... of balconies and bays

Store Mølle Vej in Copenhagen designed by Frode Galatius and built in 1938


Extensive use of concrete and steel for the construction of buildings in the 20th century - from the late 1920s onwards - meant that the outside walls - the facades of a building - became less crucial for supporting the weight of walls and the upper structure - particularly the weight of the roof - and walls could be broken through and pierced with larger and wider openings until the outside wall can, in some buildings, disappear completely with all the weight of the building taken on piers in steel or concrete that were set within the building or with the structure depending on strong internal cross walls.

Particularly for apartment buildings this meant that wider and wider windows could be constructed, sometimes in metal, often made in a factory - even when they are in wood - and then brought to the site, so standardised and by using reinforced concrete, balconies could be cantilevered out from the facades and became larger and, in many buildings, much larger so that they become a dominant feature.

In Copenhagen this resulted in a dramatic change in the appearance of apartment buildings through the 1930s. The walls of the building were increasingly plain … so without ornate decoration around windows and without ornate cornices or features like pilasters.

With the use of wide runs of window or with windows that wrapped around the corner of a bay or even around the corner of the building itself, these become the decorative features and, repeated at regular intervals across a facade, they create a strong sense of coherence and unity in the design.

Balconies become not just larger but they take a variety of forms … some with at least one solid side wall for privacy or with screens in metal or there were full-height railings - often on the side in shade or on the side away from the better view out - and these screens were often combined with built-in troughs for plants. 

The type of balcony that is now generally recognised to be the most distinctive from this period is a balcony where part of the space was within the building - created by setting back a window - and part of the balcony projected, so was cantilevered out from the facade.

In apartment buildings in the late 19th and early 20th century only some apartments were given balconies … so perhaps those on the corner of a block or those in the centre - so the balconies are really just decorative and there to ‘articulate’ or add interest to the facade and most are too shallow to be used for anything more than a few plants and are certainly not intended to be used by the tenants for sitting outside. 

However, by the 1930s it becomes common for every apartment or at least the majority of apartments in a block to have a balcony and, in some buildings, this proliferation of small balconies dominates the design of the facade to the point where the balconies, when seen from the street, take on a the character of a pattern or texture across the whole front.

Again, that is not to suggest that the balconies are simply decorative because, unlike in apartment buildings of the late 19th century and early 20th century, balconies in the 1930s and later were seen as important private outdoor space and very important for bringing fresh air and as much light as possible into an apartment.


background ......

In the late 19th century and through the first two decades of the 20th century, a phenomenal number of purpose-built apartment buildings were constructed in Copenhagen to house working-class and middle-class families as more and more people moved into the city and as densely-packed and badly-built inner courtyards in the older part of the city were cleared.

These apartment buildings were often on just a single plot but they could extend across a whole city block. More expensive apartments were usually given ornate facades with decorative details taken from historic sources so vaguely renaissance motifs or gothic arches or in a style that could be Flemish or German. In contrast, massive housing schemes that were constructed for workers in the docks - apartment buildings around the Free Port north of the city or on Amager for workers on the new wharfs of Islands Brygge - could be grimly stark and more like industrial buildings in their severity but the priority was to house these workers and their families in well-built and safe if small apartments and to build those as quickly as possible … so little decoration and certainly no balconies. 


around 1900 .....

An apartment building from the late 19th century on Israels Plads. What appear to be balconies with stone balustrades are fake with the balustrades across blind panels below the windows.

Apartment building on Dantes Plads opposite Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Dating from the late 19th century and with a fairly standard plan with central entrance and apartments on each side on each floor. A sort of French baroque style with mansard roof and ornate bay windows at each side that are linked by balconies rather like galleries with stone balusters for the main apartments on the second floor and with iron railings on the two floors above.

Corner of apartments at the junction of Møntegade and Christian IXs Gade … vaguely reminsicent of a French or German chateau. Good views out at an angle towards the King’s Gardens but again not a place for sitting out.

