brick cladding


Out near the beach on the east side of Amager there are large new apartment buildings that are going up and at an incredible speed because of the method of construction being used with large panels of preformed concrete lifted into place by huge cranes before then being fixed or linked together. 

Then, on the outer face, goes insulation and a veneer of brick in large sheets made in a factory …. and that is where I begin to have reservations.

There is nothing wrong with the building method - and the advantage is that very speed of building - but then my inner puritan kicks in. I notice the long straight joins between the panels and think that this really has little to do with real brickwork … basically because brickwork isn’t, curiously, just about bricks but also about the mortar and the courses and the patterns - created by how the bricks are laid - and how different colours of brick and how different colours of mortar effect the appearance.

Then there is the thing about honesty … that’s not honesty as in money and value but honesty in design so about using building materials in an appropriate way that reflects and uses the intrinsic qualities of those material. Here I can see that brick facing is used for these modern apartment buildings because people like it - it’s somehow more reassuring and warmer and more comforting than concrete or glass - and because it can be a good attractive colour and, at least, brick does provide an element of texture that can be missing from many cladding materials. 

Which is sort of part of the irony here … it is a factory made product - manufactured - but it appropriates the qualities of something made by hand. On Grundtvigs Kirke every brick was laid one at a time by hand … is that one of the reasons that makes it such an amazing building?

Obviously the apartment building is a very very different type of building so is that voice of my inner puritan wrong and misplaced? Is it perfectly OK to use current technology to achieve some of the benefits for none of the skill or effort?

But Copenhagen has a long and well-established tradition using brick in its buildings and it’s not simply a practical solution simply because these new apartments are very tall blocks so traditional brickwork would not be appropriate …. just look at the huge power stations in the city from the 1930s or some of the very large brick apartment buildings from the 1920s and 30s and you can see good traditional brickwork on very large buildings.

I guess in the end it comes down to thinking that the finished buildings look a bit mechanical because it’s all rather too flat and rather too regular. Presumably the developer would argue that the cost benefits outweigh any quibbles about trying to keep alive traditional building methods and they would probably tell you about 19th-century apartment buildings with thin walls a single brick thick where cold and condensation and noise were and are a serious problem. 

So do cost and comfort always trump aesthetics and rapidly-disappearing craft skills? 

select any image to open the gallery ….

it really is interesting to look at how the concrete and insulation and brick panels are sandwiched together


why does Denmark produce so many 'good' chairs?

the display of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark



We are distinguished from other animals because not only do we live in family groups but, generally, we cultivate rather than simply gather food and herd animals rather than just track and hunt meat - so we tend to settle in one place - and tend to sleep under cover, rather than out in the open or up in a tree, so build ourselves permanent homes. We have complex languages for communication so we need to be with people and concentrating on what they are saying; we can cook our food rather than simply eat it raw; tend to eat together rather than on our own; and we walk upright on two legs which means that, after doing all that, we also need to sit down rather a lot.

I was reminded just how important sitting down together can be when looking at the seats shown at Side by Side for the Cabinetmakers' Autumn exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark. These works explored ideas about how we sit together - although specifically for that exhibition how we sit down together outside - hence the full title of the exhibition being Side by Side Outside - and the designers and cabinetmakers explored how the shape and arrangement of seats influences how we react or respond to other people. A work entitled Tingsted by Troels Flensted was particularly interesting because he looked back to ancient seating for inspiration … to low stones set in a circle outside a village as a place for assemblies or meetings. So people don't just sit down but sit down together and for lots of different reasons.

Side by Side Outside - the Cabinetmakers' Autumn Exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark

Tingsted by Troels Flensted was inspired by the stone circles used in the past for village meetings ... here the seats in terrazzo have a slight lip at the back so not strictly a stool. Check when you see someone on a low stool ... there is a tendency to sit too far back with the stool under the legs rather than supporting to spine so one crucial role for a chair is to set the most comfortable posture.

Fette Fingre / Fingers Lovingly Intertwined by Hannes Stephensen and the cabinetmaker Kristian Frandsen ... a variation on what is sometimes called a loving seat or kissing seat but here the chairs can be spun towards or away from the other person to change the dynamics of the conversation ... chairs as an intermediary

Mange Bænke Små / Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks by Sussi Osmark shows how, even in the rain, people sit down and the dynamics of the relationship changes with how you sit.

Arc by Hans Sandgren Jakobsen ... sometimes a chair is not large enough 



There can be very few modern homes in Europe that do not have chairs, or at least one chair, as part of the moveable or re-moveable furniture. So chairs are common - in fact just about ubiquitous. But have we reached an interesting point where the way we use chairs and which type of chair we need is changing?

Certainly we are seeing much-discussed changes in family dynamics … more people than ever before live in towns and cities rather than the country; more and more people have less personal space; in western Europe more and more people live alone but even in family groups much less significance is given to eating together at the same time … and if we do sit down to eat with other people then it tends to be in a public rather than in our private space … so in a restaurant or café or canteen … so formal sets of dining chairs are less and less common. 

