colour in architecture 1

These photographs of two streets in Copenhagen have been posted to show that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make hard-and-fast rules about the use and effect of colour in architecture. Each situation appears to be unique.

The first photograph is of houses and gardens in Brumleby, in the north part of the city, on the west side of Østerbrogade and south of Østerbro Stadium. The houses were built in the middle of the 19th century, were designated as a historic site in 1959 and were restored in the 1990s.

Clearly the original colour scheme, with an ochre colour for the lower level and pale grey above the sills of the upper windows, was retained - a decision presumably determined by the importance of the historic buildings. In exploring the site it appeared to me that the subdued colours helped to create a sense of unity for the close community living there. As I walked around taking photographs early one evening, people from various houses were sitting out in the gardens talking or eating and drinking outside with their children playing together.

The second photograph is of a row of houses in a street called Olufsvej. Here clearly there is no unified scheme of decoration … in fact the opposite ... with houses painted to express the individual taste and individual style of the occupants.

Yet here too, there were communal tables set out in the street right on the pavement where people could eat outside or sit and talk or children could play.

What makes it even more interesting is that the street is immediately south of Brumleby with the rear gardens of these houses backing on to the gardens of the earlier estate. 

It would seem that colour can influence but not determine the way that people use buildings.

Brumleby - or the Medical Association housing scheme - is important and of considerable interest in the history of public housing in Copenhagen. The estate was built as a direct response to a severe epidemic of cholera in the city in 1853 when, over a short period of only a few months, 5,000 people died. The reasons for the outbreak were clear. The city was still defended by a series of walls, ditches and gateways and for simple reasons of military strategy no building construction was allowed immediately outside the defences so, as the overall area of the city was fixed, a rapid growth of population in the first half of the 19th century led to massive over crowding and insanitary living conditions in some parts of the city. Contagious diseases were hard to control in such housing.

The immediate response to the crisis by a Dr Emil Hornemann was to propose building new houses for working families in an area just outside the city defences. A decision was made quickly and work on the new houses started at end of 1853 and over the first four years 240 housing units were completed. A second phase was built between 1866 and 1872. The finished estate with over 500 houses has four long main rows but with space for wide gardens between and community buildings included a kindergarten, a bathhouse and a meeting hall.



For the Brumleby estate the initial stage was designed by Michael Gottlied Bindesbøll and the second stage of work on the estate designed by the architect Vilhelm Klein.