copper and Copenhagen buildings


Copper and the copper alloys of bronze and brass are amazing metals with a long history of use in Denmark for a wide range of uses including making domestic vessels; for coins; for making weapons, particularly ornate weapons for ceremonial use or to display status, and copper and bronze, because they are relatively easy to work, have been used in jewellery and in the decorative arts, particularly for cast sculpture. From the late medieval period onwards copper and bronze have also been used on a much larger scale in architecture, for covering and protecting the roofs of important buildings and, again, because the metals are durable but relatively easy to work and because they can be used as thin sheets that can be shaped and joined together, copper is particularly good for covering domes and spires where the metal layer can be supported by a strong formwork or framework.

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early modern ... Vesterport, Vesterbrogade, Copenhagen


Vesterport on Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, close to the central railway station, was designed by Ole Falkentorp and Povl Baumann and was completed in 1931. It is surely the first truly modern building in the city but if anyone notices it today then it is probably for the striking green colour of its copper cladding which, with patina, has turned a sharp but acid-pale tone. When new, before the copper changed colour, the building was known as the penny.

It was the first steel-framed building in Copenhagen with reinforced concrete floors and was built as an office building. The principle tenant was an English insurance company but the open-floor construction meant that it could be subdivided with non-structural partition walls depending on the requirements of any tenants. It is not just the method of construction but the scale of the block with its flat roof line and the grid-like division of the facades with continuous lines of windows above panels of cladding that is distinctly modern.

Vesterport fills a complete city block - although there is a large service courtyard - and at street level there were shops so, again in a modern way, this was very much a commercial building and it was in what was then a new and growing commercial area of the city.

The building has an important place in design history for another reason ... a significant and influential design gallery and furniture shop, Den Permanente, opened here in 1931 but closed in the 1980s.


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

shouldn’t we talk about architecture more?


What a building looks like is important but in the end a building has to be judged by how it works - judged to see if it is doing what it was meant to do - not judged just by how it looks in a presentation drawing or in a beautiful photograph taken in exactly the right light. We judge a building by how it relates to either the crowded busy street in which it stands or to it’s landscape setting.

To understand a building you need to walk up to it, walk around it and walk through it, and, if possible, see it at different times of day and in different seasons.

And it helps if you can look at a number of buildings by the same architect to put the work in some sort of context … it’s that old ‘compare and contrast’ exercises we had to do in English lessons when I was at school though I’m not sure if that sort of thing is still on the curriculum.

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cladding in Copenhagen … ….


the south end of the harbour in Copenhagen looking across to the Gemini  building by MVRDV and JJW Architects converted from silos to form 84 apartments in 2005


There are so many large new buildings in Copenhagen that the city could claim to have the International Reference Collection of Cladding

At the very least, if architectural students want to look at what is possible with different types of external wall for new concrete or steel-framed buildings then the city would be a good starting point.

I'm not saying that many of these examples are bad … no value judgements were intended … as they say … to avoid litigation. But some are curious in a bad way and many are curious in a good way … quirky or challenging or very revealing about what the architect or the planner or the client was trying to achieve.

Some are actually amazing and outstanding and tell us much about how and why architecture developed so rapidly in terms of both engineering and building technology through the 20th century and most might be worth looking at because they are interesting to think about … if it's not raining and you are not in a hurry.

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Frederiksberg Courthouse - 3XN

Frederiksberg Courthouse from the south west


The new Courthouse in Frederiksberg is part of the extensive development of the area to the west of the main shopping centre forming a series of squares and pedestrian areas with several new civic buildings. The old Courthouse, with two-storey ranges around three sides of a courtyard, designed by Hack Campmann and completed in 1921, has been retained but a substantial new brick building designed by 3XN has been constructed to the west as a separate block but with a glass link between the two parts at the first-floor level.

Tall, to reduce the footprint, the new range has a sloped roof towards the old buildings in part so that the front towards the historic buildings is a similar height but also so the slope of the roof throws less shadow over the courtyard in the afternoon.


Although the use of brick for the exterior is a nod to tradition the lighter colour of the new brickwork distinguishes the two phases. There are some interesting details so towards the north end of the building, on the east side and beyond the line of the courtyard, the tiles of the roof are swept back up to a vertical in a great curve that has a hint of Arts and Crafts architecture.

