brickwork

Someone told me that in the late 19th century, as more and more buildings in Copenhagen were built in brick, with brickwork with ornate patterns or fine moulded or shaped details in brick, bricklayers were sent off to Germany to learn to do it properly.

I’m not sure if that is true or not but certainly by the 1890s and into the early 20th century, better buildings in Copenhagen had very good high-quality brickwork with a lot of ornament.

By the 1920s, with the arrival of first classical and then functional styles for the best architecture, brickwork, generally, became less ornate but still of a high quality and not just for public buildings but also for the better apartment buildings.

Patterns of coursing and the use of different colours of brick together enliven what would otherwise be stark or severe exteriors. This apartment block was built in 1930 and is in Skoleholdervej - the road that runs across the south boundary of the north-west cemetery.

Similar brickwork, with alternate courses set forward and back to create the effect of horizontal ribbing, has been used at Amaryllis Hus - the new apartment building in Valby but in sunk panels beside windows within a regular square grid.

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.

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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. 

 

Tingbjerg housing

Tingbjerg housing scheme was designed by the Danish teacher, writer and architect Steen Eiler Rasmussen and the landscape was designed by C Th Sørensen.

Building work started in 1956 and was completed in 1971 and by then there were 3,000 homes here with most in apartments in blocks that are three storeys high - over half basements containing service rooms - although there is also one tower block and a line of single-storey homes along the west edge of the scheme.

Tingbjerg is out to the north west of the city centre, on relatively high land, close to the moor and lakes of Utterslev, and around 7 kilometres from the city hall. It was planned as a small, self-contained town with shops, a school and a church and at one stage 10,000 people lived here although the number is now below 7,000.

There are long rows of apartments that are set in a regular grid of roads with a main peripheral road and one main cross street running east to west although most of the apartment blocks are set north to south so that they make the most of morning and evening light.

Buildings are laid out around generous squares and large open spaces with a good planting of trees that are now mature and there are a number of areas where children can play. There is also access to what is still and certainly what was in the 1950s areas of open countryside and the high elevation, or at least high for Copenhagen, means that there are views back over the city. Even today, the light seems clearer and the air fresher up here than down in the city and, back in the 1950s, that contrast must have been more marked when there was much more air pollution. Families moving here then must have been positive about being able to move out to a new home in a new suburb.

The site slopes and the rows of apartments are staggered - rather than being in long straight unbroken lines - and the topography has been exploited with terraces and short flights of steps at changes of level that again softens and breaks up the impact of building even though so many homes were built in a single phase and in what is, in essence, a single style.

Constructed in light-coloured brick with dark roofs, workmanship is of a high quality and the design of the buildings is simple but not stark so the style is clean and actually quite elegant. A distinct feature is slatted shutters that slide back from the windows on some buildings. Tingbjerg is a good example of classic Danish design at its best. This was recognised in 1959 when the first phase of the scheme received the Bygningspræmiering / Building Award for New Residential Property.

  

note:

Given the high quality of the design and the construction of the scheme, it is ironic that in the recent government report - Ét Danmark uden parallelsamfund / One Denmark without a parallel society - Tingbjerg is now designated as one of 16 ghettoes in Denmark where serious social problems have been identified and there is now funding with recommendations for intervention.

These photographs were taken in January 2019.

Communities Between the Walls

On 15 February a new exhibition opened in the gallery space on the staircase at the Danish Architecture Centre.

Communities Between the Walls is a counterpoint to the recent reports on social housing and ghettoes. Here are a number of major art projects that have been initiated in areas of deprived or poor housing in urban areas including the new library recently completed in the Tingbjerg housing scheme and the major projects in Gellerupparken in Aarhus.

 

continues at the Danish Architecture Centre until 1 June 2019

Ét Danmark uden parallelsamfund / One Denmark without a parallel society

ghetto.jpeg

This was a difficult post to write because it is about sensitive political and social issues but the subject is important and not least because there are broader implications for planning and housing in Denmark that will influence future planning policies and should, as a potential model, have a much wider relevance for many countries where there is rapid population growth in urban areas and where housing is concentrated in housing schemes.

In the New Year the government published a report - Ét Danmark uden parallelsamfund / One Denmark without a parallel society - that sets out a policy to tackle problems in some urban areas in Denmark that will now be defined officially as ghettoes.

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data to plan for housing needs in the future

Danskerne i det byggede miljø / Danes in the built environment is a detailed annual survey that asks Danes about their homes.

