children's play areas in Copenhagen

Exploring Copenhagen I’ve been amazed by the number of playgrounds in parks and in many of the city squares and attached to schools. It’s probably because so many people in the centre of the city live in apartments that both the playgrounds and the play equipment are so important and so well used. Parents, after picking their children up from school, seem to spend at least some time in the play areas before heading for home and most of the playgrounds attached to schools and nurseries seem to be open and well used at weekends. 

What is striking is just how different each of the play areas is and how well the equipment is designed in a range of styles. There are also skate board parks and climbing walls for teenagers and exercise equipment for adults so however big a kid you are there is something to play on.

These well-thought-out, well-constructed areas introduce kids to good design from an early age and they certainly learn that good design can be fun.

gallery of photographs

Trafiklegepladsen in Copenhagen


Writing about Blinkenbikes I mentioned Trafiklegepladsen. It’s on the edge of a large park called Fælledparken on the north side of Copenhagen and is close to the main football stadium. It’s laid out with an extensive and fairly complex arrangement of roads with round-a-bouts and crossings and traffic lights but all scaled down and it is where Copenhagen children learn about riding on roads. There are classes there but there seems to be open access most of the time so you see parents with their kids at weekends and in all sorts of weather.

A new building was completed last year at the entrance that was designed by the architecture practice MLRP with toilets and large areas under cover that can be opened up by folding back doorways for teaching and repair spaces and there are stores for go karts. The area also has picnic tables, play equipment and fun things like vertical rotating brushes of a car wash though I’m sure most parents are relieved to find there is no water.



I liked the idea that clearly the little boy was teaching his dad to use a scooter.

Just after I took the photo of the little girl in a pink hat I had to leap for the pavement as she came racing past. Admittedly she had the green light at the cross roads and the little man on the crossing light was on red and my Danish is not up to arguing the point that actually she was on the wrong side of the road ... better to just get out of the way when a Copenhagen cyclist gets up a bit of speed.


Schools and nursery schools around the city often have their own miniature road layouts in their playgrounds … children here start riding bikes on the public roads at a very early age and this is a good way to teach them to be confident and safe.


Above is the road system laid out in the playground of Kastanie Huset, a nursery and kindergarten on the north edge of De Gamle By in Copenhagen. All the bikes upturned by the kids presumably for servicing made me smile.


On the opposite corner is the new Forfatterhuset kindergarten designed by the architectural practice COBE completed last year and also with its own road layout in the playground.



Copenhagen now houses 30% of the population of Denmark and the city is growing rapidly with 1,000 people moving here every month. Obviously there is a huge pressure to build new housing and with that pressure there is a very clear understanding by politicians, planners and architects that they have to get the new developments right.

An introduction to this exhibition at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts puts the problems succinctly:

“The strain on the city leads to rising prices of land, and high construction costs lead to higher costs of accommodation, both in new build and renovated properties. This makes it difficult to build in general, and almost impossible to build cheaply ….. The city is being segregated into enclaves, with wealthy people in attractive, but expensive districts ….. while citizens with lower incomes have to settle in less attractive districts of the metropolis. This is a threat to social welfare and cohesion.”

But, as with the recent exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about the problems developing with climate change, The Rain is Coming, this is neither a reason for doom and gloom nor an excuse to do nothing but talk anxiously about how awful it all will be. Rather, work has already begun on a massive amount of new building in the city … this exhibition is about housing schemes well on in the stages of planning so either where building work has started or is imminent. The contrast with the UK could not be greater: although both countries have been through the same economic recession, politicians in England seem to talk endlessly about the lack of housing but do nothing while in Denmark there has been a massive investment in infrastructure and work is progressing to build homes all round the city. And this is not small-scale development. The new area of Nordhavn is in part on land that was industrial dockland and in part is claimed from the sea but this area alone will have homes for 40,000 people and places for jobs for 40,000 people. 

Planners and politicians in Copenhagen are no longer at the stage of prevaricating, umming and ahhing and trying to decide what they might do, if they ever were, but clearly, from this exhibition, work is well in hand and now they are making sure that they do it properly.

The drawings and plans also bring out clear themes. In Copenhagen the housing type with apartments around a courtyard is well established and clearly successful so for the future, particularly in the inner city areas, that building type predominates although some tower blocks are proposed in some developments to ensure necessary density.

Conversion of a grain silo in Nordhavn to apartments by COBE

A housing scheme with balconies and roof terraces at Sundbyøster Plads by Dorte Mandrup

Balconies, terraces and roof gardens are important for private outdoor living space but there is, in all the schemes, a focus on the importance of common space of a high quality and emphasis on appropriate vegetation and the importance of water not only as a leisure facility, but as an important visual foil to the hard landscape and as a major consideration when dealing with the increased amounts of rain predicted for the region.

