary cars; there were built-in typewriters; a pneumatic mail system and curiously the kitchen was relatively simple as it was assumed that meals would arrive ready-prepared from a central kitchen.

Within ten years, most of Europe was caught up in a war that put the future on hold. Some of the houses at the Stuttgart site, unlike The House of the Future, designed and built to be permanent, were damaged or lost and in 1943 the Forum itself was destroyed by the Danish Resistance as an act of defiance against the German occupation and it was not rebuilt until 1947. By then the future was over or at least the Functionalist Movement in Architecture had moved on but these architects had left an important group of building around the city - including town halls, office buildings, department stores and large blocks of social housing and apartments that had been built through the 1930s and those buildings set the standard and established the style and used new building techniques that we would now accept as truly modern.


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