In fact, dining chairs set around a dining table and left like that even when no one is eating was 'normal' for a relatively short period of the history of the home and only at a certain social levels so in middle-class homes through the 19th and 20th centuries. Look at paintings of 18th-century interiors and the common arrangement was to pull chairs back to stand against the wall after the meal and often a table was brought in just for the meal or, if it had leaves or flaps or possibly if it was made in sections, it too would be moved back away from the centre of the room. Even in large prestigious houses from the middle ages onwards and then later in farmhouse kitchens and inns there were more often long benches at long tables rather than chairs.

So how and why and when did having more chairs and more chairs with specific functions become important?

Certainly, through the last century, we can see a tendency to have more chairs and different types of chair in our homes than we do now … so there might be side chairs in the entrance hall - a place to sit and put on or take off shoes or as somewhere to drop a coat or a bag - there might be a desk chair in the study, a dressing-table chair in the bedroom, a set of dining chairs, of course, but also possibly rather different and more basic chairs for eating at a kitchen table, and even another set of similar chairs for sitting out in the garden or on a balcony to eat and a much higher chair at a 'cocktail bar' in the 'lounge' if that was the way you lived.

And outside the home there are still more and very specific types of chairs for lecture theatres, waiting rooms or cafeterias … although it is interesting to see that posh restaurants seem to mirror or better what is found in a private home … and usually there are highly specialised chairs in the barbers and the dentists surgery.

Chairs have to be well made because we don't sit still for long and that puts considerable stress on the components of a chair and on the way the parts are joined together and, generally, we expect chairs to be relatively light … any chair can be strong if it is over engineered in hefty materials … but we want to move chairs around.

More often than not we look for chairs that are both stylish and relatively unusual because people do still use the chairs they buy to express their own view of their own status. 

Of course, some homes can have cheap chairs from a flea market or simple chairs, utility chairs, from a department store that are paired with expensive carpets or valuable paintings on the walls but that is pretty rare. Normally expensive and carefully-thought through homes have expensive and carefully chosen chairs.

If anyone visits us at home then about the first thing they are offered - after perhaps somewhere to put their coat and the use of the toilet - is a chair and it is possible that through their entire visit, the only piece of our furniture that they come in direct contact with is one of our chairs. They may only look at and admire, or not, our other pieces of furniture.

Poul Henningsen 1932

Arne Jacobsen 1970

Poul Kjærholm 1953

Johannes Foersom & Peter Hiort-Lorenzen 1996

Nanna Ditzel - Trinidad 1993

Poul Kjærholm 1952

If people who are not Danish are asked to describe a Danish chair they will use words and phrases like well-made, clean lines, natural pale wood ... so these chairs -selected from the chairs shown in Designmuseum Danmark - show that Danish designers have always pushed the boundaries to make us reassess what we assume should be the shape or form of a chair


Many readers, having got this far, will be saying that this is all pretty obvious. But curiously, although we spend so much time sitting down and although most people complain if a chair is uncomfortable, we don't often think about or talk about or mention or consider how many different types of chair construction there are or even about how the design of a chair should reflect what materials are used to make the chair.

If someone talks about their new car then most people listening want to know if it is a sports car or an estate car; a people carrier or an off-road vehicle and possibly much much more detail along with makers name and even colour and often the size of the engine. That information will all be logged away and used to assess (or do I mean judge) your choice. Tell someone you have just bought some new dining chairs and they might ask you where you bought them, or then again might not, but curiously, as soon as they walk into your house, an immediate and rapid assessment can be made, as fast or faster than any social media phone app, that will judge cost, style, possible comfort or not, your taste and what you are trying to say about your view of your own status. And all that from a chair and before they have even sat down on it.

In part the variety of chairs in a design store is, in some ways, simply a practical matter of numbers because in our lives we just get through more chairs. I'm only on my second bed, not counting beds when I was a child, and second ever dining table of my own and I've only had three sofas and the first of those was a soft foam sofa from Habitat that flipped out and was bought after I left university … brilliant for guests but with no frame, just foam - the bed not the guests - and eventually it disintegrated. I have nine chairs in my apartment right now and I can think of at least twelve others that have come and then gone on to other people through my adult life. Gone on to other people … interesting … I've only just realised that none have ended in a skip … not because of a saintly attitude to recycling but because you can usually find a new home for an old chair.

So why are chairs generally more important than we might normally acknowledge and why are chairs so important in Danish design? And no, he adds quickly, it's not because Danes spend more time than other Europeans sitting down.