There is also a clear emphasis on the use of high quality but appropriate facing materials so building with brick and timber but also using concrete to reflect the industrial heritage of many of the areas being developed. Large windows, light and good views out are priorities and there also seems to be a much more generous allowance for space in the individual housing units than anything seen in new housing in England.

The schemes also include housing in outer suburbs with, for instance, the plans for Vinge, a new town north of Copenhagen that will cover 350 hectares and will be the largest urban development in Denmark.

Arenakvarter in Ørestad South by JAJA

Many of the drawings for these proposals included children playing in meadows and gardens or families on bikes or in canoes. In most other countries that would be artistic licence but in Denmark gardens, public spaces and exercise are not optional extras. Honestly. Look at my photographs taken wandering around Nørrebro just two days ago and when I moved here last summer one apartment I considered renting was unfurnished except for a well equipped terrace and two canoes. As I said to friends … only in Denmark.

The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, KADK, Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé 51, Copenhagen

Continues until 14 May 2015

community gardens in Copenhagen

Following on from the last post about the exhibition Co-create Your City, now at the Danish Architecture Centre, and partly because - OK mainly because - the weather was so good over the weekend, I walked around Nørrebro, the area west of the lakes, looking at some of the community gardens. 

These are clearly thriving and what amazed me, coming from England, is that these gardens are completely open, in some cases right on the road itself, and in some of the most densely built-up parts of the city and yet there was no evidence of vandalism. What’s more - no signs saying do not leave litter - not a single sign - and yet no litter.

The effort to have these initiatives as community driven and the sense of community ownership clearly works.

A recent urban community garden Byhaven at Hørsholmsgade has been established alongside one of the main cycle routes into the city. There are raised beds filled with flowers, seats constructed within the raised beds and open areas with picnic tables. The gardeners have a good web site at Byhaven2200 that explains the work of their association and has a diary/blog that shows how the gardens have developed along with very useful information about how the association was set up. They also hold events including lectures that are listed on their web site.

At Guldbergsgade there are gardens neatly laid out with sheds and individual plots and in the large triangular area east of those gardens is ByOasen where there are more raised beds, benches carved from large logs, picnic tables, all kinds of play equipment for kids and a small zoo with chickens, goats and hamsters. There may well have been other animals but there were so many toddlers scrabbling around happily in the dirt with the chickens it was a bit difficult to tell what was in there.

A little boy, no more than 2 years old, was being shown how to pick up a chicken gently with hands either side of the body. He got that but hadn’t quite worked out which end was which … the chickens clearly didn’t mind as being carried around upside down meant they could watch for worms and wiggle free as soon as they saw something worth eating.

A little further along the same street a traffic-calming system had been used as a good place to lay out a small but densely packed garden. Again it was obvious that no one even considered vandalism a possible problem.

As I was on Guldbergsgade I took the time to wander around the Jewish cemetery. Very beautiful and very peaceful in the middle of a busy, bustling part of the city … a moving testament to a community that has been well established in Copenhagen since the 17th century.

Fællesskab din by - Co-create your city


This is a significant and inspiring exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that is primarily about the importance of community involvement at all levels in our cities - from making them really work day to day at the street or district level right through to being involved in major planning decisions.

The introduction panel sets this objective out very clearly … the “right to form our cities is something special. It is a product of a political development, but also the result of idealists all through history having challenged what and how a city could and should be - even when it was not formally possible. Citizens have come up with good ideas, gained support and fought for a better city. And not out of a sense of duty, but because they simply can not help themselves. They want to make something of their city, and they would like us to be part of that journey.”

This is very much an exhibition for the digital age in which we live: an exhibition about ideas - rather than a gallery exhibition about beautiful objects that you simply admire. There are no objects as such here but bold and, in some cases, provoking quotations from planners and politicians; information panels about specific community projects and plenty of audio visual screens where you can listen to interviews or commentaries about specific community projects. 

As someone trained in museum work it was interesting to see how all this material was deliberately presented in a way that might not work in a printed book or, particularly, how it might not work if it was simply out there in the data world on a web site reached through a url. Here visitors are encouraged to explore but there is never-the-less a clear sense of a route or progress through the material that you still cannot really control as people click and move around or quickly click on from an on-line site.

There are information panels about a wide range of community-led projects including Østergro - the community gardens of the Østerbro area - the community shared ownership scheme of Den 3 Revle - the Third Bar - in Nørrebro and the Restaurant Day project. There were also a number of international projects shown here including the amazing project to paint the houses of the Rio favelas, the success of the High Line in New York and the project to convert car parking spaces into community parks for a day with people moving in fake grass, plants in tubs and seating to reclaim a stretch of kerb.

There are significant planning projects here - for instance trying to involve as many people as possible as Odense grows rapidly from a small city into a major conurbation. 

