restoration I

Work is progressing on a major project to restore the famous Nyboder houses in Copenhagen. These long terraced rows, with cobbled streets and narrow yards between the rows, cover a large block in the north-east part of the historic centre of the city within the old city defences  … so south and west of Kastellet - the fortress or citadel - and close to Østerport railway station that is on the site of the old east gate.

The first of the rows were built in the 1630s and 1640s at the instigation of Christian IV for naval personnel and were single storey but with attic rooms. More rows - the two-storey terraces - were constructed in the middle of the 18th century and the last houses, in grey brick, date from the very end of the 19th century.

The houses from the 17th and 18th centuries were built in pale-yellow brick but given an external wash of lime with deep ochre pigment but this wash has just been removed so the brickwork can be repaired and, where necessary, repointed.

Stripped of this ochre wash, the facades reveal important archaeological evidence to show clearly how window and door openings were constructed. There were no obvious lintels but lines of headers above the windows so, almost certainly, the timber frame of the floor structure would have been set out to take the weight and outward thrust of the roof to prevent the outer walls bowing out or the ground-floor openings failing under the weight of the brickwork and roof above. 

In contrast, more precise coursing in historic brickwork can be seen in a house on Wilders  Plads in Christianshavn with alternate rows of different colours of brick so that brickwork was clearly built to be exposed and left without render. The Nyboder brickwork is not of the same quality so the houses must have been covered and protected with was of lime and pigment from the start.

It is also clear that by using lime wash - rather than a thicker and smooth coat of render - the final surface is not just more resilient - as each thin layer is applied, the lime oxidises and bonds to the stone or brick it covers - but the visible and slightly irregular brickwork gives a texture to the surface that seems to make the colour deeper … modern brickwork, in contrast, seems mechanical and flat or, if anything, dull.

more images and historic map of Nyboder


Copenhagen Contemporary

Copenhagen Contemporary is an independent institution for modern art.

From June 2016 they ran a pilot project in the warehouses on Papirøen - Paper Island - in the centre of the harbour just south of the opera house - where CC took over four of the halls and were there until the end of 2017 when the buildings were returned to the developers for demolition and for work to start on new apartment buildings on the site.

Now, with funding from the city and from private organisations, Copenhagen Contemporary have reopened in a larger space - some 7,000 m2 - in what was the welding hall of the shipyard of Burmeister & Wain.

The ship yards were closed back in the 1990s and for the last two decades the area has been taken over by small workshops and boat repair yards. A yacht repair company, the restaurant Amass and La Banchina - a popular cafe and bar - established new businesses out here and this summer they have been joined by the new food market - many of the stalls also relocating from Papirøen - and there will be more artists' studios and craft workshops opening as more of the buildings are adapted.

Copenhagen Contemporary has a lease here for 10 years and they have ambitious plans to establish a new space for the display of modern art in the city and particularly for large-scale installation and performance art. 

The city is gaining a major new venue on the lines of the galleries in Gateshead and the Turbine Hall at the Tate in London or the galleries at MoMA in New York and the programme here should compliment exhibitions of modern art at the established galleries in Copenhagen with Den Frie, GLStrand, the space of the Kunsthal in the former church of Sankt Nicolaj and the galleries of the Royal Academy at Charlottenborg - all in the centre of the city or close to the centre - and the gallery down the coast at Arken and, of course, Louisiana - north of the city with its amazing location on the shore of the Sound.

Work on the building for the gallery on Refshaleøen has kept many of the features from its industrial use with huge sliding doors, high exposed roof structures and high-set windows that flood the space with light and give views out to nearby workshops.

In the next phase of development, space on the upper level will be opened for CC Studio for their proposed education programme.


previous posts on danish design review

Copenhagen Contemporary

Copenhagen Contemporary
Refshalevej 173a
1432 København K


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

an addition to the Red Cross Headquarters in Copenhagen by COBE 


November 2016 - the main structure of the addition in concrete was in place and you could see how the new entrance would work but this was before the brickwork across the terrace had been laid so it was difficult to gain an overall impression


A trip out to Trianglen - to see the new Biomega shop - was the chance to have a look at the new entrance building for the Red Cross Headquarters not far away on Blegdamsvej.

Designed by the Copenhagen architectural practice COBE, models of the building were shown in the exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre at the end of 2016 and I had seen the work in progress several times through 2017 but this was the first time I had been to that part of the city since the work was completed.

A three-storey office building here dates from the 1950s and is on an unusual plot - very wide but quite shallow with the main road across the front but with the building set back from the pavement with open public space at the front and with the back of the building hard against the boundary of Fælledparken which is the largest and perhaps the most important public open space in the city … so there was no possibility to extend the building back.

