Kultur Tårnet a year on

22 June 2018


Since 1620, there has been a bridge at the centre of Copenhagen harbour. Knippelsbro was constructed to link the old city to what was, in the 17th century, a new and prosperous settlement of Christianshavn that was being built on land claimed from the sea and - from a new south gate of the city - there was a way across and on to the island of Amager.

Over the centuries the bridge was rebuilt several times but these all crossed the harbour at the level of the quay so there was restricted headroom for boat traffic to pass through unless the bridge was opened. This became a problem in the early 20th century as the wharves and quays south of the bridge dealt with more and more goods so more and larger commercial shipping was coming through the harbour and as the number of people use the bridge to cross backwards and forwards increased with the building of large new apartments blocks along Islands Brygge and south of Christianshavn with new housing in Amagerbro and then in Sundby.

A new bridge - the present Knippelsbro - was constructed and opened in 1937 designed by Kaj Gottlob. This has a much higher deck level - with long ramps up on either side to take road traffic up and over the harbour and more shipping could pass through without opening the bridge - the current harbour ferries pass under the bridge without it having to open. There were two copper-clad towers - with that to the north for the main control room for opening and closing the centre span and a south tower contained sleeping accommodation for the bridge master and his men.

From the 1940s and through the 1950s and 1960s, the docks to the south of the bridge prospered with commercial quays extending down on both sides - so the bridge must have been manned throughout the day and the night - but with the decline and then the shutting of commercial wharves on the inner harbour, the number of times the bridge was opened each day declined and the south tower became redundant and was left empty and unused.

Lars Erik Lyndgaard Schmidt and Malthe Merrild saw the waste of abandoning such a prominent historic monument and came up with possible ways of using the building.

Last year, after several years of them putting considerable pressure on the city and after opening for a trial period to see if there was sufficient public interest … there was … and after extensive restoration work, the tower was opened to the public.

It is now an amazing viewing platform from where you can see up and down the harbour but more than that it's a very unusual venue for events; a very unusual place that can be hired for business meetings during the day and, despite the tight space, it's a venue for gastronomic events and concerts.

Today marks the first anniversary for Kultur Tårnet. Congratulations.


Kultur Tårnet

Nordea bank have moved


Nordea Bank have moved a main office out of a building in the centre of Copenhagen on the south side of Knippelsbro - the main bridge between the city centre and Christianshavn at the centre of the harbour - and are now in a new purpose-built block about 2 kilometres further south … close to the concert hall, studios and office buildings of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation at DR Byen.

This building, their old office by the bridge, dates from the late 1950s and was constructed as the headquarters of the shipyard of Burmeister & Wain. After they closed around 1990, it was taken over by a series of banks … presumably, in part, because of the convenient size of the building and possibly, in part, because of the proximity to the National Bank of Denmark; to the headquarters of the rival Danske Bank and to the buildings of parliament and the main government ministries over the harbour just on the other side of the bridge.

Now an application has been submitted to the planning department to convert the office building to a hotel to be run by the Hilton Group. 

The building is set back from the road but on a high base or terrace with an ugly high and blank concrete wall along the public pavement that runs down from the bridge to the level of Torvegade - the main road from the bridge, through Christianshavn to Amager. An initial proposal seems to be to break through this wall with windows and presumably an entrance into the hotel - which is good if it creates a less grim and forbidding frontage onto the pavement - and there are also proposals to open through from this lower level through to the harbour quay. 

At the moment there is no public route for pedestrians to get down to the quay directly from the bridge on this side although there are steps down on the other side of the road and steps down to the quay on both sides on the city side of the bridge. The only real objection to this would be if the hotel gains - by making the quay part of its domain or, at least, part of its facilities - but the citizens gain little in return.

But really the big problem - and it is literally about being big - is that the current proposal is to add at least another floor on top of the building. It is already a massive block of a building nearly 100 metres, along the street, and about 34 metres deep with seven main floors above that concrete base and, of course, a certain amount of service works on the flat roof for air con and lifts and so on. 

