when the lights come on ......

 

Nordea Bank, Strandgade 3, Copenhagen - a series of office buildings designed by Henning Larsen Architects and completed about 2000 and part of a major redevelopment on the site of ship yards. Taking a pattern from warehouses along the harbour, they are relatively narrow but high blocks with their narrow ends towards the water but with flat rather than pitched and tiled roofs. They look quite elegant but slightly severe during the day but that is softened by excellent landscaping and in the late afternoon and evening, with the offices lit, their real elegance and sophistication are revealed. It is then that you can appreciate how the blocks fan out slightly creating slightly different angles of view as you walk along the quay.

 

A gross generalisation I know, but historic buildings in traditional materials are usually best seen during the day because that is when you can appreciate ornate decoration or amazing stone work or complicated brickwork or a beautiful landscape setting of trees and planting. At night those same buildings become much simpler solids and details are flattened and, particularly if they are large buildings, they can be dark and ominous. Walk past a fantastic medieval church or an 18th-century house at night and what might impress is the glow of light and the sense of an internal life from the bright windows but the design of the building, its massing and the design of it's facades and the quality of the external architecture become softened or lost completely in shadow.

Everything changed in the 20th century in towns and cities with relatively bright and relatively cheap artificial light for inside and outdoors … so some shopping streets can have so many bright lights now that you can read outside - well almost - but that rarely does much for the buildings unless it's a son et lumiére or Tivoli and then, in many ways, the point of the whole business is to disguise or transform.

Very bright artificial light also has down sides because it will also flatten or bleach out textures and pattern.

But curiously some modern steel and concrete buildings come alive at night and often it is only at night, when they are lit from within, that you can see the internal structure of the building and begin to appreciate how they function and how they are arranged for people coming and going. 

Ironically, it is glass as a facing material that is transformed most by night and artificial light. A wall of glass during the day, if it is tinted or it's reflective glass, actually reveals very little from the outside and can distort or dull the view from the inside … it can be a uniform skin that hides a complex internal arrangement or can be like someone wearing sunglasses, just reflecting the outside world back at the viewer.

 
 

Denmark’s National Bank, Havnegade 5, Copenhagen by ArneJacobsen from 1965 onwards and completed by Dissing + Weitling. An incredibly sophisticated composition by the greatest Danish architect of the modern period. On the shorter ends narrow panels of stone are separated by very thin vertical openings of glass but on the long sides to the north and south the bay system has the same proportions but with vertical panels of glass. During the day the windows reflect back the sky and the street scape - inscrutable - but at night the individual offices in use are lit so the pattern across the facades is like the display of a graphic equaliser on an audio system … a satisfying image of working into the night to balance the books … or is that taking it all a step too far?

 
 

The Royal Library, Sørens Kierkegaards Plads, Copenhagen by Schmidt Hammer and Lassens completed in 1999. It is at night that the structural complexity of the building is revealed with the ground floor glazed and the whole weight of the building appearing to float above. The central stairhall providing access to the reading rooms on either side becomes a great canyon of light and at night there is a random pattern of narrow horizontal slits of light in the massive blocks on either side where some people are working late in their offices and some rooms are empty and dark.

 
 

Industriens Hus, H C Andersens Boulevard 18, Copennhagen for Dansk Industri by Transform completed 2014. Actually a remodelling of a large brick-faced building that survives in part beneath the glass box. During the day the new building seems too high and somehow out of kilter with the 19th-century City Hall but at night with its advertising it takes a much more exciting part in the square and with the adjoining streets and with the lights of the Tivoli gardens so the area becomes an important hub for people heading home or for people heading into the city in the evening and this will become even more important as part of one of the main transport hubs when a new Metro station opens on the square in 2018.

 
 

N Zahles Gymnasieskole, Nørre Voldgade 5-7, Copenhagen by Rørbæk og Møller Arkitekter 2012. This is an extension to the late 19th-century buildings of a well-established and famous school in the city. On a tightly restricted site, the only way was up but the buildings front onto an important street that already has a visually busy street scape. Extensive new facilities are set behind a filigree of blue-grey metal work that acts as a sort of visual baffle … almost like camouflage … but at night with the rooms lit up, the effect is actually more open and more exciting.