The solution was to build a new range out across the front that fans out from the original entrance and with its highest point against the building but sloping or rather stepping down to the pavement. In a way it is like one quarter of a pyramid if it was cut down the corner angles.

This new structure leaves triangular courtyards or green areas to each side to let light into the original office windows on the existing frontage but also reconfigures these as more enclosed and private spaces with the new building shielding them from the street and the noise of passing traffic.

Rooms under the slope, with a large new foyer in the west part, are lit by full height windows at the back that look into these green areas and look towards the existing range. 

Perhaps a better way of thinking about this is not as a new addition across the front but as a scheme that retains all the original open and public space across the front but tips part of it up at an angle and slips new rooms and new facilities underneath. This idea is, of course, close to what COBE did at Israels Plads where there are triangles of steps across two angles of the square which provide elevated areas where people sit to enjoy the sun or sit to eat a snack from the nearby food halls or just sit to watch other people but here, at the Red Cross building, on a larger scale. It is hoped that at Blegdamsvej this stepped slope will become an equally popular public space.

The brick steps are broken by the entrance to the building that creates what is, in effect, a small entrance court … a device used by COBE at, for instance Forfatterhuset, to form an interim public space where people arriving and leaving can stand and talk … not actually on the public pavement but directly off it … so it's the idea of a transitional space from public to private and from outside to inside. Also, it clearly signals to someone new to the building where they should enter … so this is COBE’s modern version of a portico but more about circulation and drawing the visitor in rather than being more overtly about status.


May 2018


&Tradition for 3daysofdesign



Until recently, &Tradition had their showrooms and studio on Paper Island, right in the centre of the city, but those former warehouses, where the newspaper industry had stored paper for printing - so hence the name - are being demolished to make way for a major redevelopment of apartments and a new inner-city swimming pool.

So &Tradition have moved across the city and are now established in a fine 18th-century town house that overlooks the King's Garden.


The change could hardly be more dramatic. Visiting the new showrooms and new studio and offices of the design company for the first time was one of the most interesting revelations of 3daysofdesign … or rather one of the most amazing and, to be honest, one of the most appropriate and clever transformations for a design company I have seen.

Don't get me wrong …. the old showroom, designed by the Copenhagen architects Norm, was dramatic with impressive space but the collection always looked slightly lost and, to be honest, it was difficult to make that step to imagining how that furniture might look in the sort of spaces we actually occupy.

the old studio on Paper Island

Furniture and lighting from &Tradition has been the usual mix of most Danish design companies ... so good classic designs - like the Mayor Sofa designed by Arne Jacobsen and Flemming Larsen in 1939 or the Flower Pot light by Verner Panton from 1969 - alongside new furniture commissioned from designers like Jaime Hayon.

With the move of location comes a new tag line … &Tradition Home of a Collector. It takes the furniture up a notch or three to break away from the crowded middle ground of Danish design companies and puts the furniture into a clearly domestic but very comfortable setting. This is Copenhagen interiors at their most stylish.


The house has a very grand entrance from the archway from the street but beyond is an incredibly pleasant courtyard and there is a new café.

If there were clear new trends from 3daysofdesign this year it was the use of named and well-known independent stylists - rather than in-house designers - and a growing number of design stores that have a café. This is furniture buying as a destination trip. And no ... that's not snide sarcasm … I only get round these events with in-flight refuelling of caffeine.

It is not all room settings here, for there are good displays of lighting and a couple of exhibition areas with a good small show about the background to the Little Petra Chair that was designed by Viggo Boesen in 1938 - after a trip to New York - and this chair is the latest addition to the &Tradition collection.

&Tradition, Kronprinsessegade 4, Copenhagen



Frama for 3daysofdesign



FRAMA studio and store in St. Pauls Apotek in Fredericiagade was open on the first evening of 3daysofdesign with people moving out onto the pavement to enjoy the warm weather.

This was an opportunity to show new additions to the collection - so a selection of cutlery in the ICHI range from Ole Palsby, now sold in the store, and a new tie in with home goods from the Japanese brand Ouur.




FRAMA - the apartment



For 3daysofdesign Niels Strøyer Christophersen of FRAMA opened his apartment on Strandboulevarden in Østerbro.

It's on the ground floor and at the corner of an apartment building that dates from around 1900 and, from the start, it was a shop with a small apartment behind as accommodation for the shopkeeper. This was a common arrangement in the city where many of the apartment buildings - from the late 19th century and then on through the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s - have commercial and shop space on the street level and particularly at the corners of the buildings.