Some information surprised me … I had not realised that community involvement in planning has been enshrined in Danish law since 1970.

All the main panels are in English as well as Danish so with no Danish I could follow everything well but where I missed out of course was my usual trick in a museum of listening in to the conversations of other visitors to work out just how they were responding to what they were looking at to find out if they were inspired or if they disagreed. 

The last section of the exhibition has information about Borgerlyst (Citizen's Desires ?? ... wishes sounds rather feeble and wants too needy as a translation) set up by Nadja Pass and Andreas Lloyd to use their experience from various community schemes to encourage and nurture action groups and there is a long table with benches on either side that takes you through a question-and-answer sequence to see if you have an idea for a community project and to encourage you to take it forward.

There are a large number of events associated with the exhibition and the last wall has bright bold graphics setting these out with tear-off strips for contact telephone numbers.

Even in Denmark there must be rapacious developers whose primary aim is profit and there must be politicians or administrators reluctant to relinquish power or influence and of course there are citizens who don’t have the time or the energy to get involved or feel slightly in awe of officials and think that planning or decisions about architecture and redevelopment in their city should probably be left to the experts but my strong feeling is that, here in Denmark, that gap - between wealth and power and the majority of people who actually live and work in the cities - is actually smaller and more easily bridged than in most cities in the World.

My only real concern is just how wide an audience will Co-create reach? I can see that actually having the material there and visitors having made the effort to travel to the Centre they want to focus on the material. But the number of visitors seemed relatively small and were all the usual suspects - trendy middle class families, men who were clearly architects and designers and a good number of students presumably studying architecture or design. How do you reach a wider demographic with something as important as this? 

Having said that, special events held around the building and on the quay outside have clearly been well attended.

But overall it really is inspiring to see how many people have become involved over such a wide range of projects and have made a substantial and real difference to their urban environment.


The exhibition continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 7 June 2015

The Rain is Coming

There is just a week left to see the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about climate change that shows how urban planning and the design of buildings and hard landscaping have to adapt now for changes in weather patterns in the future. 

Looking up from my desk, as I’m writing this morning, it is raining but it’s really the sort of shower that anyone would expect at this time of year … late March so Spring in north-west Europe. This is not the sort of weather the exhibition is talking about but then back last summer, just a couple of weeks after I moved into this apartment, Copenhagen had one of the flash rain storms that are becoming more frequent here. There was torrential rain for several hours and the street drains could no longer cope and pools of water started to form across the road and pavements. Like many apartment buildings in the city, we have a basement where residents store boxes and bikes and so on. I had a phone call to say the basement was flooding, because the pump had failed, and was told that if I wanted to save or salvage my things down there I should do it right away. It was hardly a disaster for me - I lost a couple of cardboard boxes - but further along the street several businesses in semi basements, four or five steps down from the pavement, had much more serious problems. Industrial pumps were called in but most of those businesses had to shut for several months as floors and electrical systems were dried out or replaced. Six months on and at least one business has still not reopened.

For a city like Copenhagen, new developments with ever denser building with more and more ground covered with tarmac or hard surfaces, designed to drain quickly, it actually means there could be dramatic consequences if these sudden rain storms become more frequent as predicted.

And these storms are dramatic. On the 2nd July 2011 there was a rain storm in Copenhagen where a fifth of the normal annual rainfall fell in just three hours. Neighbours have told me that whereas this time I had to move my things out of less than 10cm of water, on that day the basement rooms filled right up to the ceiling. In the city underpasses and road tunnels were flooded and closed, utility services were lost and the extent of property damage was phenomenal.

Having said all that, the exhibition is not all about doom and gloom. In fact far from it as the real message is that we have to accept that these changes are coming and therefore we should start to adapt our construction methods and planning to make appropriate changes now. Simply planning for an emergency response, for if and when, is not a sensible approach. By starting now we can be in control and there will be gains because making changes in advance “presents us with a unique opportunity to improve our cities and create greener cities with more open spaces where rainwater can be handled and urban life can thrive.”

The first part of the exhibition shows with excellent graphics how much more of the city is now built over so the natural process of water soaking into the soil or running away along natural drainage channels is no longer possible. In the past rain water and dirty waste water … so everything from water on the roads contaminated with oil from traffic to sewage has been dealt with through the same system of drains or, where there are separate storm drains and household drains, these often back up and contaminate each other when the system is under pressure when there is a sudden storm.

