testing the alternatives

At an early stage in a building project, a trial section of wall can be constructed on the site to get a clear sense of the colour of the main material in the actual location and it is also a chance to judge the effect of different colours or different textures of mortar which can have much more of an impact than many people would expect … dark mortar tends to act rather like the black leading in a stained glass window by making the colours of the main material, stone or brick, darker and will certainly emphasise any pattern in the bonding.

The appearance and the character of a facade will be modified by the light as it changes through the day and materials will certainly look very different from their appearance in the studio or even as seen on an another building. And colours and textures look different if they are in shadow, on a side away from the sun, or face towards the sun and are brightly lit and architectural details can look very different in bright light reflected up off water… bright light can make even strongly-projecting features look thin or flat or bleached out.

ATP Pakhus by Lundgaard and Tranberg on the Langelinie Quay in Copenhagen has just been completed but trial sections of wall were built at the construction site on the quay. Clearly two very different colours of brick were considered. Perhaps the deep orange brick was chosen rather than the very dark brown because a heavier tone, for such a large building, could have looked oppressive. It is interesting to compare the brickwork on the finished building with the appearance of the historic brick warehouses along the inner harbour and in Christianshavn.

ATP Pakhus, Langaliniekaj (2016)

Nordatlantens Brygge, Strandgade (1767)

copper after Vesterport

government buildings between Christiansborg and the harbour in Copenhagen by Thomas Havning 1962-1967


In terms of style, Vesterport can hardly be said to have set a fashion as few buildings copied the use of copper cladding although through the 1930s and well into the 1950s many did have brass window and door frames and brass architectural fittings including handrails for staircases.

Superficially the government buildings in Copenhagen at Slotholmgade and Christians Brygge designed by Sven Eske Kristensen and Thomas Havning and built in the 1960s are reminiscent of Veserport. The blocks have the strong colour tone dominated by green and of course with the continuous lines of windows and very regular lines of panels divided by ribs forming a regular grid but only the roofs and certain fittings are copper or brass … the panels below the windows and vertical divisions between the panels are in a dark green polished stone or slate.

However, more recently, the offices and tower at Pakhusvej near Amerika Plads by Arkitema has facades in copper. It was completed in 2004 and although now darkening in colour there is no sign yet of a surface patina of verdigris which shows how slow the transition can be even though this building, opposite the terminal for ferries from Oslo, is subject to winds off the sea.


the main tower and a detail of the copper cladding at Amerika Plads by Arkitema 2004


Most recently the Axel Towers in the centre of Copenhagen, close to Tivoli, by Lundgaard and Tranberg and nearing completion have been faced in tombac- a copper zinc alloy -and again it will be interesting to watch as this prominent, building - close to the City Hall and very close to the SAS Hotel by Jacobsen and two blocks from Vesterport, changes the visual dynamics of the area as its colour changes.


Axel Towers, Copenhagen by Lundgaard and Tranberg ... work nearing complettion

Lundgaard and Tranberg


For a city of its size, Copenhagen seems to have a disproportionate number of top architects. Some, like Bjarke Ingels, with his rise to international prominence, may now work as much on buildings in New York or London or Dubai or Shanghai as in Denmark but actually, over the last 20 years, there has been so much building work in the city - so much new and high quality architecture commissioned and completed - that one aspect of the city that might not be more widely appreciated, is that here you can see not just several but many buildings by each single practice or design studio and you can trace, within a tight and accessible geographic area, how their careers and how their ideas have evolved. 

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Ofelia Plads Copenhagen



Work on Ofelia Plads - a large, new public space in Copenhagen - has just been completed. 

To the north of Skuespilhuset (the Royal Danish Theatre or Playhouse) is a 19th-century staithe or pier that was constructed parallel to the shore with a basin, Kvæsthusbassinet, and a wharf with a large brick warehouse, now the Admiral Hotel, on the west side and the main channel of the harbour to its east and most recently it was used as the dock for ferries to and from Oslo and to and from the Baltic islands and ports. In an ambitious and extensive engineering project that has just been completed, the pier has been excavated or hollowed out to create a large car park that has three levels below ground (or, perhaps it’s more important to point out, there are three levels below water level in the harbour) and the surface then reinstated with a number of simple, small, low, new, metal clad structures for staircase entrances to the parking levels and ventilation systems.


a photograph from about 1900 showing just how busy the pier was when ships docked on both sides were loaded and unloaded


This hardly sounds devastating or dramatic in terms of city architecture but it actually shows Danish engineering design and urban planning at its very best - very, very well thought through; carefully and efficiently executed and with no attempt or need to show, in any flashy way, just how much money was spent. In fact the project was a gift to the city through a collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Realdania.