The entrance into the shop from the street - with the doorway set across the angle of the cut-off corner - is typical of the period as are the high ceiling heights. The main FRAMA store in Fredericiagade is another if an up-market version of the same building type …. there a former apothecary shop, at the corner of an apartment building, with ornate ceilings and shelving from the late 19th century surviving.

Beyond the main front room of the shop in the Strandboulevarden building, the apartment was relatively small with the windows of its main rooms looking out to the side street and smaller rooms, including the kitchen, with windows looking into the courtyard and with a door in the corner of the kitchen for access to a 'back' staircase and access to the courtyard itself ... a practical and, again, a common arrangement.

The last occupant of this shop and apartment was a watchmaker although it had been empty for several years before Niels took over the property.

Niels has combined together the space of the shop and the apartment for his home. 

He has stripped back the walls to raw plaster but decorative mouldings of plaster cornices and moulded decoration on the ceilings, where they survived, have been kept. However, architraves and all doors have been removed so that the space flows from one area to the next.

With the high ceilings, the windows are large but, because these look out directly onto the pavements to the street to the front and the street to the side, plain white blinds and plain full-length curtains in linen and in natural silk have been used to give some privacy. This use of plain textiles also means that there is a subtle control of light and a fluid and softer definition to the spaces and again the emphasis is on natural materials and in their natural colours.

Furniture in the apartment is, of course, from the FRAMA collection, and in this setting looks, of course, absolutely right. Again, this furniture is about using natural materials, so steel plate or wood or stone, and again used to empasise natural colours and natural textures. Forms are plain and tend towards looking industrial because they keep to relatively simple shapes and emphasise or respect techniques and methods of fixing that are determined by the way the material are used when they are used honestly so used without pretension and, ostensibly, without reference to historic styles or traditional forms and shapes.

Although plain and without decoration, the furniture and the interiors are obviously far from being unsophisticated and far far from being crudely made or simply designed so this is about a distinct aesthetic that looks at interiors and at furniture in a different way.

FRAMA might appear to be a life-style design studio - particularly now with their apothecary range and with the book they have published with recipes - but it is about a serious and coherent design aesthetic that looks at materials in particular but also at texture and colour and form in a different way. It has to be significant that Niels has not had a traditional design-school training. His is not a unique but is a rare way of seeing the design world … so perhaps the most obvious comparisons should be with the work of John Pawson - particularly his photography and his publications - and with interiors by David Chipperfield or the work of Vincent Van Duysen.

This is an aesthetic that is stripped back but not strictly minimal - plain and in part close to industrial design - particularly early industrial design from the late 19th and early 20th century - but not brutal and although, ironically, about product design it is also about very careful consideration and calm reflection before acquiring anything.

From seeing the apartment, there is a strong sense that anything from anywhere might be considered for inspiration but essentially this is about materials used in a simple almost engineered way that has to respect intrinsic qualities of colour, surface and texture.


Bygningspræmiering / Building Awards 2018

On the 7th April 1902 the city council of Copenhagen voted to make awards annually for "beautiful artistic designs for construction projects on the city's land."  

There had been some discussion with the Association of Academic Architects about creating an award that recognised the best designs for new buildings in the city but from the start the awards were also to provide guidelines or a model and an incentive for owners and clients when they commissioned work. 

It is important to understand that the council appreciated fully the importance of historic buildings in the city so the awards were, in part, to encourage the design of new buildings of an appropriate quality to stand alongside the historic buildings but they also went further to include awards for major projects for the restoration of existing buildings and to recognise improvements to the townscape or urban scape that provided the best and most appropriate setting for those buildings.

Nor did the awards just focus on major or prestigious buildings but over 115 years they have also recognised the best private houses, new apartment buildings and commercial buildings, factories and schools in Copenhagen. 

For 2018, eight buildings have been recognised with an award but, for the first time, these will all go forward for the selection of an overall winner by a public vote.

That winner will be announced at a ceremony at the City Hall on 3 May. 




Axel Towers, Axeltorv 2

Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter A/S

Five circular towers, tightly grouped and interlinked, with shops and a cafe at the lower level, a new public space at an upper level between the towers, offices and a restaurant at the top overlooking the city. The nomination for an award appears to be in part for the quality of the exterior and for the new or rather the replanning of the public space running back from the street across the west side of the new buildings.


Carlsbergfondets Forkersboliger / Carlsberg Foundation Graduate Housing, Bohrsgade 7-13

Praksis Arkitekter ApS

Apartments on an important and sensitive site overlooking the JC Jacobsen Gardens. The award appears to be for the quality of the design, attempting to set a standard for the redevelopment of this area, reviously the site of the Carlsberg brewery. There is an interesting loggia across the street frontage that takes its form from covered links between and across the front of original brewery buildings and the form of the brickwork, with panels of bricks set diagonally to create a zigzag dog-tooth pattern, shows a clever and sympathetic and appropriate respect for the facade of the adjoining brick building on the garden side by Eske Kristensen that dates from the 1960s and was itself an award-winning design.



