playing with the conventions


For the post about waste chutes in Copenhagen it was necessary to discuss briefly the conventional or standard arrangement of apartment buildings in the city … with apartments running back from the front to the back of the block and with an entrance from the street with one apartment on each side at each level or landing and the waste chute outside the apartment, usually on the landing between the two apartments … but then in design and in architecture there are always exceptions so its interesting to look at what doesn’t follow the norm. 

Sometimes it’s a response to an exceptional situation where the conventional solution is not appropriate and sometimes it’s that business of a designer or architect ‘playing’ with the conventions and sometimes, with hindsight, that twist of the rules is actually the first example for something that gains in momentum and means a complete change in the convention.

So with the business of early apartment buildings in the city having a main staircase and then, in many buildings, a second or back staircase which in the best buildings give a separate route from the kitchen down to the courtyard without going down the best front stairs.

It was a social and a practical nicety to have a polite and a service stair but it was also crucial to provide a second staircase as a fire escape when the main staircase was in wood. As concrete was used more and more in the construction of apartment buildings in the city then having a concrete staircase with iron railings changed the assessment of the risk and gradually second or back staircases are seen as unnecessary and are omitted.

Change can be driven by fashion; evolve through innovative design or be forced through by sensible regulation. Oh and society does have an impact … no one in 1930, tipping their rubbish down one of those new-fangled rubbish chutes, could have had any idea that 90 years later the family in the same apartment would want to separate out paper from glass from food waste … designers and architects have to respond if the way people live their lives changes.  





illustration from Danske arkitekturstrømninger 1850-1950

This is Svendebjerghus on Hvidovrevej in a west suburb of the city. It was designed by Mogens Jacobsen and Alex Poulsen and completed in 1951. 

It is an amazing building where the conventions are subverted for all the right reasons. The apartments run front to back but adjoining apartments are up (or down) half a floor. Staircases are in the centre and turned to run with the axis of the building. There are waste chutes but to use them you are standing balanced on the staircase itself but that seems to be a small price to pay for all the other gains. One important change is that the block is set back from the road where there is a large garden because that is the west and sunny side so that is also the side where the balconies are. The entrance to the building is down a side road and then from the back … again for the most rational reasons. 

Curiously, despite not being conventional or standard in plan, it seems to represent well the style of the period. Originally the balconies were deep red and ochre yellow … the Copenhagen colours … so the bright deep blue is relatively new. The building is nick-named Hollywood.


This is an apartment building between Wildersgade and Overgaden Neden Vandet in Christianshavn. Waste chutes here are external, which is unusual, and the rubbish goes into bins that are not in the basement but at courtyard level where each chute has its own bin shed. What seems curious here is that the vertical chutes run across windows lighting the staircases and the hatches for the chute are not at a landing outside the front door but up or down half a level and for the ground-floor apartments, because the bins are at courtyard level, rather than in the basement, the hatch is immediately outside the door to the courtyard in the side of the bin shed.