Krøyers Plads


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.

COBE - Krøyers Plads


shouldn’t we talk about architecture more?


What a building looks like is important but in the end a building has to be judged by how it works - judged to see if it is doing what it was meant to do - not judged just by how it looks in a presentation drawing or in a beautiful photograph taken in exactly the right light. We judge a building by how it relates to either the crowded busy street in which it stands or to it’s landscape setting.

To understand a building you need to walk up to it, walk around it and walk through it, and, if possible, see it at different times of day and in different seasons.

And it helps if you can look at a number of buildings by the same architect to put the work in some sort of context … it’s that old ‘compare and contrast’ exercises we had to do in English lessons when I was at school though I’m not sure if that sort of thing is still on the curriculum.

Leaving aside the obvious problem of access to a building, it can also be difficult to get an overview of the work of a major architect because, for many, their stomping ground is global … in the past a successful architectural practice might open a regional office 200 miles away, if a long-term project justified the expense, or a second office sorted out some of the headaches of logistics, but now most of the big-name architects, at the very least, have offices in New York and somewhere in China and possibly in the Middle East as well. Architectural practices are truly trans Continental. Star architects can work … and tragically some die … anywhere in the World.

That makes the compare and contrast exercise for major works by major architects almost impossible for any writer or historian or photographer. Of course there are retrospective exhibitions with their catalogues and published monographs but many of those have to use stock images and they inevitably cut out the noise of the traffic, the hot dog stand in the wrong place and often cut out those inconvenient things called people so it becomes really very difficult to judge how a building works day to day or looks in the rain or functions at the end of a busy and hectic day as people try to get away in a hurry. Very few reviews of major buildings look at how many toilets there are or how easy it is to find your way around but surely that is exactly the sort of thing a good architect has to resolve … all that stuff that is important after the wow factor has begun to wear a bit thin.

Of course I admit that I try to take photographs on a good day … not least because I don’t function well in the cold and wet and cold and wet are not much good for the camera either … and I try to adjust the angle of view slightly if it avoids the overflowing waste bin in the foreground and I will wait for the delivery lorry to sort itself out and move on.

One new way of looking at buildings - and certainly a good way to judge a wider setting in a town or city - is to use Google Maps with their satellite and street views although obviously it is better for buildings that are on or close to a road rather than set back in private gardens or in an inaccessible landscape. 

Some major public buildings even have internal coverage by Google so you can explore and pan around the main rooms but that is still relatively rare. Some architects produce very swish, carefully rendered and highly realistic CGIs that are often included in major exhibitions or are published on their web sites but for obvious reasons these are not warts and all. At the very least architects have to admit that those presentations have been sanitised.

Does a detailed assessment for a building matter? In part it’s a done deal, once the building is there and signed off, with all snagging done.   

But isn’t it a bit odd that there are endless reviews of new cars in newspapers and magazines; new restaurants have to face criticism of everything from the size of their plates to the manners and appearance of the waiters and half the internet servers in the World must be straining under the load of hotel reviews good, bad and indifferent, but people buy their next home armed only with an A4 sheet from the estate agent or, worse still, buy ‘off plan’.


Exhibitions in museums and galleries that profile the work of an architect or of a studio are popular and certainly a print run of exhibition catalogues can far exceed what might sell as a monograph through a book shop … the current exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre - Our Urban Living Room about the Copenhagen architects COBE - have sold out of their first stock of catalogues just half way through the exhibition which proves how much interest there can be in contemporary architecture.


The Infinite Happiness, by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, is a fascinating film profile of the 8House  - the large block of apartments in Copenhagen designed by Bjarke Ingels.  It is in their Living Architecture series and looks at the building by talking to people who live and work there … so the best people to understand and appreciate or criticise the design. The film was screened recently by Arch Daily and the series has been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

just how difficult can it be to design a staircase?

the recently remodelled staircases in the Illum store in Copenhagen


Well, actually, quite difficult.

A staircase is not just a major feature in any building but it can also be a particularly difficult part of the design to modify if other parts of the scheme are changed as the plan develops. It becomes a difficult game of consequences - change one part and another no longer works.

It might sound like stating the obvious but a staircase really does have to function well. A doorway can be slightly too narrow or a window sill too high and people grumble. If a staircase is too steep or too dark or the steps are irregular or too small then it is difficult to use easily and it might even be dangerous. 

A design for a staircase normally has to start with the dimensions for the height and depth of a step - the tread and the riser - fixed by the average foot size and the average stride pattern so a tread of at least 300mm and a step up or riser of between 150 and 200mm. These can vary slightly from one staircase to another but not by much and they have to be consistent and ideally consistent through the full height of that staircase. Just watch how many people stumble at the top and bottom of an escalator if it has stopped moving so after a number of abnormally high steps you get into a rhythm for the stride and then hit two or three very shallow steps at the end. It is interesting that even though people clearly understand the escalator has stopped many still stumble.

The number of steps in a flight or often flights, if there are intermediate landings, is determined by the height between a floor and the levels of the floors immediately above and below. Curiously, of course, the thickness of any floor or ceiling structure is irrelevant … you climb not from the floor to the ceiling but from the floor to the level of the floor above. 