Konstabelskolen, Luftmarinegade 1


New youth housing in buildings on Margreteholm that date from 1939 - an early and important concrete post and beam construction that has been derelict for some years.




Mærsk Tårnet / Mærsk Tower, Blegdamsvej 3B

C F Møller Architects

Landscape SLA

Prominent new building for medical research - for the university Panum Institute and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre on the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences site. The award, in part, seems to recognise the technical aspects of the building, particularly energy saving for such a large structure; in part recognises the complex planning for such a complicated high-tech role and in part is for the landscape around the building that takes into account controls for surface water - as cloud bursts become more common, and potentially much more destructive with climate change - but also has interesting planting and a dramatic use of elevated public walkways to encourage people to enter the site or cut through.



Dehns Palæ / Dehn’s Palace, Bredgade 54

Wohlert Arkitekter A/S

An 18th-century palace - designed by JG Rosenberg and close to the royal palace and the Marble Church - has been restored for Danmarks Apotekerforening / Denmarks Pharmaceutical Association following an extensive fire in 2010. The award recognises that because the building is so important, restoration work was completed using original materials with original working techniques.


Åbenrå 16

Entasis A/S

Apartment building constructed on a plot in the historic centre of the city close to the King's Garden that has been vacant since 1970 when a number of old houses were demolished ahead of a major scheme to rebuild the street that was then abandoned.


The Silo, Lüdersvej 15


Prestigious apartments and a roof-top restaurant in the conversion of a concrete silo for grain that was the largest industrial building in the North Harbour. The challenge was to give the building a relevant and financially viable function to justify its survival; respect the scale of the building, with what are exceptional heights between the floors, and to retain qualities and the drama of the raw concrete of the original building but bring the spaces up to current standards of insulation. 

the two silos in May 2015


Frihavns Tårnet, Helsinkigade 18-20

Praksis Arkitekter ApS

Housing in the conversion of a former DLG silo close to the Silo. The industrial building was given a distinctive framework of balconies on three sides and the award recognises the quality of the apartments - “the decor and the choice of materials” but also appreciates that the design has created “liveable” homes particularly in terms their orientation to the natural light.



There is a page on the web site of Københavns Kommune - under Housing, Construction and Urban Life - on the Building Awards that has information about each of the nominated buildings with photographs, including some interiors, and a short video for an assessment of each of the projects by the City Architect Tina Saaby (in Danish).

Copenhagen Architecture Festival 2018



13th April 2018

Copenhagen Architecture Festival opens on the 3rd May and continues through to 16th May 2018. 

Yesterday the full programme was launched on line and this year, for the first time, there will be events in Odense as well as Copenhagen, Aarhus and Aalborg … all cities with a “strong architectural identity.”

The theme for this year is HOUSING HOMES / AT HUSE HJEM with lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, workshops and guided tours to look at ideas of home, housing and belonging … “to look at what constitutes a home, what does it mean to be home, and how homes are created in different and difficult situations.”

The ambition of the festival “has always been to share architecture with a wide audience by being unpretentious, curious, and bringing a new perspective to the table. We want to create new encounters between subjects, people, and ideas in the city’s space. The intention is for architecture to act as a character in the dialogue through the audience’s personal experiences of the spaces. Architecture is thus for everyone- not just for architects.”


download the programme from CAFx

Kengo Kuma to design the new aquatic centre in Copenhagen 


10 April 2018

It has just been announced that the Japanese studio of Kengo Kuma will design the new aquatic centre on Christiansholm … the island at the centre of the harbour in Copenhagen that is generally known as Papirøen / Paper Island because the Danish press stored newsprint in the warehouses here. The most recent use has been for popular food halls, a gallery for modern art, various design studios and quite a lot of covered car parking.

The key feature of the new building will be high brick pyramids - to follow the overall scheme for the island from COBE - but the swimming pool at the main level is to have glass on all sides for panoramic views and there will be a terraced walkway and shallow pools stepping down and forward towards the harbour.

Frihedsmuseet / Museum of Danish Resistance

Work on the new museum of Danish Resistance on Churchillparken seems to be moving forward fast with the excavation of the site visible through windows in the hoardings. The construction of a new museum followed an arson attack in April 2013 that destroyed the building although the collection and the archive was saved. 