Again the Side by Side exhibition, or specifically the film that accompanied the exhibition, provided some important clues about Danish chairs. Until around 1900 furniture in the countryside, for homes on farms or in villages in Denmark, were made either by the families themselves or by jobbing carpenters and village joiners. In towns, and particularly in a wealthy city like Copenhagen, similar chairs to the country chairs would be found in the homes of poorer families but furniture for the wealthy and for the larger and larger numbers of affluent professional and middle-class families were made by specialist furniture makers, usually cabinetmakers. Designs were often specific to each individual commission, so not generally produced in large numbers, but craftsmen did use pattern books, so common types emerged, and cabinetmakers could develop specific styles or types that were considered to be their signature pieces. And, of course, in a city like Copenhagen in the 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th century people would have been aware of what was fashionable or not.

In the late 19th century poor working families rented one or two rooms and there was little security either for work or housing. This painting by Erik Henningsen from 1892, now in Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, shows a family being evicted. Their main pieces of furniture appear to be a large trunk and a single bed. There are just two chairs - one of the type known in England as a balloon back, here with what looks like a woven cane seat and a second chair with two cross pieces for the back and where the seat, presumably either upholstered or with cane, has been replaced by two roughly-cut planks that have been nailed across.


But in Copenhagen, in particular, but also in other large towns in Denmark, life for the majority of people was changing rapidly by the late 19th century and certainly through the early decades of the 20th century. The population was increasing fast, people were moving in greater and greater numbers into the towns for work that was increasingly in industry or in retail or trade - rather than in agriculture or fishing - and more and better-furnished apartments were increasingly common even for ordinary or less wealthy families.

Chairs had to be produced in much larger numbers. There was less demand for expensive furniture but even cheaper furniture, even in the early stages of work shops moving towards mass production, was seen to be better if it was made with good timber and with good serviceable construction.

Cabinetmakers struggled, like many professions and trades, through the downturn in the economy in the years of the economic depression in the 1920s, so they began to hold annual shows in Copenhagen - initially to display and sell their work but they realised that they had to sell not just to the wealthy families but to as many people as possible.

Those cabinetmakers' annual exhibitions began in 1927 and continued through until 1966 so for almost the whole of what is now seen as the classic period of early modern Danish design.

The furniture shown in the first year was basically furniture that could have been from almost any of the previous two or three decades and the main room display from 1928 was variations on 18th-century designs, presumably in part to show off skills in using expensive timbers for inlay and so on, so the chairs had fancy cabriole legs and ornate woven or tapestry covers in silk.

But by 1929 there was a perceptible change and some of the furniture, and particularly chairs, were simpler and more functional even if not as yet exactly utilitarian.

By 1930 the annual exhibition included a small fully-furnished apartment and the cabinetmakers began a strong working relationship with architects to produce well made chairs (and other furniture of course) for what we would now recognise as a style of living that was not that different from the way we live today 90 years later. That partnership with architects seems now, with hindsight, crucial.

That apartment in the cabinetmakers' exhibition, with one bedroom, was designed by Hans Hansen and Vigo Sten Møller, and had two low or easy chairs with arms and three dining chairs in the living room but the table could be moved up to a sofa with space for three more people to provide more seating and there were two chairs in the bedroom that could also be moved in to the main room be used at the dining table so, even in a small apartment, it was possible to have eight people sitting down together for a meal.

the apartment by Hans Hansen and Vigo Sten Møller for the cabinetmakers' exhibition in 1930

And if you have been lucky enough to be invited to a Danish family meal then they are long affairs … a big lunch can extend on through the afternoon and evening and when the food and conversation is good then people stay at the table. Chairs have to be comfortable.


So that is one important clue to why chairs were and are important in Danish homes. Eating together as a family and as an extended family with friends was and still is an important part of Danish life and that, in part, explains why chair design and chair production may be more important than in many other countries.

That very strong social element is combined with the relative wealth of the country and a very strong tradition for carefully considered design and making …. quality of design along with quality of materials and skill in manufacture are very much at the core of Danish design and production - and that helps to explain why chair design is not only important but is so good in Denmark. 

That's a fairly obvious combination of factors … a long, well-established tradition of making good, well-made furniture; well established cabinet making skills - through guilds and the training of apprentices to pass on those skills - with a general education system that sees training in design - or at least the appreciation of good design - as important, with good well-made homes for most people - you don't buy a good chair if you have nowhere to put it - and a population that appreciates the importance of investing in good well-made furniture, when you can. That's all it needs to replicate the success of the Danish furniture industry. Simple.


Copenhagen minimal


If you read about Danish design, or talk to someone about Danish design, the key words seem to be light, or natural or well made or quality but then, somewhere, at some stage, you get the word simple or now, more often, the word minimal.

So thinking about minimalism in Danish design, I wanted to see if I could find the most minimal object or minimal design in the city. To count it had to be designed … obviously … so thought through and planned and deliberate … and not a one-off design but manufactured or reproduced.

This is my best offering to date. It’s the triangle in yellow painted on a kerb just along from a road junction to show that you cannot park any closer to the corner without obstructing the traffic coming in and out at the junction and, more important, you cannot park beyond the triangle without chancing a fine.