Why does the hotel need even more floor space in a huge building that already dominates this part of the harbour and dominates not in a good way? If it is simply for roof-top restaurants then should local people object to tourists admiring the roof scape of the historic city as a pleasant backdrop as they look out but with the building dominating the skyline even more for those walking past or living nearby?

In terms of the historic townscape, the real problem is if additions to the building undermines the setting of Christians Kirke and its forecourt and churchyard immediately to the south or dominates and disrupts the buildings along Strandgade … both the historic buildings immediately opposite the narrow end of the building away from the harbour or it dominates or undermines the streetscape from further north from the other side of Torvegade. Strandgade is still, despite losses, the finest group of 17th and 18th-century merchants houses and warehouses in the city and not only its buildings but its wider context should be protected.

It is important to note that when the shipyards closed in the 1990s, the large site that had been engineering workshops and yards was redeveloped with new offices along the harbour and new apartment buildings along the two sides of the site that face towards the canal but the architects Henning Larsen had to respect the level of the cornice of the church - so the distinctive roof and tower of the 18th-century building designed by Nicolai Eigtved were not compromised. It is a pity that the planning restrictions in the 1950s were not as sensitive but surely adding a floor to the building could not mean that two wrongs make a right … or at least in terms of the townscape and roof scape of the city. 


Knippelsbro - the present bridge was designed by Kaj Gottlob

Redevelopment of Torvegade in the 1930s

Redevelopment of the shipyard site by Henning Larsen in the 1990s


Strandgade looking towards the church with the corner of the grey and glass box of the Nordea / Hilton building just visible on the right. This is at the junction where Torvegade, running out from the bridge to the right, crosses over Strandgade and continues on to the left across Christianshavn and on to Amager. One more floor on a large building does not sound excessive but it changes further the dynamic of the street scape and emphasises even more just what a large hole was punched through Strandgade when 17th and 18th-century buildings were demolished to widen Torvegade and to build the approach ramp up to the bridge. It might seem odd to worry about a streetscape that was so drastically altered in the 1930s but the photograph below shows the run of historic buildings that run right up to the church on the opposite side of the road to the hotel. These are of huge historic importance to the city and at the very least deserve respect.

view along Torvegade looking towards the city. The buildings in the distance are an apartment block on the far side of the harbour that survives. The block of buildings in the right half of this view were demolished to construct the south approach to the bridge and the buildings to the left of the trams were on the site of what became the Nordea building and is to become a hotel

looking down the harbour


Walking over the new bridge from the Christianshavn or Opera House side of the harbour to Nyhavn, on Sunday afternoon, this was the view down the harbour looking towards Knippelsbro.

It was mid afternoon so the light was dropping and the buildings were reduced to silhouettes - almost to a series of planes - as if they were the scenery flats of a giant theatre. 

It is curious to see which buildings are obvious and which are not. On the left is the warehouse that for now is the home of the Danish Architecture Centre. The outline of the towers of the bridge - of Knippelsbro itself - has been lost against the scale of the more recent buildings that are set on either side beyond but the beautiful curve of the bridge arch stands out. The distinct mass of the Black Diamond - the national library just beyond the bridge on the right  - has been lost in the gloom but the bright fractured cubes of the new BLOX building beyond, almost in the centre of the view, is caught in the sun reflected up off the water. This will be the new home of DAC from next Spring. The red-brick apartment building in front of the bridge - between the harbour and the 17th-century Bourse - is oddly a distraction and even from this distance the superstructure on top of the hotel tower looks a mess.

