As at the Pakhus by Lundgaard and Tranberg on Langeliniekaj, the development designed by Cobe and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects at Krøyers Plads takes the historic brick warehouses along the inner harbour in Copenhagen as inspiration but the interpretation could hardly be more different.
Where the starting point for the Langelinie Pakhus was the scale of the earlier warehouses but otherwise the site was open with few other buildings to take into account, the Krøyers Plads site is at the centre of the harbour and within the historic district of Christianshavn and previous designs by a number of different architects for the development have been much more difficult and controversial.
The plot is between the harbour and the old street of Strandgade with a basin running back from the harbour towards Strandgade forming one side of the plot with an large warehouse on the other side of the basin and with the fourth or south-west side of the plot bounded by another large warehouse running back from the harbour. The site is almost opposite Skuespilhuset (the National Theatre) and opposite the harbour end of the popular tourist destination of Nyhavn. Inderhavnsbroen - the Inner Harbour or Kissing Bridge - a major new cycle and footbridge over the harbour from the end of Nyhavn to the Christianshavn side - opened this summer making the area much easier to reach but much busier.
Several schemes for this site have been proposed but at least one plan included towers up to 14 floors so were rejected by the city council after much debate and after a lot of objections from citizens who generally want to maintain the restriction on the height of buildings in the historic centre where there are very few buildings above six stories apart from church towers and a few turrets.
There is an explanation of the design process for Krøyers Plads in the catalogue of the current exhibition about the work of Cobe at the Danish Architecture Centre. Essentially the scheme is relatively simple with three separate blocks - one set back and parallel to the harbour - across the end of the basin and running along Strandgade - and two blocks running back from the harbour on the south-west side of the basin and all three have a fairly regular arrangement of openings on the ground floor - an interpretation of the arcades seen on several of the old warehouses. There will be mainly commercial areas on the ground floor. However, for the apartments on the upper levels, the small window openings and occasional loading doors seen in the traditional arrangement for a warehouse would not have provided enough light so a more random arrangement of tall, narrow windows and balconies light the apartments. The traditional form or long, straight, narrow arrangement of the earlier warehouses, with gabled ends and level ridges, have also been abandoned and all three blocks are angled or slightly bent at the centre and all have an arrangement of large gables on the long sides with sections of mono-pitch roofs to allow greater and more useable height for upper apartments and there are a lot of roof lights. The result is a number of long slopes and what appear, from the ground, to be almost like a saddle roof in parts.
Perhaps the most serious problem with this is that the façade towards Strandgade is rather cliff like and with a slightly odd kink in the road here the steep mono-pitch gable at the south end and odd views along either side of the elbow-shaped block looks curious as you approach the site along Strandgade.
However, the huge gain from the arrangement is that by pushing the Strandgade block back as close as possible to the road then actually, for pedestrians, the clear route to take is actually away from the road and onto a broad walk on the harbour side of the block - between the block and the end of the basin - and there are also clear views to the old warehouse - Nordatlantens Brygge - along the north-east side of the basin which encourages pedestrians to walk along the quay on that side of the basin to get to the new bridge.
In fact the two blocks on the south side of the basin are set well back from the harbour for a wide walkway there as well so there is very generous public/private space around the buildings.
Those two blocks, with their ends to the harbour, are also angled to form shallow V plans, angled in opposite directions so coming together towards the centre. This gives more privacy and better views out from apartments as windows are not facing directly across from one block to the other and coming together, almost like an hour glass, actually gives a sense of closure to the space visually - making it seem rather more like a private alley than a broad open access to the harbour and careful planting is another signal that suggests to the publicthat this is semi-private space.
There are also flat ceilinged tunnels through each of the blocks that, with the angles in the line of the blocks, createsmuch more interesting sight lines and routes around and through the site than might be suggested by that simple description of two blocks set parallel to the basin with one across the end of the basin.
Some of the passages are lined with mirror-effect cladding that should provide some interesting effects in bright sunlight particularly if light is reflected up off the water.
The main block along Strandgade has brick to the ends and to the street and is clad in dark grey metal towards the harbour and the other two ranges have tile cladding … not traditional in the city. It is a small criticism but the main doorways and tunnels look oddly weak … that's visually weak rather structurally weak - without any sense of framing or architrave. The tiles and the brickwork just finish at the openings. Even without architraves, when you look at traditional brickwork, you can see that openings are coursed in … so on either side of an opening are equally spaced whole and half bricks in alternate courses and brick layers work outwards from each opening and if the spaces between openings are not equal to a complete number of bricks then carefully placed spacers or bats are used traditionally to keep the coursing regular. This is hardly obvious in standard brickwork but does give the opening a subtle strength and headers above openings are there to give a visual sense of strength even when there is a girder or beam behind.
What is good with the hung tile work here at Krøyers Plads is the detail at the corners with a thin diagonally-set metal rib projecting slightly beyond the front face of the walls which just gives a pencil-line thickness of definition to the corner.
The bricks on the main range are also slightly curious as the 'frog' - the hollow for extra mortar - that normally faces up and hidden is here turned to face out giving the wall a stronger and rougher texture.
As with much of the work by Cobe there is a very careful and very subtle balance of public and private space and the scheme, as it matures, could provide some interesting venues for semi public events. One particularly good feature is that the north end of the main range stops to form a frame with the corner of the old warehouse that extends the quay right up to an old but smaller warehouse on the opposite side of Strandgade that has round-headed arcades on the ground floor. When the restaurant NOMA moves from the harbour end of the Nordatlantens Brygge it will be interesting to see if a new use leads to a re-planning on the outer or Opera House side of that warehouse and future developments on what is now a carpark on the opposite side of Strandgade from Krøyers Plads might pull together a wider area of the streetscape. That area is marked on plans as a new square although it is difficult to see at the moment how that will be given any coherence - more specifically a sense of enclosure. If there is one criticism of the plan at the moment it is that space, although tightly controlled around the basin, seems to bleed outwards in an odd way. The buildings do not need to be hemmed in but rather more enclosure of the space around the site could give a stronger sense of urban density in an area now very much in the centre of the city.