It’s small - each side just 10 cm - and I guess that reduces any ambiguity because the point of the triangle towards the road implies that there is a thin line that is projected out across the road - implied and not actually painted onto the road - so again about as minimal as you can get.


at Northmodern last year there was a discussion session about the idea of a Danish Design DNA - a way to focus thoughts on what makes Danish design Danish - so everyone was asked to write key words on post-it notes that they thought expressed what is best or what is characteristic about design in Denmark


The words minimal and minimalism are a bit overused - so sometimes added for marketing to a product or an interior that is not actually that minimal. In part it is because minimalism has become fashionable and in part it’s because being minimal seems more acceptable than calling a design simple and it seems a bit more aspirational - so potentially more profitable - to sell something minimal to a customer rather than calling it basic.  

Go into a store and ask for a simple mobile phone and they take it as an admission you are not up to understanding what they normally sell and go into a fancy design store and ask for something basic and you get that slightly quizzical look that shows they are wondering why you are in their store. Ask for something minimal and it implies taste and discernment … or that’s what you hope.

But minimalism is not about being simple or being basic. It is about reducing or removing what is not essential so it is about designing something that looks carefully thought through and looks rational or looks clean or looks functional because it has been stripped of all unnecessary parts or superfluous decoration.

There is also a role for minimalism to make something less intrusive if you want it to drop back and be less dominant if you are trying to define a hierarchy of importance. 

The yellow triangle here needs no sign on a post setting out times or prohibitions - you can’t park beyond this point at any time - and there are no double yellow lines running around the corner - as there would be in England - and certainly in Copenhagen no bollards on the pavement at intervals around the corner - so nothing is needed to reinforce the message. 

That also raises an interesting question about minimalism requiring complicity. So, for example, there are apps or controls for equipment where the designer has stripped back the design - because they know what does what and why - but the designer underestimates the problem that the uninitiated don’t actually know. So it might be best to remove a door handle completely if the door swings away from you - so it can only be pushed and not pulled towards you - but a designer has to judge if there might be situations where that is ambiguous and might create a problem … for instance in an emergency if someone pauses to work out what to do or wastes crucial time pushing on the hinge side. The more minimal the design the more careful the designer has to be that users understand what it means or what it does.

Here, with the triangle, it seems that anyone driving a car in the city should know exactly what it means so this small yellow triangle is not only minimal in its design but pretty powerful.


is it all in the concept ....


For any design - a design for a building, a chair or a teapot - the starting point has to be the idea, the concept. It is that first attempt to imagine the what and then think about the how. 

If you are cynical or pedantic or just being realistic - in this tough world - you could argue that a commercial design actually starts with the commission and the contract but for me what is fascinating about looking at a great design is to try and understand that initial concept and to see how it was realised.

My apartment is about 200 metres from Cirkelbroen - The Circle Bridge - that was designed by Olafur Eliasson and completed in 2015. So whenever I walk into the city I either see the bridge at the end of the canal or I actually cross over the bridge to get to Islands Brygge or get to the west part of the city centre. 

When it first opened I thought it was stunning … and to be honest also rather useful as it made it possible for the first time to walk from Christianshavn on south along the harbour … but mainly I thought that it was stunning.  

Unique as well. Elegant and curiously delicate, almost ephemeral, when seen in sunlight but particularly if it is misty or the light is failing at the end of the day - but at night somehow stronger and much more dramatic. 


Sometimes a clever idea for a design looks exciting the first time you see it and then you begin to think well so what and then it becomes just part of your streetscape, maybe even a bit mundane or worse, because when the novelty wears off, you stop even seeing it. 

That is certainly not the case with the bridge and, living so close, I have the opportunity and sometimes find time to watch and see how people react to the design … so, for a start, it is obvious when people are seeing the bridge for the first time.

It is fascinating but not surprising that the city - because of the prominent location - wanted and commissioned something much more than a basic bridge that could be raised or swung open to let boats sail out from the canal into the harbour. 

And I guess it’s not that surprising that Nordea-fonden were sufficiently taken with the design to finance the work as a gift to the city but, at some point, someone, some how thought about commissioning Olafur Eliasson - the Danish Icelandic artist - to come up with the concept for the form and design the bridge. That is interesting.

His studio is in Berlin and his work challenges you but in a way that is subtle rather than hectoring or shocking. You seem to get drawn in and it is at that point, once you are involved, that you start to question your assumptions or question what everyone, including you, just accept without thinking.

For The River Runs Through It at Louisiana in 2015 the galleries were filled with rocks and gravel - scree from Iceland - with a stream running down the centre through the rooms. In the first space the rocks simply covered the floor but as people walked further in most seemed to slow down, look carefully at different rocks, touch the water, and slowly you could see people realising that in climbing up slowly through the series of galleries, they had just ducked to get under a doorway that they knew to be 4 metres or more high and then you began to see just how monumental the installation was and how radical and how it challenged your perception of what an art gallery could or should be and then question what we take for granted as being inside and what should or should not be outside.

Cirkelbroen if you let it slow you down on your walk - or on your bike - it makes you look in a different way at the harbour and it really doesn’t work like you expect a bridge to work.

