down and out in Copenhagen?


Not all planning proposals or building regulations are monumental in scale or immediately obvious when they are implemented. Recently, in Copenhagen, it was announced that new apartment buildings will not be required to have waste chutes.  

These were introduced in the 1920s and took a fairly standard form. 

The plan of purpose-built apartment blocks in the city generally follow a common general arrangement. However long the block or even when the apartments enclose a large courtyard, there are no long internal corridors but separate entrance doorways at regular intervals along the street that invariably gives access directly to a staircase and there are apartments on either side of the staircase, usually just one on each side at each level or landing, and the apartments run back the full depth of the block with windows to the street and windows to the rear, usually looking into a courtyard. Earlier and larger flats had back or secondary staircases as fire escapes but also for access to the courtyard - for access to drying yards or in early buildings to outside toilets.

Waste chutes were built dropping down through the building with porthole-like hatches at each landing or level ... not inside an apartment but out on the landing between the flats and shared by the two at that level and they are either on the main landing or on the landing of the back staircase if there is one. Waste drops down and into a large bin, preferably at basement level, and this is emptied at intervals.

No longer stipulating chutes in building regulations marks an interesting change in terms of social history. Many older apartment buildings have now been fitted with lifts and very few modern buildings do not have a lift so carrying rubbish down is easier anyway. More important, the way we deal with rubbish is having to change. General waste from the city still goes to incinerators that produce heat for water and heat for communal heating systems and rubbish can be sorted and separated out to retrieve what can be recycled immediately before incineration but it is more efficient to get each household to split their rubbish into different batches so now most courtyards have separate bins for waste glass, paper, plastic or electrical or metal waste and a recent change is to separate out organic waste. Less and less goes down the chute. 


the upper plan shows an apartment building with a single main staircase with access to two apartments from the landing and a waste chute between to front doors. The door into the kitchen in each apartment is directly opposite the front door ... so relatively convenient.

the lower plan shows more complex and sophisticated planning with a back or secondary staircase. Doors from the kitchens of the adjoining apartments open onto a landing with the hatch to the waste chute. The staircase provides a way down to the courtyard at the back of the building.