Following a competition, the new museum has been designed by the architects Lundgaard & Tranberg whose scheme has an oval pill box like structure for the entrance at the level of the park but with the display galleries set underground … a compact and restrained design for a building that is in a sensitive location.

The timber buildings of the old museum certainly had a quirky charm but this solution allows for larger and more open areas for the displays and means up-to-date facilities and not just for visitors but of course also for the conservation of the collection.

Lundgaard & Tranberg

HC Ørstedsværket / HC Ørested Power Station


Designed by the architect Andreas Fussing, work on the power station began in 1916 and was completed by 1920 although there have been several major additions. The long turbine hall with shallow curved roof in concrete was part of the first phase. Additions in 1924 and 1932 were designed by Louis Hygom and Waldemar Schmidt and for that phase Burmeister & Wain built what was then the world’s largest diesel engine.

Some roads around and through the works are open to the public and there is a museum here and open days when it is possible to see some of the machinery halls. 

This is certainly some of the most dramatic architecture in the city and should have been a model for some of the recent developments around the city - particularly for the Carlsberg redevelopment but also for the overall planning of the North Harbour area. 

The power station is Functionalism at its best … carefully controlled and beautifully proportioned buildings in the style known as New Classicism and incredibly important industrial archaeology that tells the history of electric power in the city.

Of course, that’s not to suggest that new architecture in the city has to be a pastiche of industrial buildings of the past but that modern buildings achieve the scale but seem thin and flimsy and curiously rather cautious when compared with the bold compositions here that use very strong but carefully controlled colour; strong use of shadow and strong, simple but beautifully proportioned fenestration and rational design where function, generally, is expressed in the form.

A new metro station is due to be built here, just south of the power station and there are plans to build blocks of apartments along the water frontage but it is to be hoped that they respect the form and the importance of the architecture of the power station. There is also to be a new bridge to link this part of the harbour development with the new areas further south … all part of developing the circuit of the harbour to encourage people to cycle, run or walk around the harbour.

Sydhavnen Skolen by JJW Arkitekter



Almost every area of the city has a major new school and most by a major Danish architect or architectural partnership. The new school in the new development of the south harbour is by JJW Arkitekter.

It’s a large and dramatic building on an irregularly shaped plot with some parts towards the street supported on high columns so suspended over the pavement to provide public areas underneath opening off the pavement to provide some cover where children and parents can meet and talk or play when they come into the school or when they leave in the afternoon … an important part of the social life of any school here in Denmark. 

The school is in the centre of the new area, right on to the pavement, clearly visible from adjoining streets and nearby buildings and, looking out, the views are of the new neighbourhood. That’s not a limitation or a criticism but praise for how the school is designed to fit physically and obviously into the community. The building can be used by community so, for instance, dental care for the area is based in the building.

On the side away from the street, there are dramatic terraces, raised play areas, some at roof level, and broad walks and steps down to an inlet of the harbour, and as at Kids City in Christianshavn by COBE, smaller children are generally at the lower and more enclosed areas and more vigorous activities are higher up the building.

And again, as at Kids City, the arrangement of spaces deliberately reflects the organisation of the wider community so the description by the architect talks about the the lower level being like a town square.

Inside it is no less dramatic than outside - if anything more dramatic - with sections opening up through two or three floors with upper levels and narrower staircases cantilevered out or supported on thin columns or with wide flights of steps doubling as lecture rooms or forming places to meet.

Curiously this is what I like most and like least about the building. It’s a complicated, dramatic and fascinating building inside and out and children here presumably develop agility and stamina quite quickly and a head for heights. This is certainly the antidote to the one classroom-fits-all style of schools from the late 19th and early 20th century or the all-on-a-level schools of the post-war period. There are self-contained classrooms but they entered from wide wide and long open spaces with a variety of areas where different types of teaching or different activities can take place with smaller or larger numbers. The architects talk about the school having “an extremely high functional, spatial and tectonic quality” but architecture has and should have a clear vocabulary and in that sense should be readable … you should be able to see where to go and to some extent identify functions from the style and form of the architecture. That’s not to suggest it should not be fun but maybe just slightly more rational and slightly more solid. Perhaps, more of the architecture should be the background providing the venue for life here and not be the subject.

Having said that, photographs of the interior show masses of natural light - despite this being such a large and deep building - and strong confident use of colour and really good details like deep window seats or areas on the terraces that are more intimate. Encouraging and reinforcing friendship bonds seems to be an important part of the Danish education ethos. Certainly, with school buildings like this, you can see exactly why Danish children grow up appreciating good design and grow up to see good design as a strong part of their day-to-day lives.