There is also a stark lesson to be learnt from the past about what happens when you prevaricate. By the 19th century Copenhagen was densely built up with houses and businesses tightly packed around narrow streets and courtyards. Then the problem was not surface drainage but dealing with human waste. There was no sewage system in the city and in 1835 a cholera outbreak killed thousands of people and started a discussion about the need for drains. Political differences, problems with financing such extensive work and potential disputes dealing with individual land ownership stymied any progress until the 1850s when a second major outbreak of cholera killed 5,000 people in the city. Even though work then started on clearing slums and improving the drains it was not until the 1880s that Charles Ambt, the city engineer, began to draw up detailed plans for the necessary engineering works including a scheme to take sewage out through a tunnel under the harbour and out into the sound. The Nordic Exhibition in Copenhagen of 1888 showed the citizens all the wonders that were then available for modern plumbing and sanitation but even then the first street to have water closets was Stokholmsgade in 1893, nearly 60 years after that first cholera outbreak, and it was not until 1901 that Copenhagen completed a full sewage system and paved the streets in the city. To be blunt, the point here is that this time, facing climate change, we cannot afford to take sixty years to decide what to do and start the work.

The second part of the exhibition shows a number of completed or ongoing or planned projects that are designed to cope with the anticipated increase in the number of rain storms. These are presented as opportunities rather than enforced and expensive solutions that will be necessary if we wait until we have to do the work.

With adventurous and imaginative schemes the people who live in the cities and in the suburbs are getting new facilities and renewed urban areas at little or certainly reduced direct cost; the city councils are getting a renewed infrastructure at markedly less cost than by waiting until works are absolutely needed after a major and destructive storm and the utility companies, who have to provide solutions and have to deal with any failures in the system, can actually often introduce smaller local schemes on private or city land as long as the owners see a gain which is much much cheaper than the company having to buy land for the construction of mega solutions.

Simple schemes shown include designs for permeable pavements and surfacing to deal quickly with surface water but without overwhelming the drains. On a larger scale there are several proposals shown to build underground tanks to hold water from flash floods so it can be dealt with slowly over the following days and weeks. More natural-looking options - rather than hard engineering solutions - include schemes with planting or new ponds and drainage channels or well-planted temporary flood plains. New artificial surfaces can be installed for sports facilities that keep the surface dry but take rain water down to permeable sub structures.

So, at Gladsaxe new sports facilities for the Gymnasium have been built around and over ponds and canals for a new drainage system that holds back flood water so it can be dealt with locally by the system over a more reasonable period. For this project costings have been given to show how the different parties have benefitted financially. A traditional project with an underground storm basin would have cost 102 million DKK. The completed project with surface solutions cost 72 million DKK. The municipality has influenced the project and gained financially by providing advice and expertise that was financed from the project costs. The citizens of Gladsaxe saved 30 million DKK on supply expenses and they gained sports facilities, playgrounds, nature trails and new urban spaces.

At the headquarters of Nordisk a nature park of 31,000 square metres has been built with half laid out across the roof of car parks. Covered with grass and meadow plants, it absorbs rain water rather than having it run off the alternative of hard roofing into drains and provides a pleasant new facility for staff and visitors to the company.

In Middlefart management of water is seen as an opportunity to create a Climate City to turn 450,000 square metres into a greener and healthier neighbourhood. 

In Køge there is scheme to establish new green spaces and rain water from roofs will be cleaned and returned for washing clothes and flushing toilets.

In Viborg a large new park is being laid out with lakes that retain water that can be cleaned and returned to the water system. Again there is considerable gain from such careful management of storm water … the utility company gains access to a large space where it can manage and clean the water, the municipality can influence the design from the start and gets a new park and the citizens are protected from flooding caused by a sudden cloud burst and gain a new recreational space.

Not all the schemes are on such a large scale. Helenevej in Frederiksberg is the first climate street in Denmark with a permeable surface that absorbs large amounts of water when there is a cloudburst and at Vilhem Thomsens Allé in Valby, rainwater is handled within the courtyard of the housing scheme creating a recreational space and reducing water bills as retained water is now used rather than metered water for watering the planting. The utility company gains financially because it does not have to construct new pipes to take rainwater away from the area.

If people still need to be convinced about the need for such schemes, the exhibition has stark figures for the financial cost of wasting water. An average Danish family uses 40 litres of water per person each day for flushing toilets and for washing which is roughly the amount of rainwater that could be collected from a roof surface of 40 square metres so if water could be stored until it is needed then the roof on a house, on average 200 square metres, could provide all the water needed for washing clothes and flushing toilets rather than the family using drinking water … with a potential saving for a family of 5,000 DKK a year in water charges.


The Rain is Coming - how climate adaptation can create better cities

Danish Architecture Centre until 6th April 2015

Ny Agenda 2, Danish Landscape Architecture 2009-13

This second volume of Ny Agenda covers 39 landscape schemes from 29 different offices that were undertaken and completed between 2009 and 2013 - a final selection from 109 submissions. These have been grouped into five sections - New Sobriety, Heritage Reinterpreted, Exercise through Play, Urbanisation and Climate and Growing Power After All - to cover major trends identified in design in landscape architecture over the five years. There is a foreword and an essay by Annemarie Lund on Old-time Values and an essay by Lisa Diedrich on The Danish Way - A European Glance at Danish Landscape Architecture.