The basic concept is that rather than a single arch over the canal, there are a series of five interlinked but offset circles set horizontally to form the deck. This is, in part, the way people are slowed down … so for cyclists it should be more than racing up the ramp, sprinting across the top and racing down the other side … although some do that … and in part it is so that people walking can stand to one side, on one of the great outward-curving bows, to look at the harbour or to look along the canal and watch the boat traffic there. 

Each of the circles has a tall mast at its centre and there are wires down from the top of the masts to the deck, held taut, like standing rigging on a sailing ship so, as you approach along the quay, you have the impression or perhaps, - even less tangible - an echo or a sort of ghost of the large masted boats and sailing barges that in the past docked along the harbour as they unloaded and loaded. Large sailing ships still come into the harbour so you can sometimes see what the harbour must have looked like when this really was a working commercial port. But because the masts on the bridge are off set then this never becomes a pastiche … never an attempt to look like a boat docked here … simply an evocative impression. 

The railings of the bridge are inside the wires and are set to slope inwards to respect the angle of the rigging so again, with the timber hand rail, there is an echo of the railings of a ship but, because of that angle inwards, more dramatic.

And when the bridge opens there really is a sort of magic. Bridges should clink and clunk and chains should pull. Most bridges that open do that. Cirkelbroen glides and, because of the circles and the masts, it seems to pivot and spin. That’s the brilliant part of the concept.

.... or all in the engineering ....

the bridge open for a boat to move out from the canal and into the harbour beyond


To be mundane, I suppose Cirkelbroen is simply a bridge over a canal, where there had been no bridge before, but it means that, for the first time, people on bicycles or walking can get along the waterfront of the harbour between Knippelsbro - the historic bridge at the centre of the harbour that links the historic centre and Christianshavn - and Langebro - the main traffic bridge between the city centre and Amager. All that was needed was a simple steel bridge that could either be raised or swung open to let boats from the canal sail out into the harbour.

Of course the bridge designed by Olafur Elliasson is so much more than it … but even so …  in the end … it all has to work and it has to be robust and it has to be relatively quick to move and and easy to operate. So that it is the engineering part of the design that allowed the concept to be realised.

Rambøll - the engineering company - were responsible for the construction of the bridge, and there are a number of interviews on line and a video on YouTube that shows the parts of the bridge deck arriving by barge and being lifted into place by a giant crane on another barge. There you can not only get a real sense of the size and weight of the parts but also get some sense, as it is lowered in to place, how it works. 

the bridge closing and, on the right, almost closed as cyclists wait to cross


You can see that although the bridge appears to pivot around the largest mast at the centre of the bridge, when it is opened, there is, in fact, a substantial substructure below the water that swings back and that carries the outer two circles at the Knippelsbro end of the deck in and away to create an opening for taller boats to pass.

The quay here is just 1.6 metres or so above the water and although a bridge deck at the level of the quay would have been simpler, and less intrusive visually, it would have given no head room for vessels to pass under the bridge without it being raised or swung open. By taking the deck up - just 1.1 metres above the quay - most tour boats and smaller pleasure boats and canoes can pass under the bridge with the deck in place. 

But the consequence is that there have to be long ramps up to the deck and because the ramps extend well beyond the quays on either side of the canal then there are also steps up onto the deck from the quay of the canal.

The length and the gradient of the ramp has to be a compromise: short but steep and the ramps would have been difficult for cyclists - particularly if they are riding family bikes, the famous Christiania bike, which can be heavily loaded or they are riding bikes with fixed gears - but too shallow a slope would make the ramp too long. In fact, the ramps seem just slightly too short and steep because cyclists seem to be pushing hard to get the top but then on reaching the deck it is not easy and certainly not an intuitive change to quickly reduce the effort on the pedals so bikes tend to come across the bridge just slightly too fast and, curiously, the curves on the route across either mean people cut the corners slightly - making their route less predictable for other users - or some faster cyclists even do that thing of leaning into the curves as they snake across and actually gain momentum … or at least appear to.

The other problem, of course, is that with tourists they are distracted - looking at the bridge or absorbed by watching what is happening on the harbour or they are looking at the back of a camera or holding up a phone for a selfie rather than watching out for the bikes coming through - so it is also a good place to pick up a smattering of Danish and foreign swear words. 

That’s not to suggest that the concept or the final design is wrong … just that, with any concept, the most difficult part is anticipating how human beings will behave.



.... or all in the detail?


So at the start there is an idea - a brilliant concept - and then the engineering is the how that makes it all work. But I’m fascinated to find out who frets about the small stuff and when. Are the details of the design really just a part of the design process or part of the execution so the responsibility of the people who manufacture or construct or build the design? 

Arne Jacobsen had a reputation for designing every detail and he seems to have kept tight control of a small drawing office so presumably everything, even for a large project, went across his desk but at the other extreme there are architects and designers who present their ‘brilliant’ idea with a flourish, and while others worry about how or if it can be realised, they are off and away on the next exciting idea. Presumably, most major projects have to sit somewhere between those two extremes. And, of course, the details and the quality of the parts always depend on the size of the budget.