Sydhavnen Skolen by JJW Arkitekter


for comparison see Kids City in Christianshavn by COBE


BLOX ... progress


Shuttering and fencing are now down from the city side of the building and everything looks as if it is moving fast towards the opening in May.

With the completion and the opening of BLOX imminent, it is worth subscribing to the news updates.

It was recently announced that staff are to start moving across from the Danish Architecture Centre - from their current building in a warehouse on the other side of the harbour - and that the restaurant / café are to be run by the Meyer company. The sections of the new bridge over the harbour are now being assembled off site but will be moved here in the summer for the bridge to be completed and opened in the Autumn. Work on the intermediate piers is finished and they are capped off and the metal barriers marking the channel for boat traffic and there to protect the piers have been installed.



comment and correction to the post on Paimio Sanatorium

Aalto Armchair 42.jpg

Armchair 42 with a more pronounced curve to the front edge of the seat

x aalto-chair-no51-Aurora Hospital-1932 from 1934.jpg

the armchair used in the entrance hall and the bedrooms ... photograph from abelsloane1934

x bc931b64-bf91-4677-bbec-cd00d64379a7_g_570.Jpeg

chair with simple plywood seat on tubular metal frame. Note the way that the tubular frame is angled in immediately behind the front legs to make the back rail narrower than the space between the front legs. The chairs could not be stacked vertically but facing the same way they could slide together into lines for storage.

Today two comments came through on a post on this site ... my review for a recent exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark about the buildings and two of the chairs designed by Alvar Aalto for the Sanatorium at Paimio.

The comments raised several important points. One was that the initial version of the Paimio Chair did not have slots in the back of the head rest and these were introduced later. A photograph from the 1930s shows this chair used in the lounge of the hospital - an area for patients that had large windows overlooking the forest and part of the dining room but screened off from it by folding doors. The chairs are shown set out in four rows with the chairs facing parallel to the windows and not towards them and with all the chairs in a row facing in the same direction. This suggests that they were not arranged for socialising or conversation but to create a place where patients could sit quietly and rest. There were side tables between the rows - the Ring Table - a version of the Side Table 915 still made by Artek - with two ‘loops’ of bentwood that support a top tray and a shelf in plywood and both with the ends bent upwards. Looking at the photograph none of the chairs appear to have the slots in the head rest. The slots were said to help air circulate around the face of the patient - tuberculosis is a disease that compromises the lungs and breathing - so when were the slots introduced and for which building? 

The second comment was that the Armchair shown in the exhibition was not the version of Armchair no 42 that was used in the hospital but that the chair used at Paimio had a much more pronounced bend of plywood at the front edge of the seat than the chair in the exhibition. This is curious because a drawing showing the side views of both the chairs and details of the bentwood frames was included in the chapter by  Katrina Mikonranta in the volume on the Sanatorium published by the Alvar Aalto Foundation.* There, it is dated to 1934 and is labelled “preliminary drawing for the patent application for the production method of the Ring Chair (Paimio Chair) and Spring Chair (Armchair no 42)” and that shows the version of the armchair that was shown in the exhibition. Looking through the historic photographs available, I have not been able to find any views of rooms in the hospital at Paimio with this chair so which version of the chair was used and in which rooms? 

This proves, yet again, just how much a carefully-compiled concordance for the work of a designer can contribute. This is particularly important where designs are brought back into production, sometimes under a different name and sometimes made by a different company, and for early designs, both before and after the war, a cabinetmaker or workshop might well be producing a design in small batches with a changing workforce and, of course, many designs do evolve and can be modified deliberately over years of production if new or better materials are available or when new machinery for the workshop was developed.

The mistake that was completely mine was the ambiguous or badly-written sentence that implies that it was these bentwood chairs that were used on the terraces and the comment points out quite rightly that outside there were tubular metal recliners and again these can be seen in historic photographs.

This correction is an opportunity to add slightly more about the furniture for the Sanatorium that was not strictly relevant in the review of the exhibition because that focused on the two chairs. 

In fact, furniture for the new building was not included in 1928 in the initial terms of the competition to design the Sanatorium and Aalto submitted a separate proposal for furniture in March 1932 that was accepted by the Committee on 1st June. 

Kaarina Mikonranta, in her chapter on Paimio Interiors,* appears to show all the furniture for the hospital itself including an arm chair with a seat and back from a single piece of bent plywood with a wood frame that was used in the entrance hall. Still produced by Artek and now called Chair 403 'Hallway', these arm chairs were also used in the bedrooms for the patients. The rooms had two single beds with bed-side cabinets and a wardrobe with a curved door in plywood and across the window, which came down low to admit as much light as possible, there was a deep shelf across the width of the room, just inset from the window, to form a desk or table and photographs from the 1930s show rooms with two chairs drawn up to the shelf where patients could sit in front of the window.