In her essay on Old-time Values Annemarie Lund argues that the criteria for recent awards for landscape design - sustainability, sculpting of the terrain, quiet spots and a better place to live - reflect qualities and values for which Danish landscape design has been appreciated and admired since the middle of the last century. But some newer trends are identified with an increasing awareness of the value of appropriate landscape changes to encourage and help people to exercise and of course changes determined by our response to climate change whether that is growing food or dealing with patterns of heavier, more intense rain fall.

Generally, the schemes are presented as a double-page spread although major works are taken over four pages and the monuments area in Jelling, the foreshore park around the National Aquarium, the Fredensborg Palace Garden, the new garden in front of the renowned restaurant NOMA and the landscape around the castle of Kronborg are each given 6 pages but all with a clear and simple layout with a two-column design to allow for parallel Danish and English text. Photographs are superb and there is a good use of drawings and the team involved in each project is listed. Together this means that the book can be used with a computer to use the internet to call up maps, particularly for Copenhagen the Google 3D maps, and information from company and city internet sites to provide context or a broader or deeper level of information about specific places.

What comes across strongly is, that if any aspects can be seen as common to these widely diverse and varied landscapes, it is the Danish determination and persistence to use the very best materials as a matter of principle, investing in the future, but also to show courage when dealing with historic towns or major monuments to both try and to succeed with innovative or radical ideas.


Annemarie Lund (editor), Ny Agenda, Dansk Landskabsarkitektur (New Agenda, Danish Landscape Architecture) 2003-08, Forlaget Bogværket (2009)

Annemarie Lund (editor), Ny Agenda, Dansk Landskabsarkitektur 2 (New Agenda, Danish Landscape Architecture 2) 2009-13, Forlaget Bogværket (2014)

Bästa Cykelstad!

There wasn’t a major exhibition at Form Design Center in Malmö last week … they were setting up the next big exhibition in the gallery … but in the courtyard there was an interesting exhibition that is part of an ongoing campaign to promote cycling in the city. This display is mobile and has been seen at several sites around the city.

There are early photographs of cyclists in Malmö from the late 19th century through the “golden age” from 1930 to 1950. There are curious and interesting facts and information about cycling and the current campaign to encourage more people to use a bike. Free maps were given out showing cycle routes around the city marked with useful things like places to get tyres inflated and the position of public toilets with practical information about the traffic laws for cyclists, advice about repairing bikes and recommendations about training for young cyclists along with funny cartoon drawings of hand signals

The city are seeking opinions and ideas for a public bike ownership scheme that has been proposed and that will be tied in with park and ride schemes. A new bike is being awarded to the best suggestion.

The Design Centre has a snazzy bike rack for visitors to use that spells out the name of the city and there is a clever bike rack set up on a parking bay on the large square to the south that has an outer frame forming the outline of a car to show just how many bikes fit into a single car-park space.

So this is a story about using good striking graphic design and in a clever and light way to promote a serious planning issue.

Cycling, Form Design Center Malmö, 4 November to 30 November 2014

Nordhavn ... the redevelopment of the north harbour in Copenhagen

Over the last fifteen to twenty years there have been major schemes for new building and redevelopment of the commercial wharves and industrial buildings of the harbours in Copenhagen, Malmö and Oslo. In all three cities there were large areas of docks for commercial shipping, container transport and ferries close to or adjoining the historic centres of these cities but as commercial shipping and ship building has either declined or has been reorganised and relocated in response to extensive economic changes then this land has become available for other use. 

Generally these cities are developing the land now available for new housing, usually large apartment buildings, but with commercial office buildings and of course leisure and recreation and retail space.

It seemed to me to be interesting to look briefly at all three cities to see how they are approaching the architectural challenge and to see if the new buildings in these areas reflect an unrelenting 'international' style or if the new buildings reflect the different character and different needs of the three cities.

In Copenhagen over the last twenty years there has been extensive development of the inner harbour and the south harbour, at Teglholmen and Sluseholmen, and huge areas of new building south of the city in Islands Brygge and Ørestad but in this post my focus is on the development of Nordhavn or the North Harbour.

Last week I took a train up to Hellerup, north of the city and walked back to Kastellet, the 17th-century fortifications on the north edge of the historic centre, to look at the harbour areas and to take photographs. It was only having done that walk that I can even begin to comprehend the enormous scale of this redevelopment … maps alone do not really give an idea of the distances and the area of land that is being redeveloped.

