Boliger til Folket / Housing for the People

 

A small but important exhibition of photographs of housing estates built in Denmark in the 1940s and 1950s has just opened in the central library in Copenhagen. 

Along with a seminar, the exhibition was organised to show the growing appreciation of both the quality and the architectural significance of these apartment buildings but also to focus attention on a significant period of social and political changes in the country after the war ... the period when the welfare state was established and when old and overcrowded housing in the centre of historic cities and towns were demolished.  Good examples of the new apartment blocks in the city include the Dronningegård housing scheme in Copenhagen by Kay Fisker - but new, carefully-planned, suburbs were also built beyond old city boundaries including new apartment buildings as at Ibstrupparken in Gentofte by Arne Jacobsen.

Many of the these estates of houses from the 1940s and 1950s were built in brick and were designed by the best architects in the country to provide well-built housing for all in what has been described as the golden age of Danish architecture.

But these buildings are now over fifty-years old and the exhibition, with an accompanying booklet about renovation, draws attention to the problems of how best to bring these homes up to current standards - to improve access and upgrade insulation or replace worn or inappropriate fittings and so on - which is the only way to ensure their survival and relevance but also careful and appropriate restoration is the best way to preserve their character.

 

In an introduction to the exhibition there is a photograph of an old, densely-built courtyard in the centre of Copenhagen and a photograph of a communal toilet in a yard in Adelgade in Copenhagen that show why the construction of new housing was a priority in post-war Denmark. 

The main sections focus on three estates - Bredalsparken in Hvidovre, in a new suburbs out to the west of Copenhagen; Søvangen, around Louisevej above Brabrand lake west of the city centre in Aarhus and the red brick apartment buildings of Højstrupparken in Odense.

Large photographs show the high quality of the designs, the quality of the building work and the importance of good landscape design but there are also photographs of present residents and comments from interviews with them. 

A booklet Boliger til Folket - housing for the people - that accompanies the exhibition includes photographs of other housing estates around Denmark and has a list that has been drawn up of what are considered to be the ten best estates in the country. These show not just the quality of very different designs and the importance of their carefully laid out landscape settings but also show clearly how good design and high standards for materials and workmanship are a hallmark of early-modern brick housing schemes in Denmark. 

A short but interesting guide with drawings and comments Kom Godt i Gang med at Renovere - Getting Started with Renovation - is available on line in Danish and there is short film in Danish on the Realdania web site. Velfærdssamfundet grundarkitektur - welfare society basic architecture (?) - includes interviews with academics and local and national administrators who are working to record and protect these buildings while encouraging and supporting sympathetic restoration.

The exhibition was funded by Realdania, Grundejernes Investringsfond and Landsbyggefonden with the Department of Culture and continues at the central library in Copenhagen until 26 March 2017