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


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.




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.