Really there are three distinct parts with the most established area immediately north of the historic centre, the area of the old Free Port north of the fortifications of Kastellet, around Amerika Kaj and India Kaj. Old dock buildings, mostly in red brick and dating from around 1900 have been retained but with new office buildings on the quays and a densely built up area of residential buildings between the dock and the railway but even here there are many new buildings under construction or schemes where work is about to start. This area includes the terminal for the ferries to Oslo.

Beyond is the north harbour area proper with an imposing power station, Svanemølleværket built in 1953, on the west side between the harbour and the main railway line to the north. This area is all land fill and in fact is still being extended out into the sea, taking much of the earth and gravel that is being extracted for the new tunnels of the extension of the metro in Copenhagen. The new buildings here, barely started, will eventually cover eleven islands and house 40,000 people. There is also a major new terminal for large cruise ships at Ocean Kaj.

Detail of the map of 1888, immediately before work started on the Free Port, and an air view taken from google maps. The key points of reference are the Kastellet, bottom left, and the old triangular fort guarding the harbour entrance. The new terminals for cruise ships are along the long quay set at an angle top right.

Further north again, up the coast and beyond the distinctive three chimneys of the power station and beyond a marina for boats and yachts, is the site of the Tuborg brewery that closed in 1996. Recent buildings here are again well established with a shopping centre, some amazing office buildings on the quay and expensive apartment blocks set to look across the Ørseund or to look back towards the North Harbour across a broad seashore park.

The Old Free Port and Amerika Plads

The construction of the Free Port began in 1891 and the wharves and docks opened in 1894. The development was a direct response to counter the opening of the Kiel Canal in 1895: work started on the canal in 1887 and allowed shipping to move between the Baltic and the North Sea avoiding Copenhagen and its port.

On this early plan of the Free Port it is orientated with North to the left. The edge of the fortification of Kastellet is shown on the right.


The Free Port was immediately north of the city fortifications at Kastellet and was laid out by Holger Christian Valdemar Møller with two docks running north south and open to the sea at the north end. The west quay or Amerika Kaj, now the site of Amerika Plads, had the main railway lines serving the port along the west side and included a power station. Across the south side, close to Kastellet, are administration buildings from about 1900, of high quality architecturally, mostly in brick and most have been retained with the redevelopment. There is a central quay, Midtermolen, and an outer quay, the Langelinie Kajen with substantial harbour buildings along its length and on the outer or sea side a raised promenade above low single-storey warehouses that have been kept. The long seaward quay, Langeliniekajen (Langelinie Pier), is now a major terminal for cruise ships.

Substantial key buildings, part of the original construction, were by Vilhelm Dahlerup including the Silo Warehouse of 1892-94 (demolished after a fire in 1969) the Warehouse 1 from 1893-94 on the east side on Langelinie Kajen and the Manufakturhuset about 1900 on the west America Plads side. A second Silo Warehouse, Warehouse B by Fredrik Levi from 1903 with its distinct end towers, also survives on the Amerika Plads side.

The area around Amerika Plads is now densely built up and has an urban inner-city character with mainly apartment buildings flanking a main street running north south and around a narrow public courtyards to its west. Original port buildings here include a large warehouse block, the Silo, a power station and a rebuilt railway station.

The new apartments include Nordlyset (Northern Light) by C F Møller from 2006 enclosing a courtyard with sharp clean white facades and distinct yellow shutters. There is a large brick and framework apartment block by 3XN, the Kobbertårnet (Copper Tower) from 2004 by Arkitema and at the south end the Fytårnet (Lighthouse) by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects with its dark grey tile cladding and begun in 2006.

Midtermolen (the central quay) is the least successful visually and already looks rather dated. A development from 1994 by PLH Arkitekter replaced the Dahlerup building destroyed by fire but although its great arc of blue glass on its east side is dramatic, it is rather mechanical and the original Dahlerup building provided a much stronger sense of form and drama at the centre of the port. There are three large office buildings, the most northerly with the high semi-circular block, on the west side of the quay and a line of apartment buildings in pale brick on the east side of the quay.

The Langeliniekajen (the outer or east pier) is without doubt the grandest and most formal part of the new harbour development. There are seven buildings in line running north south and looking west onto the east harbour and east over the promenade to the cruise ship quay and the open sea. At the centre is the impressive warehouse by Dahlerup from 1900 and this determines the scale of the other buildings - specifically the depth and height of the buildings. At the city end are apartment buildings by Schmidt, Hammer & Lassen from 1997 and north, beyond the 19th-century warehouse are the Finance Institute for Danish Industry from 2002 by 3XNielsen with extensive white shutters articulating the facing brick of the facades and, at the north end, an office building in hard dark red brick for ATP by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects and just nearing completion.

These buildings pick up the form and scale of earlier warehouses on the inner harbour in an appropriate and sensitive way ... if it is possible to use the word sensitive for buildings of this baulk. It gives not only a sense of continuity and a sense of rhythm to the harbour front but it reflects the source of the wealth and importance of the city that came ostensibly from its sea trade and sea power.