Brick is now used in many modern concrete or steel buildings with no structural function, often brought to the site as pre-formed panels, almost as a veneer, so with no need to follow traditional arrangements for coursing or bonding but this is the first building I have seen where several external doors have brick cladding. I’m curious to know how much these doors weigh and if there have to be special closers and door furniture to stop them slamming onto fingers. A line of severed digits on a threshold is not good.



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.


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

P-Hus Lüders - Parking House Lüders - Nordhavn Copenhagen

P-Hus Lüders from the east

looking down the north staircase with the harbour and the sound and in the distance the Swedish coast


Copenhagen is the city of bikes. There are said to be more bikes than people … five bikes for every four people … and the statistics are mind boggling. Each day people in the city cycle 1.27 million kilometres. I’m not sure how that was calculated but if it was organised as a relay race it would be the equivalent of team Copenhagen riding around the World 1,000 times EVERY DAY.

There are five times more bikes than cars in the city but of course that doesn’t mean that there are no cars in Copenhagen … you can pile all your shopping plus all the kids and an elderly relative onto a cargo bike without any problems but how else could you get that lot out to the summerhouse without a car?

So for maybe 20 years, with many of the new apartment buildings constructed along the harbour and around the city, a common solution is to excavate first and build underground parking below the block.

The other planning imperative in the city is for open space where children can play and adults exercise … despite all that cycling an amazing number in the city run and then insist on adding a few pull ups and squats. This means that many larger apartment buildings have a courtyard with play or exercise equipment or apartment buildings are set around a public square or open space with play and exercise equipment. This seems to resolve several problems. Apartments in Copenhagen are generally larger than in cities like London or New York or Hong Kong - many are over 100 square metres and some over 200 - but even with balconies that does not stop people getting stir crazy and needing open space but also, of course, attractive space, used in a practical way, means that public space is appreciated and well used public space is much less likely to be vandalised.

In the new development in Nordhavn a slightly different approach to the problem of parking cars and getting exercise is being tried. The density of housing that is being built on former dock yards is higher than that of many recent developments and presumably excavation of deep car parks, on what has only been solid land reclaimed from the sea about 100 years ago, would be a challenge so here at Helsinkigade the solution is to build a large well-equipped public square and then hoik it up into the air by 24 metres and slip a multi-storey car park underneath.

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model for the extensive new development around Århusgade in Nordhavn that is currently part of the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre on the work of the architectural studio of COBE. P-Hus Lüders is at the centre of the three buildings - on the far side of the canal - with the pronounced angle of the east end following the alignment of the canal. There are apartment buildings on either side and shows clearly the proximity of the Silo - just to the right - to the north - but set further back and there is the distinct shape of the two giant cylinders of the former concrete silo to the left - to the south - and set back slightly from the wharf of the Nordhavn basin. 


Bordings Independent School … Dorte Mandrup


In this series of posts about modern cladding, Bordings Independent School by the architectural studio of Dorte Mandrup might appear to be an odd building to include. Completed in 2008, the new addition to existing school buildings is a relatively conventional design using reclaimed brick for its long north and south walls and with glazed ends to bring light into what are ostensibly large open spaces on two main floors but also with a large basement space. 

Although the east end of the building, with a broad flight of steps down to the basement looks into the narrow courtyard of the school, the west end faces onto the pavement and traffic of Øster Søgade, with views across the road to trees and the lake of Sortedams Sø beyond. With what are actually glass walls at each end of the new block, and with undivided spaces, so no cross walls, there are views through from the north-facing courtyard to the trees and the lake to make the courtyard as open and as light as possible. 

The new building is against the north boundary of the plot and is set parallel to an earlier brick-built gymnasium to the south and the gap between the two is a main entrance into the school courtyard. Across the end of the range, and also forming school gates, is a steel structure covered in sheets of Corten pierced with tightly-spaced holes to create a screen. This provides privacy for pupils inside, so people walking by on the pavement see less clearly what is happening inside the building, but during the day, particularly in brighter sunlight, the screen is relatively transparent, and lets through light and allows a view out to the trees along the lake edge and the water of the lake. At night the visual effect reverses with the interior revealed by internal lighting. In effect, the structure is part screen, part verandah, part summerhouse grotto and part factory gate. 

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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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to clad or to cover …..

DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen by Jean Nouvel 2009


Cladding, the general term for the external skin of a modern building, comes from the word to clothe - to clad - and with that meaning can be traced back in written English to the 1570s but the use of textiles or, more specifically woven materials, is conventional for clothing but on the exterior of buildings is still relatively unusual in European architecture.

Of course textiles are used extensively inside buildings to control how much sunlight comes into a room or to cover windows for privacy, to stop or at least restrict people outside from looking in, and textiles are used for heat insulation and to dampen down sound, particularly in a large space, but it is less conventional and less common, for some fairly obvious reasons, to use woven materials on the exterior.

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when the lights come on ........

A generalisation I know, but historic buildings in traditional materials are usually best seen during the day because that is when you can appreciate ornate decoration or amazing stone work or complicated brickwork or a beautiful landscape setting of trees and planting. At night those same buildings become much simpler solids and details are flattened and, particularly if they are large buildings, they can be dark and ominous. Walk past a fantastic medieval church or an 18th-century house at night and what might impress is the glow of light and the sense of an internal life from the bright windows but the design of the building, its massing and the design of it's facades and the quality of the external architecture become softened or lost completely in shadow.

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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


Sankt Annæ Plads - St Anne’s Square or Saint Anne’s Place



Work on the old pier to the north of the theatre was completed in tandem with work on Sankt Annæ Plads that is not a square, which the name might suggest, but a long, broad and pleasant tree-lined street with grass, statues and play areas for children down the centre. The Plads starts at Bredgade with a large equestrian statue of Christian X and extends for 450 metres down to the harbour and the pier, the Plads and the pier meeting at right angles with the theatre at the outer corner.

Sankt Annæ Plads was excavated for engineering works to construct storm drains to cope with sudden and devastating downpours that are now much more frequent as a consequence of global warming. A holding tank can take up to 9 million litres of rain water so that it can later be released in a controlled way into the harbour protecting property and protecting sewers and street drains … expensive infrastructure that otherwise would not cope and could be damaged. 

So - in essence, Copenhagen has laid a drain and built an underground car park … but what a drain and what a car park. 

Together, and without pomp or any shouting, the square and the pier will not only transform this part of the city but also deal with very specific problems - there was a lack of parking for cars … not for local people but for the phenomenal number of visitors drawn to the area for major events; there is a bus turning area for public transport that comes right down to the north entrance to the theatre; the open space is clear enough to give room for pedestrians and bikes; potentially devastating flooding from surface water after heavy rain will be held back in tanks so that it can be released into the harbour in a controlled way to protect property and drains including sewers that would otherwise be overwhelmed; the square will form a suitable and very attractive approach to the theatre and to the harbour front and the pier forms a huge level, uncluttered open space that will be a venue for a wide variety of public events including outside performances by the theatre.


The selection of appropriate colours and texture and tone for hard surfaces enhances rather than competes with the historic buildings on either side but also help to define where cars and pedestrians should go and trees have been planted to make the area down the centre as green and as pleasant as possible with seats and statues to encourage people to sit and relax. Not over designed but very very carefully designed.


the city end of Sankt Annæ Plads in November 2015 with new surface drains (below) being installed between the pavement and the road and between the road and the central area


May 2016 and an early opportunity for people to start using the newly-planted centre space ... the sunken area holds flood water from rain storms to prevent it from flowing back along Bredgade and into the basements of properties there


rains and drains - more on new schemes in Copenhagen to deal with flooding from the sudden and severe rain storms that are becoming more common with global warming


Carlsberg Byen - Carlsberg City District


It’s unusual to find that I don’t like new buildings or modern urban-landscape projects in Copenhagen … I even like Ørestad with its raised metro track and its sense of being a Danish Metropolis. It’s not that I’m uncritical but at the very least I can usually see and usually understand if there were problems or constraints that meant some parts of a new development were and are a compromise.

That’s why, after walking around the first stage of the massive redevelopment of the Carlsberg brewery site … a new campus for University College Copenhagen along with what are presumably commercial office buildings immediately north of the new Carlsberg suburban railway station … I just felt perplexed about why my initial reaction was not positive.

I hoped it was just because that first visit was on a wet grey Sunday afternoon. So I have been back several times to see if it looks different with more people around or looks different at different times of day. It’s not bad compared with commercial developments in other cities … just that it’s as bad … and I guess I expect more in Copenhagen.

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