looking north from Amager with the city skyline broken by church spires and, from this distance, much as it appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries
An application for planning consent to build a massive tower at Nordhavn, north of the centre of Copenhagen, that would be 280 metres high, has just been refused permission but, if things run their normal course, it seems almost-certain that the design will be modified slightly and then resubmitted.
Why is this a concern? Surely the development of the North Harbour is around four kilometres out from the historic centre? Surely any major redevelopment benefits from having key buildings that push the boundaries of design and attract tenants to the development?
Well no … there are many problems.
Once you allow tall buildings and particularly buildings that high, then developers, like spoilt toddlers, continually test the limits. Why not here on the edge of the historic area? Or there on that site to rejuvenate that street that seems to be on its way down? Apparently, all every scruffy street needs, is a new skyscraper.
But there is also the simple and obvious problem that big tall buildings are just that … big and tall … so they have a huge and usually a detrimental impact on a very wide area.
In the historic city, tall buildings, including the church spires, normally mark status and act as geographic markers as you navigate around the streets. They terminate a view or act as a key point on a route along a street.
The problem with most modern tower buildings is that inevitably they not only go up but they also break and disrupt the street line because the easiest way to "reduce" the impact of a tall building is to set it back from the pavement and the line of existing facades and often the cheap bung to the city is a new piazza or 'public space' but that merely compounds the problem.
The ubiquitous use of CAD means that now there is no excuse because architects, with digital mapping and real space surveys in 3D, can and should show the impact of a proposed building from every angle … however far away.
With recent developments, perhaps one of the worst offenders has been Bohr Tower on the site of the old Carlsberg Brewery. It is a brutal and stark block that is over 3 kilometres from the centre of the city but it can still be seen from the lakes and stands at the end of the view along main streets through Vesterbro.
When it was criticised, not long after it was completed, I read, somewhere, a quote from the architect who said it was unfair to criticise the building now because another eleven towers are to be built with this development and the inspiration for the design had been the towers of the hill town of San Gimignano.
Two points. First, I have been to San Gimignano and this ain't San Gimignano and, second, if you see a thug lurking on a street corner, you are not reassured when you are told that soon there will be a whole gang of them.