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 set of 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.


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 gallery ….

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


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


Kids' City Christianshavn


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


the Town Hall of Kids' City from the far side of the canal

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

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

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

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

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


Conservatives will harrumph that this is liberalism gone berserk - school desks in rows and every class room the same never did them any harm - but surely rigid uniformity in the unrealistic and almost surreal form of standard and old-fashioned class rooms infantilises children. That sounds like tautology but actually formal classrooms separate out and segregate children from the realities of the world just outside the school fence and there is harm to be done by compartmentalising education so it is seen as an isolated stage and one that is somehow separate and very different to future life as an adult.

Kid's City has been designed to reflect the social and architectural diversity of the larger city around the school.

In a safe and sensible way it will introduce children to how the community around them actually works - or perhaps doesn't work - and it introduces children to good architecture by helping them to understand its importance in their wider urban environment, outside the school gate. Cities are made up of separate buildings that have their own functions and traditions and identity and buildings in the wider built environment have a vocabulary and a grammar so it helps if people know how to read and understand buildings and the settlements in which they exist.

As with other schools and the public libraries that I have seen in the city, there is here a consistent use of thought-through design with good furniture and fittings and good, carefully-considered, architecture that helps kids appreciate good design. That is appreciate in both senses … to understand and to like. They become architecturally literate, almost by osmosis, because good design is all around them, and they see it realistically - not as precious or special but just part of their everyday life - so the good and, I suppose, the bad thing is that they can but they should take good design for granted.

I have told this story on this site before but it is worth repeating here. A year or so ago I was talking to someone from Paustian design store and he confessed that when he first left Munkegårds School in Copenhagen and met people from other places, who had gone to other schools, he was taken aback - even slightly shocked - as he had always just assumed that everybody went to a school with furniture designed by Arne Jacobsen.

Munkegårds and Kids' City could hardly be more different in plan - after all they are separated by 60 years - but, in both schools, new buildings were commissioned that are the best designs available and see that as one part but an essential part of the education that is being provided.

The location of Kids' City is crucial to the character and form of the final scheme. Across the front of the plot is a relatively busy road - Prinsessegade - with large older apartment buildings opposite. These are typical of working-class housing in the city and are an important part of the history of Christanshavn - an area on the other side of the harbour to the historic and posh core of the city - the city of merchants and royalty and politicians - and the school is close to the historic buildings of the former docks and naval shipyards. Until the late 20th century the naval yards and docks were the main place for employment for the people who lived in this district.

Along the side of the school is Refshalevej - a quieter street that runs down away from Princessegade and then turns north as a lane along the old outer defences of the city where there is a series of bastions and redoubts built in the 17th century that originally looked across water towards what was then the distinct flat farmland and grassland for grazing on the island of Amager. 

On the opposite side of the street from Kids' City is the north part of the world-famous free community of Christiania and again the new school reflects that because, presumably, some of the children inthe school will be drawn from there and they will have a strong sense of identity and, I guess, less empathy for unnecessary formality or restrictions.


There are brilliant features of the scheme that can only have been achieved through a close co-ordination between the architects and the educational team for the school so, for instance, the 'restaurant' takes the form of a large conservatory or green house and that is because that is exactly what it is. The children will grow food in a glass house immediately above the restaurant so they have a direct and hands-on understanding of where their food comes from. There will be a wall outside where kids can write the names of their first 'loves' although I had to smile because even the Danes end up by using sexist stereotypes … as it has been described as a wall where girls can write up the names of their first boyfriends. Don’t boys write up names?

Our Urban Living Room - the catalogue of the exhibition of the work of COBE that is on now at the Danish Architecture Centre - explains that the layout of the school site is, in part, inspired by the Tivoli Gardens because that is "a place where all kids want to go." But actually that source of inspiration could not be more appropriate … however much those conservatives might harrumph again.

Education succeeds when it engages and intrigues and inspires but then that is exactly what Tivoli was always meant to do. Since the middle of the 19th century, it has been a place where the citizens of Copenhagen have gone to relax and be entertained but it also has a world-class concert hall - I have been to the fairground to hear the Berlin Philharmonic play there - and the first building of the Danish Design Museum was on the corner of the Tivoli Garden - so ordinary people then could see art and design from Japan, recently added to the collection, or admire the craftsmanship of the best Danish furniture - and the trade hall - where the latest tractors or engines produced in Denmark could be admired by anyone or everyone - was across the north side of Tivoli and that is still the site of DI - the association of Danish industry. Absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of fun and awe and learning going hand in hand.


The plot for Kid's City is not square but a large triangle as the back boundary is formed by a canal cutting across. On the other side of that canal is an important open area of ground used for sports and a recently-completed sports hall - Hal C designed by Christensen & Co.

The canal is an important feature of this area for two rather different reasons. First, it is evidence for the topographical development of this part of the city over four centuries. A large area of open sea - between the old city and the island of Amager - was enclosed by the construction of the outer defences that provided sheltered and defended moorings for the fleet but then slowly the inner area, the water inside the defences, was back filled to provide new ground for more and more naval buildings and for housing and so on although large areas of moorings were left open and lengths of canal, like the section here, were left to be used for moving around goods and presumably the canals also formed good and secure barriers between different areas on separate islands. Surely it is important for kids to understand this as part of their local heritage.