Strandgade in Christianshavn … small balconies supported on shaped corbels with awkward access with outward-opening door and as lower part of the door has a solid panel there is no additional light to the room.


Polensgade … one of the blocks for workers that were built south of Holmbladsgade around 1900. Stark and severe, most of the buildings are around long narrow courtyards. Details like doorways and the treatment of the corner of blocks differ slightly to try and give the buildings some character but marked similarities show where one builder constructed several blocks. Presumably few of these buildings were designed by architects but by the builders.


On wider main thoroughfares … this block is on Amagerbrogade … the fronts to the street could be given more decoration and the bowed window bays must have provided much more light in those rooms which get the sun for the second half of the day and through into the evening. Dating from around 1900 there are balconies but only for four apartments at the centre of the block on the second and third floors. Windows at intermediate levels, above the doors from the street, mark the landings of the staircases and they have projecting sills with low iron railings presumably for plants in pots though it is seems likely that they were rarely if ever used. What is important to note here is that bays or bow windows were certainly not new in the 1930s and, as here, bays were often cantilevered out so they started on the first or second floor to keep the pavement free but with the building right up to the edge of the plot.


into the 1930s .....


An apartment building by Thorkild Henningsen at H C Ørstedsvej and, dating from 1930-1931 the building is generally recognised as one of the earliest Functionalist designs in the city. The brickwork is plain, without decoration, and there are no architraves or cornices or plat bands. Windows are spaced carefully and regularly across the facade and the apartments have prominent, square-sided window bays with the north side blind and the windows across the front returning back down the south-facing side. 


Windows returning around a corner with no obvious structural support become perhaps the most common feature in designs from the 1930s.


The most amazing and stunning corner windows are on the apartment building by Ib Lunding at Grønningen 9 which is an L-shaped block at the north-east corner of a trapezium-shaped courtyard of several very different apartment buildings. The windows have views over the embankments of the 17th-century fortifications of Kastellet. Note that the windows run well back from the corner of the building and have thin but deeply projecting window sills that must have been intended for house plants.


When there are corner windows in a room, they create a very different dynamic so the diagonal view across the space becomes important and light comes directly into the room for a longer part of the day. This is the bedroom in the house in Ordrup that Arne Jacobsen designed that was built for himself and his wife in 1929.


At Vestersøhus by Kay Fisker and C F Møller, where building work was from 1935 onwards, the distinct feature is the corner window combined with a balcony with the space half into the building but with the balcony also projecting out. The window of a smaller room is set back and here the corner window of the main sitting room looks south and west across one of the city lakes and makes the most of the late afternoon and evening sun.

The ground floor apartments are smaller - loosing the space of the entrance hall - but are at least raised up above a  half basement with service rooms - half below ground level and half above - so people walking along the pavement cannot look directly into the sitting rooms.


Vodruffsvej, on the west side of the lakes was also by Fisker and Møller but completed in 1929. Here, long runs of window are combined with box-like balconies with a solid brick parapets. The effect is almost like some form of filing cabinet with some drawers pulled out.



The effect of boxes sliding in and out or across a facade is particularly marked at Aboulevarde 10 where the building - next to the Bethlehem Church by Kaare Klint - is a simple block but the balconies with solid brick parapets create a very dramatic front with what appears to be a deep channel in shadow above the door from the street and the apartments on the top floor have a continuous balcony with the bay windows omitted.

The building is dated on an inscription above the door to 1939, but I have not been able to identify the architect. Any information about this apartment building would be gratefully acknowledged.


Perhaps the finest of these apartment buildings with the solid, box-like balconies with brick parapets is the large development of Hostrups Have on Falkoner Allé in Frederiksberg.

Designed by Hans Dahlerup Berthelsen and completed in 1936, some apartments have a recessed balcony with a parapet that barely projects and others have balconies that project out over the pavement with views over the gardens in the central square. The blocks continue out into adjoining streets and there are back service yards but again with interesting balconies that seem to break away or undermine the corners of the blocks and at one corner, where the apartments run into an adjoining street at an angle, there are angled windows and balconies.