This is a slightly surreal area and to say that it is work in progress is an understatement. The earliest major building actually dates back to 1987 and is the Paustian Furniture Building by Kim Utzon on the north edge of the development but generally the area is covered with factories and storage yards.

It is also an area of major infill taking much of the earth being excavated for the new tunnels for the extension of the metro in Copenhagen. This landfill is not due to be completed until 2020 but by then there will be eleven islands and housing here for 40,000 people over the new land and an equal number of jobs in the area.

Looking across to the North Harbour development area from the north end of the Langelinie pier. The UNICEF warehouse and the new terminal buildings for cruise ships can just be seen in the distance beyond the boat of the harbour pilot.

Cranes, warehouses, container yards and cafes for the lorry drivers survive between the building sites of the development

Probably the largest and most important part of the development (in terms of the income it will generate for the city) is the new cruise ship terminal at Ocean Kaj that opened officially in May 2014. The quay is 1100 metres long with three terminal buildings with a zigzag roof profile designed by Christensen & Co.

800,000 passengers a year now arrive to visit or depart from or end their journey in Copenhagen. This outer quay is for the largest cruise ships and the ships that begin or end their cruise in Copenhagen. Some of these vessels can arrive with 4,000 passengers. The quay has major facilities for loading fresh water, handling baggage, dealing with the restocking of food and so on.

The most important new building, now near to completion, is the U.N. building on Marmormolen at the south end of the new development area and was designed by 3XN. For security, the building will be surrounded by a moat and the entrance courtyard is approached over a corten-steel bridge with massive roll-up barriers to stop vehicles being driven at the building.

Looking across to the new U.N. building from the Langelinie Pier

The outline of the building is amazing ... not a solid block but made up of spiky narrow ranges, in a distorted star formation, that at their outer ends are almost infeasibly thin and pointed. If it has picked up the shape to reflect the geometry of the Trekoner (Triangular) Fort across the water then the architects have taken it to an extreme. The building will be the home of seven U.N. organisations that are based in Denmark.

Apartments by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects nearby are well under way and are the first residential buildings in the area.

The DFDS Ferry Terminal, again from 3XN, was completed in 2004 and is on a quay between Amerika Plads and Nordhavn. Before the completion of this terminal ferries had docked in the inner harbour on the quay immediately north of the State Theatre. The area of the old terminal is now the focus of a deceptively ambitious scheme to create a new water front space ... deceptive in that the surface of the old pier has been excavated to provide underground - below water-level - parking for 500 cars. This really is an important factor of the north harbour development that deserves comment. In many cities a change of focus on a new area inevitably means abandonment and blight in another area as major companies move across to the novel and more fashionable areas. In Copenhagen there seems to be a very positive attitude to renewal ... if one function or one major user moves on then that in itself should be seen as a major opportunity to reassess how the old site can be revitalised. Why is Copenhagen good at this? Well it's actually not a new approach. In fact far from it. In the early 17th century there were docks and shipbuilding across the whole area between Christiansborg and Nyhavn. As new ship yards on the reclaimed land on the opposite side of the harbour - Christianshavn - expanded, the land of the old dock yards was built over with expensive new apartments. Sound familiar. The city of Copenhagen has been doing dockland redevelopment for nearly four hundred years. They are getting pretty good at it.

Perhaps the most amazing building that has been proposed for the Nordhavn development is the LM Project by American architect Steve Holl. This will form a high-level gateway linking across to the Langelinie Kajen under which the ferries will pass.

The north harbour development covers a vast area with a complex overall plan with some older buildings that are to be retained but with a phenomenal number of new buildings by major Danish architectural firms and a number of international companies.

There is a pamphlet published on line as a pdf about the development of Nordhavn that has good maps and images.

The Power Station, Svanemølleværket, and the marinas

Tuborg Havn

The Tuborg Brewery opened here in 1873 and the last beer was brewed on the site in 1996.

As in the harbour around America Kaj to the south, some buildings from around 1900 were retained in the redevelopment of the site but extensive new retail, commercial office and residential apartments have been built on either side of a dock that runs east west and is open at the east end to the Øresund.

In fact this area, immediately south of the well-established suburb of Hellerup, is outside the boundary of the port of Copenhagen but the extent, style and high quality of the development and its distinctly urban style links it closely to the new works in the north harbour. The narrow area of marinas and smaller houses along the beach road between Nordhavn and the Tuborg site are already seeing some redevelopment so the two areas are being run together and Tuborg harbour really has to mark a north limit to the redevelopment of Copenhagen ... Hellerup has seen some major rebuilding on the east side of its high street but further development there is not likely and certainly no development would be allowed on this scale further north again in Charlottenlund.