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Realdania Kvæsthusprojektet

Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter



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.


The Heart of the Stone

Created by the writer Tor Nørretranders, this exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre is the third in a series under the title Close up and looks at the work of the Copenhagen architectural firm of Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter. Formed in 1983 by Boje Lundgaard and Lene Tranberg they have been responsible for a number of important and prominent buildings in the city. 

This is not a conventional architecture exhibition for there are no architectural drawings, few comments about or detailed analysis of specific buildings and few photographs of works by the partnership. Rather, it uses a number of statements and images to make visitors re-assess their own preconceptions about how architecture, particularly the architecture of public buildings and public spaces, should be seen … over a sink being filled with running water one statement points out that familiarity means we see pipes as pipes and not for the water they carry … so buildings should not be considered primarily as blocks or facades but as containing or defining spaces where light, air and, most important of all, people move to act and live out their lives. One panel towards the end of the exhibition has the declaration “Architecture is about creating good lives. Not about creating fine buildings. Good architecture makes life flow through the world.”

However, major elements in the exhibition do make visitors stop and look in a different and thought-provoking way at three large and prominent buildings in the city that they probably know and may already take for granted. 

A time-lapse film projected onto a large screen shows the movement of traffic and people around the SEB Bank buildings completed by Lundgaard and Tranberg in 2010. These are two large blocks with irregular undulating walls flowing around a large open space planted with trees and in particular the effect of light on the buildings, changing as clouds move across the sky, is striking in the film. Presumably the message is that our reaction to a building can be fixed by the specific time of day when we first saw it and the response can be influenced if we perceive it to be uncomfortably crowded with people or deserted in a disconcerting way.

A set of strategically placed mirrors brings views of the Skuespil Huset - The Royal Danish Playhouse - right into the gallery space. The substantial block of the theatre, completed in 2008, is on the opposite side of the harbour and quite some distance away from the Architecture Centre so it is slightly disconcerting and slightly disorientating to see it somehow so close and even, in one mirror, in mirror image. Presumably that was the point … to take a familiar building and quite literally see it from a completely different point of view.

The Playhouse does also illustrate well one major aim of the exhibition and that is to examine how people use and move through and around a building which can determine its success or, in the case of other buildings, explain its failure. The terrace walk around the Playhouse, described by the architects as a promenade, and the terrace cafe with chairs that can be moved to follow the sun around the building has made the space very popular and this is likely to become more significant as the former ferry terminal immediately to the north is made into important new public space and the new foot bridge taking pedestrian and cyclists over the harbour immediately to the south of the Playhouse is completed. The new river walk and new terrace of the Playhouse shows that a building may well be judged by the public not in terms of facades or style or quality or even by how well it fulfils its intended purpose but in terms of how it fits into and facilitates what they want to do and how they want to use the space.

The third building given prominence in the exhibition is the Tietgenkollegiat in Ørestad - student housing that was completed in 2002. The building is circular in outline and around a circular courtyard with kitchens for the students and communal rooms arranged to look inwards and the private spaces of bedroom/study rooms looking out. The rooms are formed as a series of boxes stacked to project or recede from the barely defined facade line. This emphasises the individual but also gives them a perspective on their place within the student community but also a wider relationship to the world beyond. The fragmentation of the facades, described as a crystalline structure, in a clever and successful way, creates offsets for balconies, restricts or opens out view lines and, crucially, makes light and shadow, as the day progresses, key elements of the design.

For the exhibition there is a 1/20 model with the front of each room created with a photograph showing in some cases students standing at the windows looking out, in one area students with rock-climbing equipment and helmets scaling the outside and in others students eating or sitting on the terrace balconies. The photographs also change in the time of day shown as you move around the model from morning to afternoon to evening to night so there is also a sense of not just the change of light but the way activities change … in the areas photographed in the late evening or early morning curtains or shutters are closed ... and it shows clearly how the activities in the building and the role of the building are different at different times of the day. It shows that the ways in which a major building is used is rarely static.

The exhibition continues until the 21st September. Follow the link to the DAC site for opening times.

Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter