From Infrastructure to Public Space*

 

Dronning Louises Bro in the evening from the city side

Our Urban Living Room, is an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about the work of the Copenhagen architectural studio COBE with a book of the same title published to coincide with the exhibition, and both are subtitled Learning from Copenhagen.

A general theme that runs through the exhibition is about the importance of understanding a city as a complex man-made environment to show how good planning and the construction of good buildings, with the support of citizens, can create better public spaces that improve and enhance our lives.

One graphic in the exhibition, in a section about infrastructure, shows Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) as the lanes of traffic were divided in the 1980s and compares that with how the space of the road is now organised.  

The stone bridge, in its present form dating from the late 19th century, crosses an arc of large lakes on the west side of the city centre and is the main way into the centre of Copenhagen from the north so many people have to cross the lakes on their commute into the city in the morning and then again in the evening as they head home. In the 1980s vehicles were given priority with 6 lanes for traffic - two lanes of cars in each direction and in the centre a tram lane in bound and a tram lane heading out - so the pavements on each side were just 3 metres wide and cyclists had to compete for space with cars.  

Now, the width of the lanes given over to vehicles has been narrowed down to just 7 metres in the middle for a single lane for driving into the city and a single lane heading out but on each side there are dedicated bike lanes that are each 4 metres wide and then generous pavements that are 5 metres wide on each side of the bridge for pedestrians. So the space for cars and the space for pedestrians and cyclists has been swapped around. The bridge is just as busy - if not busier - with an almost-unbelievable 36,000 or more cyclists crossing each day and the pavements are actually a popular place for people to meet up … particularly in the summer when the north side of the bridge catches the evening sun so people sit on the parapet or sit on the pavement, leaning back against the warm stonework, legs stretched out, to sunbathe, chat or have a drink.

 

 

graphic showing changes made to the width of the traffic lanes over the bridge ... taken from an information panel for the exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

the bridge looking towards the Søtorv apartments on the city side

 

* the title of this post is a section heading from the exhibition Our Urban Living Room and a chapter heading in the catalogue

Our Urban Living Room

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen has been published as the catalogue to the current exhibition of the same title at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. The exhibition continues until the 8th January 2017. 

The book is not far short of 500 pages and is packed with photographs and drawings about the work of Dan Stubbergaard and his team at COBE with a dialogue between Stubbergaard and the Copenhagen planner and author Jan Gehl and, in the middle of the book, there is an interesting and revealing discussion between Stubbergaard and his contemporary, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

The layout and form of the book is interesting because it adopts some of the ways that material is now presented on the internet ... so there are various levels of information, extended captions and spotlighting of important ideas that lead you somewhere else and themes that reappear but not within a rigid narrative.

It is a brilliant exercise in communicating complex ideas - so there are graphics with several sequences of drawings that show how solutions evolved and there are simple graphics to show what is actually a complex process to draw out of the confusion of a complicated place the key ideas that might not be immediately obvious … so for the square above the station at Nørreport it is about actually understanding how people really do cut across the space or where they leave their bikes or for the recently-completed development of Krøyers Plads the drawings show how the orientation of historic warehouse buildings along the harbour and the architectural vocabulary of these earlier buildings inspired the final form and orientation of three new blocks of apartments on two sides of an existing basin of the harbour. 

 
 

the model of the square above the railway station at Nørreport in the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

There is a sequence of drawings for Krøyers Plads that COBE publish on their internet site that did not make it into the book or the exhibition but they show how the architects look at an extensive area - a surprisingly extensive area - to understand the wider existing urban context of their new buildings.  So for Krøyers Plads they not only looked at how the harbour immediately around the site had developed but also looked at the whole length of Strandgade - the spine of the harbour side of Christianshavn. There is an incredible mix of complicated buildings along Strandgade but COBE simplified the streetscape to the outline shape and the orientation of the buildings, stripped of detail, and by doing that revealed an underlying order and a potential new relationship between one end of the street and the other … a relationship between a tall narrow building - an important 18th-century church tower and its spire, and the space of a square in front of the church - that is at one end of Strandagde and at the other end a new arrangement of a new public square they are creating at Krøyers Plads with the tall end elevation of one of the new apartment buildings as a key element.