The key buildings around Tuborg harbour include the Waterfront shopping centre by Vilhelm Lauritzen of 2007 with its dark green facade but with a light and clean design for the interior with shop units along a gently-curving internal street. To its east is the office building for Sampension HQ of 2003 by 3XN with dark copper cladding and pierced shutters. 

On the south side of the harbour at the west or entrance end are a major group of office buildings including Horton Headquarters of 2009 by 3XN, Saxo Bank of 2008 also by 3XN and to their south a striking group of three blocks in a pale blue facing with undulating window outlines ... Punkhusene from 2009 by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects - the designers of the shopping centre but here working in a very different style.

To the east of these offices, on either side of Tuborg Havnepark, are a series of large apartment blocks by Dissing + Weitling completed in 2008. They take as a design reference point apartment buildings of the 1930s with white facades, curved balconies and rounded corners. The apartment blocks have views north onto the mooring or for the south blocks there are views over a large park and views to the North harbour and Copenhagen beyond.

This is modern architecture at its best - the view down the main dock looking east is stunning in sunlight. The buildings vary in style but there is a restraint in the scale and proportions of the individual blocks and they are set out to create a rhythm for the group as a whole. Above all the palette of blue, blue-green and white for the facing materials along with the variety and changes of angle in the glazing, catching and reflecting the light off the water, sets the highest possible standard for water-side developments.

Redevelopment of the Tuborg brewery site

The apartments and office buildings of Tuborg Havn from Nordhavn

the Seidelin plan

In a post earlier today, looking at some of the recent buildings in Copenhagen, I suggested that the city has not seen a comparable amount of new development since the old city walls and outer defences were demolished in the late 19th century. 

Through the first half of the 19th century the area inside the old walls had become increasingly overcrowded and there were still restrictions on building immediately beyond the outer ditches to maintain clear ground with no cover for attacking forces and to ensure that there were clear sight lines for defending fire and so on if the city was ever besieged. 

Everything came to a crisis point in 1853 when there was an outbreak of cholera and 5,000 citizens died over 4 months that summer - grimly almost the same number as the official statistics at this point for the current outbreak of Ebola. It was obvious that overcrowding and poor sanitation were the cause of the cholera and it was equally clear that little could be achieved without a substantial number of people moving out of the tightly-packed and overcrowded houses within the walls.

A plan for new areas of streets, squares and apartment buildings was drawn up by Conrad Seidelin in 1857 in anticipation of the walls being removed. It shows the old part of the city in pale grey and a great ark of new development in dark grey between the old city and the lakes to the west and also an area of new buildings immediately south of Kongens Nytorv where there were shipyards. Key reference points, when looking at the map, are the lakes that are little different now and the Royal Palace and Marble Church but this proposal involved not just levelling all the walls, gates and ditches but also building across the Kastellet - building right across to a new formal garden close to what is now Nordhavn shown top right. The area of Holmen, on the seaward side of the harbour is shown as clear of buildings although there were naval yards there. The canals and the arrangement of the streets of Christianhavn have changed little in the intervening 150 years.

Work on removing the walls and some of the defensive ditches did not start in earnest until the 1870s. and the layout of new streets was, in the end, rather different from Sedelin’s scheme, retaining not just the Katellet but also some of the ditches. However, a huge number of apartment buildings were constructed establishing a basic form, with courtyards, communal staircases and relatively mixed accommodation with, in many buildings, relatively large apartments on the first and second floors over, in many cases, shops or offices. There was clearly some, in modern terms, social zoning with working-class apartments for instance to the west and north of Israels Plads, many with a single room, and much grander blocks along Grønningen looking down on Kastellet and then later along Dag Hammarskjölds Allé where there were some apartments with 12 or more large rooms and complex arrangements for servants. 

What I find interesting about the plan of the city, as it evolved, is that in the end there were substantially more open areas and public buildings than Seidelin proposed. Sections of the defensive ditch were retained as lakes at the centre of large new public parks and gardens and some of the finest and most important public buildings in the city were constructed on the land opened up by clearing the city walls including a new city hall, a new national art gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst), the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum and gallery, libraries, academic institutions and a botanic gardens.

Building work progressed rapidly and by the last years of the 19th century blocks of apartments were being built well beyond the lakes as the new areas of Vesterbro, Fredriksberg, Nørrebro and Østerbro developed.

Many of the apartment buildings within the lakes were incredibly grand and had bravado shows of craftsmanship in the brickwork, stonework and plasterwork of their facades. There must have been a phenomenal army of skilled brick layers, masons and plasterers in the city at that time. Above all, in terms of the focus of this web site, this was when the period when furniture and other design trades really became established in Copenhagen, on a large commercial scale, to decorate and furnish all those new apartments.