Information for the most recent report was gathered in April 2018, when 7,090 people completed a questionnaire from Kantar Gallup A/S for Bolius. The results have been published by Realdania and the most recent edition is now available on line.

These surveys have been conducted every year since 2012 so now they provide an important data base but have also tracked changing attitudes so they should influence decisions by planners and should prompt architects, builders and designers to assess carefully the real problems people encounter because the surveys show how people perceive problems and show how these are prioritised. 

The survey is published with general points and summaries but most of the information is set out in a large number of tables. These provide a fascinating insight not just into day-to-day practical problems people have and about the way they complete maintenance and repairs but also broader issues about neighbourhoods - about what makes a good neighbourhood - and how all these factors together influence how people rate the quality of their lives.

More than 6 out of 10 Danes believe that their home is important when they consider the quality of their life … for 22% of Danes  their home is of very high importance and for a further 41% their home is of high importance when they consider the quality of their lives.

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Realdania - full report to read on line or it can be download as a pdf file

 

... of balconies and bays in the 1930s

 
  1. H C Ørsteds Vej by Thorkild Henningsen 1931

  2. Store Mølle Vej by Frode Galatius 1938

  3. Storgården housing scheme by Povl Baumann & Knud Hansen 1935

  4. Ved Volden, Christianshavn by Tyge Hvass and Henning Jørgensen 1938

  5. Sortedams Dossering by Ib Lunding completed 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.

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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.

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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.”

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Krøyers Plads

As at the Pakhus by Lundgaard and Tranberg on Langeliniekaj, the development designed by Cobe and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects at Krøyers Plads takes the historic brick warehouses along the inner harbour in Copenhagen as inspiration but the interpretation could hardly be more different.

Where the starting point for the Langelinie Pakhus was the scale of the earlier warehouses but otherwise the site was open with few other buildings to take into account, the Krøyers Plads site is at the centre of the harbour and within the historic district of Christianshavn and previous designs by a number of different architects for the development have been much more difficult and controversial.

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Havneholmen

On a walk down to the shopping centre at Fisketorvet on a good Autumn afternoon and happening to have a camera, it was a good opportunity to take photographs of the apartment buildings at Havneholmen.

These are part of the extensive redevelopment of the south end of the harbour as industries have moved away and most of the industrial buildings demolished.

Much of this area, on the west side of the lower harbour, has not, in fact had a long history as the extensive area on the seaward side of the main railway line was only reclaimed from the sea and coastal marsh from the late 19th century onwards.

 

There are two courtyard blocks here designed by the architectural firm of Lundgaard & Tranberg that were completed in 2008. The courtyards are slightly angled as the plot is a trapezium with a change of angle on the water front. Clearly water-side apartments have the highest values but to over develop the quay side would have reduced the light and air of the courtyard so for both groups the courtyards are arranged with continuous blocks along the road and down each side but with the fourth side to the water ostensibly open but with a free-standing block at the centre. These smaller blocks project out over the quay, breaking the line of the angled edge and there are inlets with moorings for boats cutting right into the courtyards … clearly a reference to the complicated arrangement of many of the warehouses and the boat yards and so on of the commercial buildings of the harbour where boats were pulled alongside the building or into the building.

This is a large development with 236 apartments and many of them large with up to 200 square metres of floor space and with large balconies - some apartments with more than one balcony - and some with double-height rooms. This scale and density is achieved by taking parts up to eight storeys under long mono-pitch roofs.

 

Balconies are in part enclosed with parapet walls - rather than glass or open railings - so form complex patterns of projecting boxes which works well on the courtyard fronts, particularly with the bold and solid wood decking and steps of landing stages for boat moorings but the effect is slightly less satisfactory from the water where these same elements appear to be slightly overcrowded and confuse the underlying solidity and geometry of the blocks themselves. Keeping the wall finish to white with thin wood frames for windows and doors is successful and is a reference back to the style of sea-front architecture of the Art Deco period.

 

a series of posts on the architecture of Arne Jacobsen

 

The National Bank of Denmark, Havnegade 5, Copenhagen - winning design in the closed competition of 1961, built in two phases and completed in 1978

Arne Jacobsen was the most important and the most innovative Danish architect and designer of the 20th century. Certainly he has a well-established International reputation but perhaps some do not automatically associate the work of Jacobsen with the idea of innovation, in part because many of his buildings are well-known and familiar and probably half the homes in Denmark have at least one Jacobsen chair but also because we are all now so used to seeing buildings that are taller, bigger, more exciting or more dramatic. That is unfair … obviously it's not, to use an English phrase, a case of familiarity breeding contempt but his buildings have to be seen and judged in the context of the period through which he lived. It is then that you can see just how innovative and important his buildings and his furniture designs really were.