 

a sequence of drawings to explain the arrangement of the three new apartment buildings and the new public square at Krøyers Plads from the COBE on-line site

 
 

In the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre there is a wall of CGI images that appear to have been annotated and doodled on in the course of a discussion and on one view of a rather different proposal for the Krøyers Plads buildings you can see a felt-tipped sketch of this Strandgade axis

At one point in the book Stubbergaard says, "I believe we have come to read architecture" but he also understands just how important it is to explain that to people … to explain what they, as architects, are trying to do and why. The book tries and succeeds in showing his thought process as his ideas evolved for certain projects and it is clear that in a discussion Stubbegaard wants to take the listener or the reader to the same conclusion for the same reasons … what appears to be important to him is the idea of architecture by consensus.

He is inspired by architecture and appears to be exceptionally good at explaining his views and ideas and at one point in an interview he talks about how much benefit could come from teaching about architecture in schools.

Headings for the separate sections of the book and the sections of the exhibition are revealing so they are:

  • From Infrastructure to Public Space
  • Culture as a Social Engine
  • Transformation as Resource
  • A City for Kids
  • Architectural Democracy
  • Copenhagen Tomorrow

The book ends with an important and revealing interview with Stubbergaard with Marc-Christopher Wagner where he explains that architects have to have confidence:

"As architects, we must be able to interpret, moderate, to be communicative and able to pull together a lot of people. Architecture today is so much more than drafting lines and building models. It demands enormous social skills, both internally and externally. We have to be able to manage enormous budgets, coordinate complex logistics and physical situations on society's behalf."

It is that last phrase … "on society's behalf" … that is probably crucial if you are trying to understand what COBE are trying to do through their work.

When asked if COBE has a signature style Dan Stubbergaard replied that the main characteristic of their projects is that "they are not recognisable" … and goes on to explain that the idea of iconic buildings is foreign to him.

Is that completely true? The conversion of The Silo in the Nordhavn area of Copenhagen will see a well-known feature of the dock skyline become a key building of the area that will be fairly iconic and the back catalogue is putting together some buildings with distinct family features ... the piling up of small units of a domestic scale to form child-friendly schools at Frederiksvej Kindergarten and Kids City or the stacking up of large metal boxes at Library Nordvest or the Danish Rock Museum.

What comes across so well in the book is the importance of the city itself in Stubbergaard's work so hence the title of the exhibition and the book. He explains that, "Copenhagen is our laboratory, our playground. This is the place where our architecture was allowed to unfold and develop. Knowing the city, the culture, Copenhageners, is a prerequisite for experiment and new thinking, for being bold, even radical in the creative sense of the word."

He has a deep understanding of the city - a sense of the place, an understanding of the history and the people of the city that formed the buildings and how those buildings influence the way that everyone lives so he looks at how people use their built environment and is clearly focused on how the city will influence what the next generation does next.  

Although he is a designer of innovative modern buildings he also understands the importance of learning from the past. He is "personally very interested in historic buildings, because they reflect their times and contemporary society" but is also refreshingly honest about how much control architects have over how their buildings will be used after they hand them across. "What an architect imagines, drafts and plans is one thing, but life itself is powerful and unpredictable. It will take over a building."

So he has an awareness not only about how people actually do move around the city and use its buildings and its public spaces but he is working hard to take his observations and his perceptions and ideas forward to use new buildings and new public spaces to improve the way people can live in the city, to merge as a whole "function and surroundings" which are his "particular source of inspiration."

As Stubbergaard explains in the forward, the book is a 'compendium' of what these architects have learnt from their urban experiments in Copenhagen.

 

Our Urban Living Room, Learning from Copenhagen

Arvinius + Orfeus Publishing AB

published 2016 - ISBN 978-91-87543-39-5

COBE

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 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 even rather 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." 

read more 

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.

read more

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen

A major exhibition has opened at the Danish Architecture Centre which focuses on the work of the Danish studio of Cobe arkitekter but, in a much broader sense, the exhibitions also explores crucial aspects of urban planning … the current and the future role that planning has in the enhancement of our built environment and the way that architecture and planning together can and must encourage the use of public space in our cities and towns for a huge variety of activities.

What is shown here - with models, drawings, photographs and text - are specific projects completed by Cobe over the last decade or so - the remodelling of Israels Plads; the remodelling of the street space above Nørreport railway station; the building of new libraries and schools in the city and all with a very strong and positive planning agenda - but these are also clever and innovative projects that tell us much about the meeting point of public and private space; about the way that politicians and planners determine appropriate policies for how public space is used and shows how much citizens need and how much they appreciate public space and how they use that space in increasingly inventive ways.

 
 

a fascinating photograph that shows the street level above Nørreport station covered in snow where the patterns of footprints and bike tracks replicates the original study of routes across the space that determined the position of the bike racks and so on

 

previous posts on work from Cobe:

Israels Plads

Nørreport Station

Forfatterhuset Kindergarten

Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre, Strandgade 27B, Copenhagen continues until 8th January 2017

Nordhavn - Copenhagen

 

part of the container port is still operating and shows the general character of the area before the extensive redevelopment of the docks started

 

The first area of apartments in the Århusgade neighbourhood of Nordhavn are nearing completion with many of the blocks now occupied. 

There are apartments by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects on both sides of the Nordhavn basin - on Marmormolen (the Marble Pier) immediately to the west of the new UN building and along Sandkaj - on the north side of the basin - looking across to the UN building. There are also new blocks of apartments close to completion around The Silo and around Göteborg Plads - a new square around Portland Towers. These two tall cylinders were built in 1979 as silos for concrete for Aalborg Portland but are now the dramatic offices of Dansk Standard with that development designed by Design Group Architects.

 

Portland Towers by Design Group Architects

 

All these new buildings are close to Nordhavn suburban railway station but in 2019 an extension of the Metro will open with a new station at Nordhavn Plads.

Work is about to start along Gdanskgade - on the island beyond Sankt Petersborg Plads and the P-Hus Lünders car park - and work is progressing fast on the other side of the next basin around Sundkaj and Orientkaj.

This recent series of posts has looked at facing materials or cladding. From walking around this new area, it is clear that the blocks are quite closely packed - although many of the apartments do look across water or face onto canals - and the streets are relatively narrow compared with earlier developments along the south part of the harbour and courtyards are generally small. 

This higher density is a clear and deliberate policy by the city and its planners as one obvious way to avoid the alternative - extensive suburban sprawl around Copenhagen - as the population of the city is set to increase significantly by the middle of this century.

But this higher density means that the colour and the tone of the exteriors of the buildings becomes much more important. Sunlight in Copenhagen in the summer is strong and clear but through the winter, although days can be very bright, the sun is low in the sky so does not penetrate tighter courtyards or get to windows on lower floors that look into the street. This is not a new problem … the blocks of apartments in Islands Brygge date from around 1900 and, generally, are built in very dark brick that makes the area seem more gloomy than other parts of the city in the winter.

The curious thing about new apartments is that although some of the blocks are more traditional, with fairly restrained use of brick with plain architectural features such as banding or panels in darker or lighter brick, some architects seem to try hard to stand out by using more unusual materials for the exterior - one of the new blocks on Århusgade seems to be covered with wire fencing - but that raises a problem when trying to decide if you want to live in a striking or novel building or one that is more traditional. Or if - in fact - what your own building looks like does not actually matter that much once you are inside but what is much more important is the appearance of the building opposite as you look out of your windows.

 
 

In 2008 the Copenhagen architectural and planning studio COBE under Dan Stubbergaard won a competition for drawing up the strategic plan for Nordhavn. Their work is shown in the current exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that continues until 8 January 2017.

It is worth spending time on the COBE web site looking at their maps and graphics that show clearly how Nordhavn will be developed to become a significant and new district of the city. There will be a complex layout of streets, squares, canals - it is described as an ‘urban archipelago’ - with homes for 40,000 people, jobs for 40,000, easy access to the water, cycle routes and green ways for routes into the city and a new metro line. 

 

 

Nordhavn - information on line published by By & Havn including a post about Portland Tower

In November 2014 there was a long post on this site on Nordhavn … the redevelopment of the north harbour

Marmormolen apartments by Vilhelm Lauritzen Arkitekter

Sandkaj apartments by Vilhelm Lauritzen Arkitekter

 
 

Maps of Nordhavn from the exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre. The detail of the Århusgade area shows the new P-Hus car park in red and The Silo in green

 
 

The Silo

 

The Silo in May 2015 - work had been completed on the ground floor and the exhibition space was used for 3daysofdesign

 

The DLG Silo was a prominent and well-known landmark of the commercial docks to the north of the city … clearly visible to everyone coming into the city by train from the north and perhaps the most obvious sign that you were close to arrival for anyone coming into Copenhagen on the ferry from Oslo.

A massive and stark concrete block, the tower was built to store grain but with the decline of the dockyard it had been left in splendid and derelict isolation. With the redevelopment of the area immediately around the grain silo, mainly for housing, the decision was taken to retain the concrete tower but convert it into apartments with a public exhibition space below and the scheme that was proposed by the architects Cobe will now include a public restaurant on a new top level to be encased in glass and with views across the city and across the harbour to the sound. 

The interior spaces of the silo but new windows are being cut through the outer walls and in order to bring the building up to current standards for insulation - grain has to be kept cool and people prefer to be kept warm - insulation has been added to the outside and then a new outer skin added in galvanised steel - pierced sheet metal - that also forms the balconies of the new apartments. This outer metal skin is described by Cobe as "draping it with a new overcoat."

One balcony has been installed on the gable end of the warehouse of the Danish Architecture Centre as part of the current exhibition there on the work of the architects but the recent completion and the opening of a new multi-storey car park next to The Silo means that it was easy to photograph the new balconies on The Silo itself as the work progresses.

COBE

Our Urban Living Room, DAC, Copenhagen until 8th January 2017

 

 

photographs of the balconies that are now being fitted - taken from the roof of the P-Hus Lüders multi-storey car park designed by jaja architects and just completed to the east of the Silo

 
 

model for the remodelling of the tower and one balcony from The Silo installed on the gable end of the warehouse of the Danish Architecture Centre for the current exhibition on the work of Cobe

progress on major projects along the inner harbour in Copenhagen

Amager Bakke

The incinerator plant designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group is still not up to its final height of 90 metres but much of the framework is in place. It is at least possible now to see just how high and how steep the ski slope will be on this man-made mountain.


 

Papirøen - Paper Island 

It has just been announced that the architectural company COBE has won the competition to produce the master plan for Paper Island, an important area on the south side of the harbour, opposite the National Theatre, that was originally part of the naval dockyards and then warehousing where Danish newspapers stored paper for their printers, hence the popular name for the island, and more recently those warehouses have been the venue for a very successful food hall, Copenhagen Street Food, and the science centre for children, Experimentarium, along with covered car parking, offices, studios and display space for designers including Henrik Vibskov, &Tradition and the offices of COBE themselves.

Initial proposals for the island include a large central square, a swimming pool, apartments, a gallery with the island ringed by a public boardwalk or promenade.

illustrations of the proposed development from COBE and Luxigon 


 

 

Kroyers Plads

Some of the apartments in the south block at Kroyers Plads are now occupied and the other blocks are being fitted out. Designed by Vilhelm Lautitzen and COBE the overall design appears to be a reinterpretation of the historic warehouses along the harbour.

A large, 18th-century, light-coloured brick warehouse to the east includes the restaurant NOMA although they are about to move further back into Christianshavn. 

Originally to have been completed in 2013, but delayed by technical problems, the new cycle and foot bridge - Inderhavnsbroen - appears ostensibly to be finished but is not yet open - or rather it is permanently open and not opening and closing. Extensive new areas of landscaping are being completed on the quays on both sides. This is the first ‘retractable’ bridge in Europe … rather than swinging or lifting out of the way, the two sides will slide apart to let taller shipping through. 


 

Bryghusprojektet 

Bryghusprojektet by Rem Koolhaas bridges a main road and one function is to link the city and the quayside. To be faced with large areas of green and clear glass, when completed it will provide exhibition and conference spaces for the Danish Architecture Centre, now in a warehouse on the other side of the harbour and there will also be shops, a restaurant and apartments in the building.


It might not look like it but all the photographs were taken on the same afternoon this week on a stroll down the harbour … in the late afternoon the cloud began to break up and by the time I got down to Islands Brygge there was at least some blue in the sky.

at The Silo

After a tiring but very very interesting and exciting three days - talking with designers and manufacturers, sales managers and PR staff at some of the most important design companies in Copenhagen - the only criticism I can come up with is that I’m not 100% certain how to type the name of the event. To give it a go … my guess would be 3daysofdesign 

At one stage names of companies or titles of events could make a clumsy URL but now the idea for the URL seems to come first even if that can make things difficult to write or type about without a fair bit of cut and paste. And I’ve not even got to FRAME magazine yet with it’s capital E reversed.