Also interesting, but in terms of modern life in the city, is that, just as with good design, children in Copenhagen take for granted the water and swimming and being on the water in boats or canoes so schools do have a role to encourage this but do it safely. That's not by fencing off water or putting up warning signs but by making sure kids are confident and happy around and on the water.

The triangular area is divided into three parts where buildings and spaces vary in scale and are arranged in different ways that are appropriate for each of the main groups of kids in that wide range of ages taught here. Babies and younger children through to six-years old are in the group of buildings at the angle of the roads with a separate area of the school for children from 7 to 13 at the south-east or back angle of the site and an area for older kids from 14 to 18 to the left of the main gate with access to separate bike sheds, as they are more likely to come to school independently. This part of the school is next to the steps up to a large sports deck above the gateway.

As the children move up through the school there should be less stress about each change as the idea is that, with the single site, there will be a well-developed sense of familiarity and above all a strong sense of community in the school as a whole. Perhaps not so much a city as the scale and community of a village - safe rather than daunting - and with a very strong sense of locality.

Or is that comparison with a village too rural - too simple?

For Copenhagen I guess it really has to be a city within the city.


the part of the school for the older kids to the north of the gate

sliding metal shutters can be used to provide privacy or opened to give views right through the block


view out from within the school with the staircase up to the sports area over the gate and the 'town hall' just visible to the right. Many schools, as here, have miniature road layouts with signs and road markings where children are taught how to use public roads safely.


the central activity area with the red drum of the fire station ... landscape work to be completed

the restaurant set back from the pavement to create an area where parents can meet and talk while they wait to collect kids. Note the timber cladding of the building on the right is continued up to enclose and screen a roof area ... with a relatively tight plot open space on the ground, lost under a building, can be reclaimed on a flat roof above.

the mixture of flat and pitched roofs above what appear to be small, self-contained volumes gives visual interest but also establish a human scale that would be lost if the same overall accommodation was in a single block covered by a single roof

the simple blocks that are linked together to form the different parts of the school have different cladding and different colours ... here the vertical timber cladding and the treatment of the window is reminiscent of the design of Forfatterhuset - also by COBE - but here vertical strips of timber rather than ceramic


The model of the school that was shown as part of the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre reveals some parts of the design of the buildings that is not easy to appreciate at ground level. Each of the three areas - the separate areas for the different age groups - has one key central part that is set at an angle to the other blocks in the group ... so for the part of the school for the youngest children that is the restaurant and the glass house above. This creates some interesting wedge-shaped spaces that, for instance on the south side of the restaurant is an internal corridor.


Looking down on the model you can see that what appear from street level in the real building to be relatively tall simple blocks are in fact a single-storey room with the outer walls continued up to form a high parapet around an open play or teaching area on the first floor. In some blocks where the facade is vertical timbers then these continue up as open fencing to the roof area so the upper space is more obvious.

From above it is also clear that what appear to be two separate adjoining blocks with different wall treatment to the outside are actually a single rectangular space internally with no structural cross wall between the two parts ... so not strictly 'honest' with detail expressing form ... but perfectly understandable in trying to simplify an extremely complicated arrangement inside with what has to be a rational overall scheme for the exterior. Roof drainage must have been a design challenge.

The large block with a black roof, set at an angle at the centre, is the City Hall. It is interesting to see this has a glazed or visually open ground floor. We tend to associate town halls or city halls now with administration and lots of offices but many were traditionally simple meeting halls ... hence the generic name ... and in some, like the old City Hall in Copenhagen, in Gammeltorv, the hall was set above an open arcade that was used for events and markets.


the buildings for the middle age group where building work has just started

the part of the school for older kids has the raised courts for sport (bottom left) and the City Hall to the right


If there is a criticism, or perhaps better simply a concern, it is that the realities of the economy means that possibly the construction work is not as robust as in new school buildings of ten or twenty years ago so there is a short-term feel to some of the facing material and the buildings are not so much solid construction as wood frames plus the most recent in the development of insulation.


Forfatterhuset Kindergarten, Copenhagen


Forfatterhuset Kindergarten (The Writers’ House) opened in 2014 although work continues on the landscape of the street immediately around the school. It was designed by the architectural practice COBE and is on the north side of De Gamles By (City of the Old). The new buildings are in a square that is open on the north-east side to Sjællandsgade. Buildings around the school date mainly from about 1900 and were originally built for a hospital for the elderly.

The new nursery school is in a striking and novel form but picks up the deep red brick colour of the earlier buildings. The square-section vertical bars or slats are continued as a band that forms a high fence for the large play area at the south west end of the site. Windows and doors have a metal square-section architrave in deep red that projects forward of the system of the wall face. 

The plan is a series of interlinked pavilions with rounded corners and with flat roofs but with roof gardens to make best use of the site. Buildings and fencing wrap around mature trees and the building has the character of a large tree house.


Inside, white railings continue the theme of vertical lines, looking rather like bamboo, running the full height of hallways and enclosing the staircases and landings - presumably for safety. The main building actually has three floors around a full height atrium and staircase and the main entrance is into that taller block with a narrow entrance court that almost feels as if it has been created by someone pushing hard at the fence to move it inwards.