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 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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just how difficult can it be to design a staircase?

the recently remodelled staircases in the Illum store in Copenhagen

 

Well, actually, quite difficult.

A staircase is not just a major feature in any building but it can also be a particularly difficult part of the design to modify if other parts of the scheme are changed as the plan develops. It becomes a difficult game of consequences - change one part and another no longer works.

It might sound like stating the obvious but a staircase really does have to function well. A doorway can be slightly too narrow or a window sill too high and people grumble. If a staircase is too steep or too dark or the steps are irregular or too small then it is difficult to use easily and it might even be dangerous. 

A design for a staircase normally has to start with the dimensions for the height and depth of a step - the tread and the riser - fixed by the average foot size and the average stride pattern so a tread of at least 300mm and a step up or riser of between 150 and 200mm. These can vary slightly from one staircase to another but not by much and they have to be consistent and ideally consistent through the full height of that staircase. Just watch how many people stumble at the top and bottom of an escalator if it has stopped moving so after a number of abnormally high steps you get into a rhythm for the stride and then hit two or three very shallow steps at the end. It is interesting that even though people clearly understand the escalator has stopped many still stumble.

 

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can cladding be good or bad or is it just cladding?

 
 

Some people get upset when they see an apostrophe in the wrong place on a shop sign and seem to spend half their life looking for examples in order to be offended. Some graphic designers can name a font from 100 metres away and tell you the date and the name of the foundry or the designer and for many it's Comic Sans that sets them off. Me? Well I get worked up about cladding.

OK that's a slight exaggeration but I've spent my working life looking at and taking photographs of and writing about buildings so it really is hard to switch off. Walking along a street, I’ll suddenly spot an interesting or curious feature and then I realise, although I was not conscious that I was doing it, I've been scanning and registering buildings as I'm walking. Perhaps that's why it's difficult sometimes for me to understand that, for lots of different reasons, other people don't even see the awful buildings all around them or, come to that, appreciate when a building has been designed with enormous care.

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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.

images and comments

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.

3XN

 
 
 
 

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

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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