And the truth is that in the end, when it’s all finished, all that beautifully executed and expensive detail can be overlooked by people distracted by the excitement of experiencing that dramatic concept. 

The details are not quite the boring bit but more the ignored or under appreciated part of designing and making or constructing something because when you see people looking at Cirkelbroen not one is looking down at the surface they are walking on or looking at the amazing quality of the stonework of the ramps or looking at how the handrail and railings are made or how the curved and angled sections of the railings are spaced so that they slide apart as the bridge opens. Does anyone wonder who designed the beautiful stonework of the steps? One or two twang the wires but that seems to be the extent of their curiosity.

I’d like to see the drawings for this project … the concept drawings to see just how many ideas were discarded and how many stages it took to hone down the idea. And see how many engineering drawings were needed to make sure the bridge would actually open and shut and work and then see how many drawings there were to work through those details of how the precisely-rounded stone blocks for the edge of the ramp would be cut and spaced or the uprights of the railings would be set into the ramp or into the deck of the bridge? And that’s not even beginning to consider the design for lighting the bridge at night and all those diagrams for electric wiring and drawings for the planners and drawings for the press to ensure the public were on side.

Not to wonder about all those things is like being swept away by the power of a complicated piece of music but never once wondering how the composer could possibly have imagined the sound of all those instruments together in that way in their head let alone to be curious about who wrote out all those scores for each instrument in the orchestra.

For a great design you really can’t separate out the concept, the engineering, or the manufacturing methods, that are the how and the details of the what. The simple answer is that for a good or a great design you need an idea followed with the hard work going through the details and the design drawings that ensure it will work and the skills, when making or building or constructing, and materials that are appropriate and of a quality to do justice to the concept. Easy to say. Not easy to do.

So what I am saying, I suppose, is that a great design should be seen not only as a brilliant concept but also as the sum of its parts.



the new island - as proposed by Urban Power

air view of the entrance to the harbour and map from Google ... reorientated with north to the right to make it easier to relate the island proposed by Urban Power to the existing entrance to the harbour


A dramatic reminder of the problems caused by changes in the pattern of weather in and around Copenhagen came at the end of the celebrations for the 850th anniversary when, on the last day, last Sunday, the Copenhagen half marathon, a major annual event, had to be abandoned just as it was finishing because there was a sudden and massive storm. 

There are photographs on the internet that show just how dramatic that was … two runners were struck by lightning and, on the long straight run to the finish line, along a very wide and well-surfaced road, competitors found themselves running against fast-flowing water, coming in the opposite direction, when it had been completely dry just an hour before. 

The city is developing important and innovative ideas to tackle the problems from sudden and heavy rain storms by constructing deep holding tanks to control the release of water into the harbour - to protect sewers - and by developing new absorbent road and pavement surfaces that along with natural areas of greenery can deal with temporary inundation to help to protect property. One good example of a recently-completed scheme was the installation of drainage down Sankt Annæ Plads and the construction of a substantial holding tank for flood water but this was also seen as an opportunity to improve the street to create a more prominent and more attractive public gardens down the centre of the street and to construct a new public area over the holding tank that is next to a new public square on the harbour


Sankt Annæ Plads - the long wide street running back from the harbour with new drainage to take rain water away from the area of Bredgade to holding tanks on the quay so release of flood water into the harbour can be controlled. The large new public square - Ofelia Plads - is the former quay where ferries from Oslo docked until a new ferry terminal was built. In building the square the old quay was excavated and there are now three floors of car parking below the quay.


Initial studies of climate change indicated that flooding from rising sea levels was not an imminent problem but recent research has indicated that changes in sea levels, when combined with changes in weather patterns, could cause tidal surges that would drive storm water into the funnel shape of the inner harbour with devastating consequences. 

Amager Maps.jpg


Map of the city and the Island of Amager. The position for proposed tidal defences that was published in the Danish newspaper Politiken.

The main works marked in green, to protect the south-west coast of Amager, have been planned; the red section extending the line of the defence into Amger is in the design stage and the tidal barriers marked in yellow are proposed to protect the harbour from storm surges.


Again the city is being proactive so there are now plans in hand to construct tidal defences across the the south end of the island of Amager - to protect the south end of the inner harbour and the land on either side that is barely above sea level - and there are initial plans for defences in the form of a tidal barrier across the north entrance to the harbour to protect the centre of the city.

Urban Power - a young architectural partnership in the city - have appreciated the possibilities there could be with the construction of a new harbour barrier and they have taken the idea forward to suggest that these barriers could be the starting point for a new man-made island across the harbour between Nordhavn and Refshaleøen. 

Housing and businesses on this new land could be an extension of the development now well under way on the reclaimed land of Nordhavn and it would make a more coherent long-term plan for the redevelopment of former ship yards and industrial areas on Refshaleøen. 