There were more than forty open-house events that were spread around the city but almost half of those were in Nordhavn - the harbour redevelopment area north of the city centre - and that seemed to me to be appropriate and symptomatic … here symptomatic used to suggest something very positive.

Nordhavn through the perimeter fence

On Thursday morning my first stop was at The Silo to see RE FRAMING DANISH™ DESIGN. The exhibition must have been taken down after the final day on Saturday - either on Saturday evening or maybe on Sunday morning - because, I was told, the engineers and workmen were starting today on the massive job of cutting windows and openings through the concrete outer shell of this former grain silo to convert it to apartments.  

It is 62 metres or 17 storeys high, and once completed these will be some of the most amazing apartments in the harbour redevelopment. Last month I spent some time at the exhibition Homes Ensembles City Housing Welfare at KADK - The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture - just admiring the model of the scheme from the architects COBE.

In fact the whole Nordhavn area is incredible - right now it is a huge building site but also with port facilities still in operation. So, for instance, the road system around the end of the dock was re-routed just days before the events opened.

New European offices for seven departments of the UN are nearly completed on the other side of the dock basin to the south of The Silo and within a decade or so there will be 40,000 people living in this new district and work here for 40,000.

What seems even more incredible is that this is just one of the major redevelopments in Copenhagen for which CPH City & Port Development is responsible - be it one of the most extensive and complicated of the schemes. The company was formed in 2007 by merging Copenhagen Port Ltd and the Ørestad Development Corporation and it was at that point that the part of the Development Corporation that was responsible for the construction of the city Metro was separated off to a new independent company Metroselskabel. As to ownership, City and Port Development Company is owned jointly by the City of Copenhagen (95%) and the Danish state (5%).

By og Havn (City and Harbour) - the public information side of the redevelopment company - had a good exhibition with models of the scheme for Nordhavn in the same space as the RE FRAMING DANISH™ DESIGN show.

Why is this relevant to the design event? Well for a start all those new apartments will have to be furnished.

But, to be less flippant and to make a much more serious comment about this, the global economic recession has made the city and the design industry here take stock and reassess but it looks as if it was only a brief pause. It looks as if it has made the design companies if anything sharper and much more focused.

Companies showing their work at these events, with some justifiable pride, covered a huge range of types, styles and size of business from the well-established firms with global reputations, that in some cases are now into their second century, to small new companies whose amazing products seem almost impossible to believe as the work from just two or three people after just a year or so. 

With breadth and depth; with an important design heritage behind them and palpable drive and enthusiasm, and with the new companies jostling the big firms and keeping them on their toes, the design industry has been on show here and looks phenomenally strong. Sorry if that sounds as if it was drafted by an ad man. It was not. A good ad man would have done a more subtle job. It’s just that I have been fired up and inspired by the people I have met and talked to and by the great design work I saw over those three days.

 

By og Havn, the Nordhavn redevelopment

COBE and  The Silo

 

remodelling Nørreport in Copenhagen

 

In 2009, the architectural practice Gottlieb Paludan and the architectural cooperative COBE won a competition for a major project at Nørreport, to upgrade the railway station and the metro station and to remodel the area around the station.

Construction work started in 2012 and the new station was inaugurated on 10 January 2015.

assessment and more photographs

Forfatterhuset Kindergarten, Copenhagen

Forfatterhuset Kindergarten 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 buildings in a square that is open on the north-east side to Sjællandsgade. The buildings around 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 plan is a series of interlinked pavilions with rounded corners and with flat roofs but with roof gardens to make optimum use of the site. The facing is described as brick lamellae and is wrapped around the buildings - there are three separate blocks or bars to each floor level, so nine in all on the tallest pavilion, and they stand proud of the wall face on metal brackets. The colours vary from deep rust like corten to an ochre or yellow in what appears to be a random arrangement. However, these modulations of colour creates a subtle and very attractive horizontal banding around the buildings.

The square-section vertical bars are continued as the high fence of 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. 

Buildings and fencing wrap around mature trees and the building has the character of a large tree house.

Inside white railings seem to continue the theme, 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.