Perhaps most people crossing over the harbour do little more than glance at the view but that does not make it any less important to make sure that new buildings do not intrude or distract … new developments should not be dramatic or iconic or challenging or brave … just simply a good neighbour that slots into the view down the harbour rather than dominating it. 


one of the tall ships in the battle - to the right is the silhouette of the Great Brewhouse built by Christian IV in the early 17th century to supply the ships being loaded with sails, ropes, gunpowder and armaments from the Arsenal buildings immediately to the north

a reconstruction of the harbour in the 17th century on a staircase in the City Hall. The large ship with three masts shown here is approximately in the area where the Black Diamond - the National Library - has been built and the column marks the point where ships turned to go through the narrow gap to enter the inner harbour - now the courtyard garden between the library and the parliament buildings with the Arsenal - now the Tøjhusmuseet - to the left, the castle, now the Parliament buildings, in the centre and beyond the merchant quays and moorings along what is now Gammel Strand


As I walked back over Knippelsbro this evening there were several very loud booms, a mass of smoke, the sound of drums beating the attack and I realised that there was a naval battle in the harbour beyond the bridge with the tall masts of sailing ships emerging from the gloom and all immediately in front of the Black Diamond … the Danish National Library. 

And no - I wasn’t heading back from a bar and no this sort of thing certainly doesn’t happen on a Saturday evening on Euston Road immediately in front of the British Library … which is a pity.

This was a re-enactment of a battle in 1717 commanded by the famous Danish naval hero Peter Tordenskiold … a nobleman from Trondheim and actually christened Peter Jansen Wessel but his exploits earned him the nickname Tordenskiold or Thunder Shield which somehow seems more appropriate.

After a dash back to the apartment to get a camera I took a few photographs. I always have a camera with me, or nearly always, but for once, on a gloomy evening - nipping out to buy tea bags - I hadn’t expected to come across a naval battle.

Since the time of Tordenskiold the harbour has been narrowed as quays have been built out from the Christiansborg side and from the Christianshavn side and the massive building of the 17th-century Royal Arsenal is now a museum. The tightly enclosed area, the square basin, alongside the Arsenal and below the castle - where the battle ships of the navy of Christian IV pulled in to load with gunpowder and beer - is now filled in and is now the gardens between the parliament buildings and the National Library and the area where the first major shipyards were, where the fighting ships were built - close to the naval church of Holmen - is the site of the National Bank designed by Arne Jacobsen.

If you think that a naval battle has little to do with design then you would be wrong. The architecture of Christian IV - including the Arsenal and the great brewhouse from the early 17th century - were some of the first major industrial buildings on a truly modern scale and the great fighting ships and the merchant fleet of Denmark through the 17th and 18th century were some of the best and some of the most powerful in the western world, depending on up to date design, advances in technology and the most amazing skill from carpenters, metal workers, sail makers, rope makers and so on. There are records of Christian IV taking his latest war ship to England to show his brother-in-law King James and his nephew Prince Frederick just what Danish ship builders could do and show them how much faster and how much better the up-to-date technology of Denmark was than anything being built in London. Not exactly a trade delegation to promote Danish design but along the same lines.

And Tordenskiold? He died in 1720 just a few weeks after his 30th birthday, in a duel where the evidence suggests he was betrayed and set up to loose.


taken from the web site of BLOX from their post about the event


update on Knippelsbro graffiti


In an earlier post with the heading - I just don’t understand - I wrote about the graffiti daubed on the copper tower of Knippelsbro - the main bridge at the centre of the harbour in Copenhagen.

This evening I saw it had been cleaned but that has left a scar because, inevitably, along with the paint, the patina on the surface of the copper has been removed.

As I said before, I understand that some people feel powerless or feel that no one is listening to why they feel excluded or ignored. But surely this sort of graffiti is simply thoughtless and selfish. It is imposing what is painted on everyone … whether or not they like it or want to see it. Am I wrong in seeing it as a sort of hectoring or bullying? 

The bridge is not a symbol of authority or symbol of oppression. In fact it is just the opposite. It was built in the late 1930s … a time of huge economic and political uncertainty … but was a clear symbol of confidence and pride in the city … built for the city … and built with a sense of hope for the future - that is why it is unashamedly modern - and it must have been seen as an investment in the future because it was primarily practical and well built … a wide new bridge crossing high above the water for trams and for bikes for workers and for ordinary people going in and out of the city but also a bridge that could be opened quickly and efficiently to let taller vessels pass from one part of the harbour to another.

the tower of Knippelsbro earlier in the week


I just don't understand


Generally, there is much much less vandalism in Copenhagen than in cities and towns in the UK so when there is something like this - recent graffiti on Knippelsbro - then it stands out. 