Hostrups Have


At Blidah Park housing scheme, by Edvard Heiberg, Karl Larsen, Ivar Bentsen, Vagn Kaastrup and Ole Buhl, the apartments are not around a courtyard but are in a number of individual blocks with the ranges set at an angle in a park-like setting to make optimum use of light and views.

North of the centre of Copenhagen, in Gentofte, and finished in 1934, these apartments have probably the most sophisticated design from this period in the city with clever combinations of render and high-quality yellow brick and curved and square balconies. The top of the parapets are at the level of the sills of windows to give unbroken lines and, presumably, from the inside blurring the distinction between room and balcony. 


A very different form of balcony has a concrete apron cantilevered out from a building with a railing or with metal sheet or with poured concrete parapets often using corrugated shuttering. 

This example from 1937 is from an apartment building designed by Povl Baumann on Skoleholdervej … one of several very large blocks of workers’ housing across the south side of the cemetery of Bispebjerg Kirkegård in the north part of the city close to Grundtvigs Kirke.

Drawings showing the construction of these balconies (inv. nr. 12356 a-b, d-s 12356c) are in the collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek along with drawings of the technical details for the construction of staircases and windows in the building.


The effect of these long lines of balconies can be seen best at Vestersøhus above and left and at Store Mølle Vej at the top of the post. The balconies when seen from a distance become a texture - almost like a basket weave - across the facade



The relatively small balconies at Grønningen 9 have modesty or privacy screens on one side but they also illustrate clearly two other important features found in many of these balconies. There are relatively narrow doors for access onto the balconies and the balconies are offset away from the windows primarily so that they do not throw a shadow across the window of the apartment below.

Blidah Park housing scheme, from 1934 by Edvard Heiberg, Karl Larsen, Ivar Bentsen, Vagn Kaastrup and Ole Buhl.


The balconies of the Storgården housing scheme from 1935 by Povl Baumann and Knud Hansen have screens on one side and integral plant troughs but what is perhaps more interesting here is that the plan shows that the lines of balconies impose a very grand regularity to the long south-facing frontage but actually the position of windows within the rooms is not exactly compromised but is not completely rational or symmetrical within the spaces. 


Ved Volden on Torvegade in Copenhagen designed by Tyge Hvass and Henning Jørgensen was completed in 1938. Balconies on the east block have the half in half out form with small integral planters. For the large apartments at the end of the range, overlooking the outer defences of Christianshavn, both the windows and the balconies wrap around the corner of the building.


Frode Galatius designed a number of large apartment buildings on Amager in the 1930s. This building is on Englandsvej with ranges running back at each end to form a U shape as one half of a large courtyard development. The design is not successful as it tries to put together too many different elements with white rendered parts at the ends and at the centre of the main front and with corner windows. One better feature is towards the end of the side range towards Peder Lykkes Vej where there is a wide double-width bay and quadrant shaped balconies are set into the return angles.


A smaller block, Geislershus off Holmbladsgade and closer to Christianshavn is more successful in part because it is less ambitious. The block is L-shaped at a road junction and at the south-west corner of a courtyard surrounded by different buildings of different dates. The two streets do not meet at a right angle so the blocks have been staggered and balconies set into the angle. Date and architect not known so information would be gratefully acknowledged.


to finish with the best …..

Above is one of the bay windows and small balcony on the lake frontage of the apartments at Sortedams Dossering 101-103 and Østerbrogade 19 by Ib Lunding and completed in 1938. The balcony is angled to make the most of light and views down the lake and note how carefully and how precisely the bay windows and flanking windows are set across the front. This is almost like origami. A few lines or cuts and the facade suddenly folds in and out but with a real mathematical precision.


Below is Bellevue, along the coast at Klampenborg just to the north of Copenhagen, by Arne Jacobsen where building work started in 1932, With the combination of corner windows and balconies in white rendered brick this is possibly the quintessential International Modern housing from the 1930s in Denmark.