Aalto designed a simple plywood seat on a cantilevered tubular metal frame, a simplified version of a Bauhaus chair that was used in the sanatorium reading room. Kaarina Mikonranta has included among the illustrations a fascinating photograph of at least 41 of the plywood shells of these chairs, on edge and pushed together as a batch, on the floor of the dining room and 37 versions of the same chair with a wider plywood seat where a long slot along the edge of the shell meant that an arm rest could be bent upwards on each side to form what was identified as Chair no 28. There was a wider version of the shell of Chair  no 28 that appears to have been covered in leather and was set on a wide metal base to form a chair for the Chief physician's workroom. Clearly all these plywood shells were waiting to be assembled.

For laboratory benches, there was a stool with a pyramid-shaped frame in metal strip, rather than tube, to support a round seat with a very low back piece and in the dining room there were good, simple, wood chairs with four legs and a back rest that could be stacked and are described as a “row chair”.

The offices of the Sanatorium staff and their accommodation in the villas and apartments on the site were also furnished and included hefty upholstered armchairs with the distinct frame of the Armchair 41.

Today, by coincidence, along with the email with the comments on the post, there was also a news letter from the furniture gallery Jacksons who specialise in Scandinavian and international vintage design. There was a photograph and a link there to an exhibition that they curated in June 2013 and called Paimio Sanatorium at Design Basel where they showed an amazing display of not just the furniture from a bedroom but doors, lighting and, of course, the washbasin and spittoon. These are some of the best photographs on the internet of the furniture in the rooms of the patients at the sanatorium and show the window shelf, door handles, and the Paimio Hall Stool.



 * Alvar Aalto architect Volume 5 Paimio Sanatorium 1929-33 Alvar Alto Foundation (2014) illustration 69 page 53

More photographs are included in a post here on Chairs in plywood by Alvar Aalto from March 2015

Stelling Building, Gammeltorv 6, by Arne Jacobsen

  1. from Nytorv, looking north across Gammeltorv towards Vor Frue Kirke with the people in the foreground walking along Strøget

  2. from the west looking across the top of the square and down the first part of Skindergade

  3. the main entrance into the shop on the corner


The Stelling building on Gammeltorv in Copenhagen has been empty and shuttered and seems to be waiting for a new tenant. Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1934 and finished by 1938, it must be one of his least well known and least recognised buildings. 

It is actually on a major square in the centre of Copenhagen - Gammeltorv - but is at the top north-east corner and most people - huge numbers of people - cut straight across the centre of the public space as they walk along Strøget or The Walking Street. 

There is only a short frontage to the square itself but a long front to Skindergade … a narrow street that continues the line of the top edge of the square on eastward. Possibly the best initial view is to approach the square along the top from the west by walking along Vestergade that runs up to Gammeltorv from the top of the main square in the front of the city hall. 

Nørregade, that runs north from the top corner of the square, is much more important as a street because it takes you from Gammeltorv to Vor Frue Kirke - the cathedral - and then on to the railway and metro station at Nørreport but it is a relatively narrow street and the Jacobsen building, with its rounded corner, is not prominent from the pavement as you enter or as you leave the square along this east side.

Nor is it, perhaps, the easiest building to appreciate in terms of its style and it is probably not a surprise to find that it was heavily criticised when it was completed - one article even implied that Jacobsen should not be allowed to design anything else in the city.

The building was designed for the paint company Stelling to replace a much older store on this site. Their new building had display show rooms on the ground and on the first floor - in part to make the most of a fairly restricted and narrow plot - and with almost unbroken glazing to the square and to Skindergade on both floors. The interiors and fittings were all by Jacobsen including unique pendant lighting made by Louis Poulsen that was used both in the windows and above curved counters in front of shelving across the back walls.

Above, there are three upper floors of offices that over sail the glass walls below and are stark and almost top heavy - faced with large plain square ceramic tiles - 53cm x 53cm -  so the weight seems to hover over the glazed void below. There is no decoration and no architectural features - such as bands or cornices - to break the severity and no architraves to the windows with only minimal frames and no subdivisions of the glass so when the rooms behind are unlit then the windows look like blank holes punched through the wall.

Should this be seen as Jacobsen designing an industrial building or at least a deliberately and obviously functional building for retail in what was then the heart of the historic centre? The main structure is in concrete and the facing of the pillars is actually iron sheet that is painted grey so the contrast with the Renaissance grandeur of adjoining and nearby buildings could hardly be more marked.