If kids - I presume it is kids - feel they are not listened to or they feel they are marginalised, or deprived or simply not understood … then I’m not sure that this is the best way to communicate. Maybe to sign it with your real name with a contact number or to stand next to it during the day and explain to people why you did this might help … or maybe not.

It’s particularly destructive here because when the graffiti is cleaned off then it also takes off the patina … the copper underneath is good but most people appreciate the soft green colour and that takes up to ten years to come back. 

112 has just appeared on the side of the tower towards the road ... odd because that's the Danish number for calling emergency services so the equivalent of 999.

Is someone actually saying "if you saw anyone doing this then phone the police" ? 

noma pop under



Part of the team from the noma restaurant in Copenhagen have opened a pop-up restaurant under the arches of Knippelsbro - so under the road deck of the central bridge over the harbour. If you are walking, go down the steps on the Opera House side on the south or Christianshavn end of the bridge or get there by the harbour ferry to the Christianshavn ferry pier immediately south of the bridge. 

There are temporary kitchens along the quay and with barbecue cooking the smells, as you walk past, are amazing. … but then what would you expect? … this is chefs from noma. There is also a bar where you can buy a drink and just sit out watching the boats on the water and there is also the well-established wine merchants in their permanent space under the road deck.

noma continues here under the bridge until 3 September

the space under the bridge earlier in the Summer

Knippelsbro - KULTURTÅRNET


At the centre of the harbour is Knippelsbro - the bridge between the historic centre of the city and Christianshavn. There has been a bridge here since the early 17th century when houses and warehouses were first built on land claimed from the sea in what was then a wide stretch of open water between the walled settlement of Copenhagen and the island of Amager.

The present bridge was completed in 1937 - designed by Kaj Gottlob and built by Wright, Thomsen & Kier with Burmeister & Wain - an engineering company whose works were just to the west of the bridge and whose ship yards were then to the east at Refshaleøen.

Earlier bridges had been at the level of the quay so had to be raised for most shipping to pass and were relatively narrow. As the port expanded, traffic crossing over and passing under the bridge increased so the new bridge, with a deck well over 27 metres wide, meant there could be tram tracks in each direction down the centre, wide lanes for traffic and wide pavements and, set much higher, with long approach ramps on both sides, the bridge only had to be raised for the larger ships passing through to the quays where the National Library now stands and to a long line of quays along the Islands Brygge side.

With its two copper-clad towers on distinctive stone piers, set just out from the quays, the bridge is an iconic and perhaps the iconic feature of the inner harbour.

Those towers held control rooms and sleeping accommodation for the men who supervised and opened the bridge but with the decline in harbour traffic the bridge is now controlled from the tower on the city side and the tower on the south or Christianshavn side of the bridge has been redundant for many years. A long campaign of lobbying and a serious programme of restoration work has lead to the south tower reopening as a new cultural attraction in the city. Visitors can climb up to the upper viewing gallery for amazing views up and down the harbour and in the process appreciate the quality of the well-thought through and careful design of the tower itself … now restored as one of the major monuments in the city from the 1930s that can be seen in its original form.

Some facilities were upgraded, including the fitting out of a new kitchen, so the tower can be used for social and cultural events including as a venue for meetings and meals and there have even been a couple of jazz concerts.

For information - Kulturtårnet or email l.lyndgaard@gmail.com

TÅRN - a Knippelsbro guide



For the reopening of the bridge tower, the team behind the restoration work have produced a combined guide and magazine. Narrower pages attached to the cover have a good selection of historic drawings, old photographs and information about the building of the bridge and its operation.

Inside is like a good art magazine with a selection of newspaper cuttings about the bridge and some interesting photographs of odd objects found as work on the restoration progressed but there is also a review of the art installation Between the Towers by Randi Jørgensen and Katrine Malinivsky at Arken; what appears to be a declaration of love for the Eiffel Tower; an essay about the symbolism of towers through time and much more.