The scheme could also resolves some potential problems with a proposed tunnel under the harbour at this point. Not only would a road tunnel be expensive but many in the city have expressed concern that it would pull substantial road traffic in to the city - particularly to Amager and along the coast to the airport - and local roads and the local community could not cope. 

At this point the entrance to the harbour is about 1.3 kilometres across. In the proposal from Urban Power the framework of the island would be two transport arcs. The inner line, towards the city, would be a cycle and walking route - linking Nordhavn and Refshaleøen - and the outer arc a road for traffic and, crucially, a line for the metro to complete a new outer loop by extending the Nordhavn spur - now under construction to serve the new area of housing and the cruise ship terminal - and taking that across the new island to link in with the existing metro line running up from the airport to the city centre. 

The area between these two traffic arcs, now open sea, would be reclaimed for extensive new development and at both the Nordhavn and at the Refshaleøen ends of the new island there would be wide entrance channels to the inner harbour but with flood barriers that could be raised to provide the protection from tidal surges … the primary reason for the work. They suggest that the ferry terminal for boats to and from Oslo - now at the dock between the old Free Port and Marble Quay - could be moved to the outer side of the new island, on the side towards the Sound so it would not be disrupted if the barriers had to be raised.

At this stage it is simply a proposal but, as so often in the city, this seems like rational, proactive and grown-up thinking. 

Urban Power


Søringen - a motorway along the lakes



Not all major road schemes proposed for Copenhagen have been good and, more important, not all major road schemes get built.

Perhaps the most ambitious and most contentious and, if it had been built, the most destructive road scheme proposed was the lake motorway that was planned in 1958 and approved by parliament in 1964.

Two problems had been identified by planners. The first was how to get road traffic in to the centre of the city quickly and how and where to build a brave new metropolis to show Stockholm and Paris that anything they could do to be thoroughly modern, Copenhagen could do too.

The solution? Traffic from the north came down what is now Helsingørmotorvejen and Lyngbyvej, Nørre Allé and Tagensvej to the shore of the lake. This was to be made into motorway all the way but instead of continuing on over the lake and down what is still Sølvgade it was to do a sharp turn south and continue down the lakes … literally down the lakes against the city side … with six lanes of traffic in each direction (that’s right - a 12 lane motorway so actually rather more like LA than Stockholm) and then, at the south end of the lakes, everything, or just about everything except the recently-completed SAS Hotel by Arne Jacobsen was to be cleared for a brave new world of office blocks and public squares over a huge area west of the main railway station.

Work actually started on clearing housing on the outer side of the lake in 1973 but, when the scheme was abandoned, that area became a rather odd long narrow park running up from the lake to the hospital. The Panum Institute, where building work started in 1971, was set back to respect the alignment of the new motorway.

from the hospital looking down towards the lakes - this is where buildings were demolished in anticipation of constructing the motorway

from the bridge looking out of the city where buildings were demolished - the roof of the hospital is just visible over the trees

from the bridge where the motorway would have turned down the lake with twelve lanes down the left or city side heading to Vesterbro

the new park looking from the lake towards the hospital - the exercise equipment is where there would have been six lanes of road heading out of the city


Note that the plan published in Politiken shows dotted the line of a harbour tunnel from just above Svanemøllen - from the east end of what was proposed as a middle ring road - across to Refshaleøen and on to connect to the top end of a main road running down the east beach of Amager. The bridge to Malmö was part of the scheme but the airport was to have been moved out to Saltholm and much of Amager was to have been a major new housing scheme.

south down the lakes towards Vesterbro



The lakes are a much-appreciated features of the city used for walking and talking, running and playing but they were so nearly reduced to a narrow strip of water beside an urban super highway.

Nordhavnsvej and a northern harbour tunnel 


The planning proposals for Copenhagen dating from 1947, known as the Finger Plan, has served the city well as it expanded out to new suburbs in the north and the west but as the centre of the city becomes more intensively built up - for instance in the area south and south west of the main railway station - and as there is more extensive and more intensive development of the harbour and on Amager - south and east of the centre - in the opposite direction to the spread-out hand of the Finger Plan - then rather different and very ambitious engineering works for new infrastructure are needed. Extensive new road tunnels have been proposed to take traffic around the south side of the city.

Coming in towards the city from the north, from Helsingør, the E47 swings out and around Copenhagen to the west but at Jægersborg, where the motorway crosses over the old Kings Road - an interesting piece of late medieval infrastructure - there is now an intersection where traffic can sweep round to head into the city along what is, at that point, called the Helsingørmotorvejen. Just over 4 kilometres out from the centre of the city the motorway reaches a broad valley running east west which is the place of a complicated intersection of railway lines around the station of Ryparken. The motorway merges into a main city road, Lyngbyvej, but immediately north of the railway, a new road has been built to cut out to the east, to the coast south of Hellerup and to a new tunnel that will go under this part of the harbour, under the marinas, to Nordhavn - the new development area with its massive terminal for cruise ships and with new housing and new work places for 40,000 people. This is infrastructure and development on an impressive scale is moving forward fast but it also shows clearly that any new infrastructure has to work with a complicated pattern of existing transport links.