Certainly it is a building that deserves much more attention and surely the long-term plan should be to find a way to restore the interior to its original form - the original teak and mahogany counters and shelving have all been removed.

approaching the square from the north, from Vor Frue Kirke, with just the edge of the Stelling building visible on the left

Kultur Natten ... reporting back


Actually it’s difficult to report back on Kultur Natten - or at least on the night overall because, even with careful planning, and even trying to pick a sensible route, it is impossible to see everything you want. This year there were around 250 different venues around the city and in many of the main buildings and the galleries and museums and theatres there were full programmes of different events all through the evening.

And then part of the real pleasure of these events is that you get caught up in watching a demonstration you hadn’t even planned to see or you ask a question and you find yourself pulled in by someones enthusiasm and expertise. So this is a bit of an impression … my impression … of some of the places I managed to get to see … and some of the queues I saw in passing.

For many people in the city Kultur Natten is their chance to see inside some of most important buildings in in the city that they walk past most days, but where normally access for the general public is restricted …. simply because from Monday to Friday these are busy working places … but from 6pm until midnight on Kultur Natten, not only is there open house but in most of the buildings people are there to explain what they do and why and in some you get to explore what goes on beyond the public areas. 

So this year I took this opportunity to look around the Eastern Courthouse - built in the 18th century as an opera house in what was then the new town around the Amalienborg Palace - and then went to the City Court House - in what was, through the 19th century, the city hall until the present City Hall was completed in the early 20th century - and then on to the present and famous city hall itself where I joined thousands of people exploring the council chamber, function rooms, amazing staircases and the archives.

Of course there were long queues of people keen to get a first look at sections of the new metro before it opens and as always the government buildings of Christiansborg and the State Apartments and the kitchens and royal stables on the island were incredibly popular.

This was the first time since it was almost-completely rebuilt that I have been into the DI building - the headquarters of Danish Industry close to the City Hall - apart that is from seeing exhibitions in the entrance.

A new exhibition of photographs City Struck opened at the Danish Architecture Centre and this will be the last major exhibition here in the present building before they move to BLOX - a new building close to the National Library. 

There were light shows on many of the buildings and food stalls and beer tents and coffee places everywhere ... the smell of roasting marshmallows in the courtyard of the Design Museum was amazing. And there were jazz bands and performances and I heard several times in the distance military bands and I know there were choirs singing in several of the churches and in the Thorvaldsen Museum.

And everywhere there were special displays and demonstrations so, at the Design Museum, people watched to see how a craftsman from Carl Hansen makes the seat of a wishbone chair in paper cord. At Realdania there were demonstrations of carpentry and people could try their hand at brick laying or blacksmithing and Heidi Zilmer was there to talk about the amazing wallpaper she recreated for the house of Poul Henningsen in Gentofte that was recently restored by Realdania and, of course, there were staff there to talk about the important historic buildings Realdania own, preserve and, where possible, open to the public.

It’s important to describe the good humoured sort of carnival-like atmosphere around the city as people line up to get into the places they really want to see - the line of people outside the gallery at G L Strand was amazing - and although most events are open until late - many until midnight - it really is an evening for children and families ….. I’m sure there are regulars who get there as the doors open to get to the huge collection of Lego brought out at the Danish Architecture Centre ….. and kids get a chance to watch special events in the theatres or the Opera House and they can explore the stage or see the scenery up close.

This is all driven, in part, by the idea that Copenhagen belongs to its citizens and, when possible, they should have access to its buildings and organisation, but really it’s about pride and enthusiasm … the enthusiasm of the people who work for the city and its galleries and its administration and its companies and the enthusiasm of the citizens for what goes on in their city.



Kulturtårnet on the bridge - Knippelsbro

Light show in the courtyard of the Design Museum on the gable of the pavilion of the old pharmacy

The new exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre and children looking at a display outside the entrance

Heidi Zilmer at Realdania talking about the wallpaper that she recreated for the house of Poul Henningsen in Gntofte

Loius Poulsen where there was open house in the show rooms on Gammel Starnd

The Department of Industry

The inner atrium of the City Hall with people looking at the building and meeting staff and looking at stalls about the work of the council and the city

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.

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bricking up doorways

This is an interesting / amusing / odd example of fake brickwork …. and I still can’t decide if it’s a joke or it’s an attempt to hide a service door that wasn’t quite subtle enough to get away with the attempt at camouflage. Doorways are bricked up when a building is abandoned and derelict but this is a new building so is it a bit of irony or did someone see one of those drain covers that is actually a shallow tray that can be filled with cobbles or paving bricks so they blend in and is this that idea flipped upright? Whatever the reason … it’s not just another brick in the wall.



Courthouse, Frederiksberg by 3XN 2012