‘the art of mixing grey’

 

The wonderful book by Bente Lange on The Colours of Copenhagen has a section on the pigments used to make grey paint. On historic buildings in the city the range of greys used is amazing from soft stone colours through dark steel grey to warm greys tending almost to dull green. Of course the pigments used are never simply black added to a white base but might have touches of Prussian blue or ultramarine or even Italian red.

Bente Lange describes the “grey of the Baroque” as “a cold heavy colour made by mixing carbon black into white” and she refers to a painters’ handbook from 1799 that “contains recipes for mixing … silver grey, linen grey and ordinary grey” and there are evocative gems just dropped in to the short account of grey pigments that ground black was made “by charring young shoots from grapevines”, linen grey was with white lead, varnish and Berlin blue “ground separately before mixing” and stone colours might include “shavings” from cut stone in lime putty with “brown ochre as needed.”

Bente Lange, The Colours of Copenhagen, published by The Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture Publishers in 1997

Copenhagen blue II

Torvegade and Christians Kirke from Overgaden Over Vandet

 

Having said that for me blue is the colour in the urban landscape of Copenhagen that seems to be strong and reflect how I see the city, there are very few buildings that are actually painted blue. 

There are several reasons for this and not least it’s that early blue pigments derived from lapis lazuli for ultramarine were incredibly expensive and the cheaper Prussian blues that were available from the early 18th century onwards were fugitive so they not only faded but could decompose in the air. Although Cobalt blue, an industrially produced blue pigment, was stable and lime proof, even that paint was considered to be too expensive for use across a facade.

Also, I have read somewhere that Danish architects and painters considered blue to be a very strong and dominant colour … ‘stronger’ than red … so to be used carefully.

Some historic buildings in the city are now painted blue in shades that vary from cornflower blue to blues that are much closer to purple and they certainly lift and brighten a line of buildings but there really should be a rule that one blue house in a street is fantastic but two is too much so once one owner has gone for blue that should be it.

 

Det Blå Hjørne / The Blue Corner

The infill building in Christianshavn by the architectural studio Vandkunsten known as Det Blå Hjørne or The Blue Corner (bottom right) dates from 1989.

This is - as the name implies - a corner plot which can be difficult for both the plan of a building and for the design of the facades but here the corner is not even a right angle as Dronningsgade and the side road of Store Søndervoldstræde meet at an angle of about 120 degrees.

In addition, making the commission for a new apartment building here more difficult, this is a part of Christianshavn where relatively modest historic houses have survived so it gives an important impression of what domestic areas of the inner city must have been like in the 17th and 18th centuries before ordinary houses were replaced with grander or more commercial buildings. The building is at the quiet end of a beautiful and complex courtyard that retains more old courtyard buildings than in many blocks. 

But Vandkunsten were bold, dividing the new apartments between two buildings to leave a narrow view into the courtyard at the corner and played with all the rules so the roofs are mono-pitch - the older buildings have pitched roofs with a ridge - and the choice for wall finish is metal sheet so it almost feels like a final parry with convention, that the cladding is deep blue. The total effect works well as it gives the building a semi-industrial feel and if there is any single aspect of the historic centre of the city that has been lost or changed with too little appreciation of the consequences it is that Copenhagen has lost far too many of the workshops and early industrial buildings that once filled many of the back streets and courtyards.

 

Circular Economy

 

A major exhibition at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation to show fourteen projects that offer new solutions and strategies for the development of new sustainable materials along with the development of new technologies, the exploration of new approaches to building and construction and the recycling or re-circulation of materials.

“The conversion means that we need to work innovatively and experimentally on the development of new materials and the recycling of old ones, while also using our knowledge to create solutions that people actually want to use. That is the way we work at KADK, so our research and the skills of our graduates can play a major role in terms of giving people a better life without putting pressure on our planet.” 

Lene Dammand Lund.

 

Through the Autumn there will be a series of open seminars to “draw on knowledge and experience from some of the world’s leading architects and designers in the field of circularity, who will be invited to talk about their work.”

 

the exhibition Circular Economy continues at KADK at Philip de Langes Allé 10 in Copenhagen until 3 December 2017