The proposal is to extend that tunnel on so that traffic could continue on from Nordhavn to Refhaleøen, on the other side of the harbour, and then on again south, running roughly parallel to the harbour, before emerging first at the the south end of Langebro and then on again in a tunnel to west Amager to link back with that western outer arc of motorway that by this point is called the E20 as it heads for the bridge, for Malmö and for Sweden.

So a new tunnel system - under the harbour to Nordhavn and then on under Amager - would be the eastern half of a ring road. 

The only problem, as always, will be that motorways or relatively fast-moving main road do not just take traffic out or take traffic round but bring traffic rapidly in where it then finds itself backed up or tangled in the traffic of the existing smaller and busy and slower urban streets. A reality is that motorways and tunnels rarely solve a problem but simply move it along and, too often, have consequences that somehow had not been predicted. Add to that the fact that big infrastructure takes time so planning is an odd mixture of being reactive, proactive and, even if unintentionally, creatively obstructive or possibly destructive as the world and its problems change or move on faster than the project timetable.

The tunnel, if completed, will bring new options for development and therefore significant change to Refshaleøen and to the coast of Amager - particularly in the area just beyond the important open space of Kløvermarken. Inevitably citizens or rather their politicians and planners will have to decide if that is what Copenhagen as a city wants or needs but it will certainly mark a clear change from what, with hindsight, now seems to be the simpler and somehow gentler and slower-moving overall plan for the expansion of the city that was envisioned with the Finger Plan. 

a new road tunnel alongside city hall?



A second major road tunnel, to the west - under the lakes and possibly on under the harbour to Amager - is now more uncertain but would have much more impact on the inner city than a north-harbour tunnel. 

It is also more controversial than the north tunnel because it would be expensive; because there would be complicated gains but possible losses and because there could be considerable disruption during construction … although, actually, most in the city seem to accept major engineering works as somehow part of everyday life now with the extent of the works and the time scale for the current work on extending the metro system.


the view along Åboulevard - out from the city. The river feeding fresh water into the lakes is now in a culvert below the road 



The first north section of the tunnel was suggested some years ago to follow first under Åboulevard and then under the lakes to emerge on the city side at the north end of H C Andersens Boulevard. At present the road is wide but has very heavy traffic that would be taken underground but that was not, in fact, the primary reason for the scheme. 

Beyond the lakes, this was actually the line of a river feeding fresh water into the lakes until the early 1900s and by taking the road traffic down then the river could be reinstated on the surface, brought up from the culvert that it now runs through. This is not simply a nice piece of landscaping but has a very serious part to play in plans by the city to cope with climate change. 

The problem now and predicted to be much more serious in the future will come from sudden and intense rain storms that overwhelm the existing drain system; floods roads and property; breaks through sewage systems and takes polluted water out into the harbour. By bringing the river back up to the surface to run through a long, narrow and well-planted park, it would be part of the new control of surface water and the lower part of a new road tunnel would be a substantial storm drain and the road, in the upper half of the tunnel. could be closed to traffic to carry water through to holding tanks or out to the harbour in the very worst storms.

However, there has, more recently, been an outline proposal to extend the tunnel on beyond the lakes and on below H C Andersens Boulevard to the harbour and, passing under the harbour, it could then link with traffic in a new tunnel down from Refshaleøen. It has even been suggested that if the tunnel drops down to a lower level, there could be extensive underground car parks close to the city hall that would be accessed from the tunnels so the project has become much more complicated and considerably more expensive.

The advantage would be that the very heavy traffic running along H C Andersens Boulevard - between the city hall and Tivoli - would be removed and the west area of the city, the main railway station and the area beyond, could be more effectively linked with the historic centre. Obviously, it’s not impossible to cross the road when walking from the railway station to the city hall but not pleasant for pedestrians and more than a bit frustrating for drivers. 

Drawings have been published that show a bucolic cycle route and pathway from the city hall to the harbour but in the end that may not be the deciding factor that swings the decision. The reality, unfortunately, is that the threat of terrorist attacks has brought back to the agenda the need to ban traffic from much more of the historic centre and H C Andersens Boulevard, to the west of the city hall, would become the outer line for traffic which might well mean that, without the tunnel, it just could not cope.

Articles that have been published in newspapers and journals recently have pointed out that the present metro system is at full capacity and it is beginning to struggle. With an extensive new metro line opening next year and with work now given the green light for an extension of the metro north to Nordhavn and to the south, to the south harbour area, then perhaps what is neede is a little time to see how this itself changes the way people move around the city. Initial extensions to the area of the centre with restricted access for vehicles needs planning and road signs and a change of habit or routine for citizens but little infrastructure so it will soon become clear just how necessary a western tunnel is or if it can be pushed on down the road … if you see what I mean.