are you living comfortably? … apartments and lifestyle in Copenhagen

apartment buildings and shops on Jægersborggade

Architects and historians often discuss buildings in terms of types so, although there are certainly many general books on the historic and modern architecture of a city or a region or a country, it can often be more useful and more informative to look at, for example, all the churches or all the factories in a town or in a region or discuss the way that theatre buildings or petrol stations, for instance, develop and change over time.

For visitors to Copenhagen major buildings in the city like the royal palace or the Opera House or the old warehouses on the harbour are obvious and very good examples of important public and commercial architecture but how many people appreciate that the most common building type in the historic centre, with most examples dating from the middle of the 19th century onwards, is the purpose-built apartment building? And those apartment buildings form the backdrop to most of the major buildings so they contribute much to the visual attraction of the city. 

I don’t know the actual statistics and percentages but certainly most people in the inner city live in apartments, rather than in self-contained family houses, and the tradition of building good apartment buildings, both as private developments or, from the early 20th century onwards, for large-scale social housing, must be the most diverse and the most significant type of building in Copenhagen and therefore, in reality, the building type that most effects and influences how people live.

apartment buildings on Peblinge Sø

The city regularly comes out at the top or near the top of league tables for how content people are with their city and their way of life. Obviously there are many reasons for this, including the relative wealth of Copenhagen, efficient local transport, extensive facilities for culture and shopping, good restaurants, bars and coffee places and, of course, the very pleasant urban environment. 

But high on that list of reasons why people are happy has to be the availability of good housing. In fact I would go as far as to say that the stock of good, well-built and attractive apartment buildings has to be one of the major factors that makes Copenhagen such a successful and therefore such a popular place for its citizens. It is obvious that the availability of good housing has to be a major consideration in any assessment of what makes any city a pleasant or unpleasant place to live but in Copenhagen the quality of housing is significantly more important because of the priority most Danes place on living in a nice home over, for instance, owning an expensive car.

Along with the design of the individual apartment buildings, the setting of the buildings is important and the streetscapes of Copenhagen are varied and attractive with apartment buildings set along wide streets, set around squares, laid out overlooking public parks or set along the canals and quays of the harbour. 

Over a series of posts here I would like to look at the history of apartment buildings from the middle of the 19th century onwards: to look at them in terms of their design and plan and their setting in the urban landscape and try to discuss how the plans and arrangement of the apartments has reflected the way people’s lives in general have changed over the last century or so and also to look briefly at how the plan and arrangement of the individual apartments has influenced the furniture and the decorative fittings that people have chosen.

There is clearly a complex relationship between levels of wealth in a city, the style, the size, the cost and the availability of housing along with the individual expectations and ambitions of people and the skill and work of the design and manufacturing industries who supply furniture, light fittings, kitchens and bathrooms for all those homes.

8Tallet by Bjarke Ingels on Amager