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Jacobsen’s own homes

 

Particularly during the 1930s the design of houses was a core part of Arne Jacobsen’s work including housing developments, row houses and large important villas. 

In 1929 five houses were completed and there was also the House of the Future that was constructed for an exhibition at the Forum in Copenhagen. The plan of that house was a loose spiral with a helicopter landing pad on the roof with a garage and a boat house complete with a motor launch. A further six houses date from 1931, and the same number in 1932 with 10 houses designed in 1933 and the same number in 1934. 

As larger commissions came in, the number of houses he designed was less and for obvious reasons tailed off as Europe became embroiled in war. 

In 1929 Jacobsen designed a house for himself and his first wife that was built on a corner plot in Ordrup, just north of the cemetery, and he remained there until the war when he was forced to flea to Sweden. When he returned to Copenhagen after the war, he began work on a new house and studio - part of a development in Klampenborg, on a plot that was immediately south of the apartment buildings that he had designed in the 1930s.

Both houses, the house in Gotfred Rodes Vej in Ordrup and the Klampenborg house at Strandvejen 413, that was completed in 1951, were acquired by Realdania and were restored. Realdania have published small but good booklets on both houses which include plans.

Together, the houses neatly illustrate marked changes through that period from before the war to after the war.

The house in Gotfred Rodes Vej, with its flat roof and white walls, stark white garden walls, and long horizontal runs of windows with the distinct feature of windows that wrap around the corner, along with the House of the Future at the exhibition at the Forum, helped to established Jacobsen as a leading proponent of the new International Modern Style - then also known as International White Modernism.  In fact, despite its appearance, the house in Ordup was not built in concrete but in white painted brick, because it had to comply with building regulations that were then in place for all house construction.

The house at Strandvejen is clearly built in brick and has mono-pitched roofs, stone garden walls and generally a combination of either simple, almost-square windows or large areas of glazing that in some rooms fill an entire wall of a room - as in the main room on the top level where the windows at the south end give access to a balcony and views out across the Sound. 

Natural light is important in these houses and both show a clever manipulation of space within relatively small buildings.

Apart from heating radiators that were left exposed, rather than being boxed in or disguised, and metal grill fencing and gates, the houses are not dominated by industrial fittings. Some of the features, like plain doors without panels and simple door architraves, we now take for granted but were unusual then. Some fittings do appear to belong clearly to interiors of the 1930s - so the sweeping brass handrail of the staircase at Strandvejen and the brass door handles - while other features seem to be inspired by older or more distant sources including cupboards and drawers in the bedroom at Strandvejen that looks to Shaker furniture from the States.  

There are interesting composite floors in the studio at Gotfred Rodes Vej but generally in both houses there are more traditional and more comfortable high-quality wood floors.

One particularly distinctive feature in the living room at Gotfred Rodes Vej is a wide sill across the full width of the window wall that looks towards the garden and has a shallow brass-lined tray for plants that shows just how important plants and planting were to Jacobsen ... both outside the house in the garden and here in the main room. A photograph of the room that was taken in the 1930s shows the plants on the sill including succulents and exotic plants with distinct and unusual leaves. It is also of interest because it shows the room as furnished by Jacobsen. With a piano, chairs dating from the 1920s or earlier, with balloon backs or splat backs, and a desk with spiral-twisted legs, and a window with a gathered fabric pelmet, this could be almost any middle-class home or apartment in Copenhagen.

Arne Jacobsen - Ørnegårdsvej, Gentofte, Copenhagen

For the row houses in Ørnegårdsvej, built in 1957 for A Jespersen & Son, Arne Jacobsen used a form of curtain-wall construction - with large areas of window for front and back walls of the terraced rows that are not load bearing. Generally, this is a form of construction that is normally associated with commercial and office buildings, rather than housing, and with metal, aluminium or steel, used for a framework that hold panes of glass or opaque panels, but at Ørnegårdsvej the large areas of glazing on the front and back of the the terraced houses between the solid cross walls have relatively thin timber frames for the windows with teak glazing beads. 

The buildings are listed and original colours on the exterior have been retained although inevitably many of the houses have been restored and some the interiors altered. Doors and some parts of the frames are painted a dull olive green; and blind panels, concrete reinforced with asbestos fibre, are painted grey but tall thin panels, on the line of the cross walls and rising unbroken through both floors, are black. The effect is rather like a painting by Piet Mondrian but in a rather more muted colour scheme.

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