Then there are general ideas about the acceptable width of each flight that have to be taken into account - narrow is fine on a back staircase but looks and feels inadequate or mean for a main staircase in a public building - and the need for handrails or not will influence a design and in many countries handrails are required to comply with planning laws. 


the spiral staircase to one end of the atrium at the centre of the Copenhagen Business School - CBS Kilen by Lundgaard & Tranberg 2005. Elegant and complicated with wedge-shaped landings bridging across from the stair to the galleries. Note the leather covered handrail and the zig-zag of wire rather than rails or balusters as a clear appreciation of forms and style from the mid 20th century  


The form of construction of a staircase has a major impact … so if the staircase has single straight flights, or has intermediate landings, or has an open stairwell or is built around a solid core these features of the plan and the implications for the way each type of staircase is constructed and will influence how the staircase looks and how it is used. 

All that may sound very obvious but then the whole business becomes much more complicated when the position of the bottom and top steps of a staircase are determined by the position of doorways or there might be certain major alignments through a sequence of rooms in moving from the entrance to the main space within the building so, for instance, it is generally better to look up the first flight of the staircase as you approach from an entrance rather than going under the staircase and then doubling back although that can be more dramatic. 

Finally, in terms of the staircase in the plan of a building overall, the staircase might be a circulation space, might be on an important route through the building and may be important simply because it has a role as a symbol of status. There are town houses and palaces with grand staircases that go up to humble and badly-designed rooms never to be seen by the public but a guest walking across the foot of the staircase and looking up is not to know that the primary function of the staircase is to impress them with what they think might be up stairs rather what is actually there. The architecture of deception is a whole subject in itself. 


At the centre of the addition to the Royal Library by Schmidt Hammer & Lassen from 1999 is a dramatic double flight of moving pavements to get from the street level to the main first floor but from there up through the levels of the reading rooms are superbly designed 'secondary' staircases ... engineering design at its best. Note the precise cutting back of the glass at the end of the handrail because you might want or have to hold the end of the rail as you turn onto or come off the steps


Inevitably, any later modifications to the plan of a building will have an effect on the function of the staircase - many buildings have a long life and can be altered significantly as change of use or fashions mean that changes to staircases are necessary - so increasing the height of rooms on one floor will mean extra steps in the staircase that might mean a different position for the top or bottom step or both and having to move a doorway could mean it now lines up with the middle of a flight rather than a landing. So if the change to a room or sequence of rooms is more important than keeping the existing staircase then it is the stair that has to be altered or rebuilt. 

To return briefly to the business of handrails, one way of judging the design of a staircase, as you walk up or down, just move your arm and hand out to the handrail. If you have to bend your elbow to move your hand upwards to reach the handrail or, worse, have to stoop down then there is something wrong with the design or, in some very interesting but relatively rare examples, you have proof that the steps were altered but no one got around to adjusting the position of the handrail. Judge an architect by how they deal with the handrail at landings or with the handrail when there are winders. 

As the staircase is often the most expensive single fitting then replacing a staircase is rarely undertaken casually although having said that, staircases do follow changes of fashion and certainly reflect advancements in building technology so often updating a staircase and simply redecorating the rooms off a staircase in a more up-to-date style can transform a building even when the basic structure and layout remains much as built.

And one other problem, one that few people, other than architects and carpenters and builders, will appreciate, until it is pointed out, is that it is rash to see a staircase simply in terms of its plan … it has to be designed in three dimensions because there has to be adequate head room above anyone at all levels as they walk up and down.

Designing a staircase is always a complicated 3D puzzle. 


Town Hall Lyngby by Ib Martin Jensen and Hans Erling Langkilde 1938-1941.


The staircase can also be the most difficult part of construction work as omitting or removing floor beams for the open space of the stair hall means weakening structural integrity and flights of steps and landings have to be properly supported. That is particularly important in a public building, where a large number of people can be on a staircase at the same time and curiously insist on walking on the outer edge of a flight to look up and down the stairwell rather than perhaps more sensibly walking close against the wall where any load can be best supported. 

Theatres and opera houses usually have complicated staircases - not least because nearly everybody in the building is arriving and leaving at the same time and the main space is usually not a level floor but is sloping or raked. Do you come in at the bottom and walk up aisles to your seat or enter at the top row and walk down to your seat or are there entrance points at several levels? 

A grand theatre will have grand staircases to take grand people up to private boxes or to a circle at first-floor level while lesser mortals will have to get up steep, narrow and often strictly functional staircases to upper levels and very often those staircases are accessed from a side street and not from the posh entrance foyer and of course there have to be staircases for performers to get up or down to the stage from dressing rooms or rehearsal spaces. Cinemas have similar problems but are usually more egalitarian although multi-screen cinemas create some interesting problems with controlling access to staircases. 

One of the most interesting historic buildings I surveyed was a very early cinema in the north of England. It was interesting mainly for being one of those I-had-never-thought-about-that moments. The main public staircases were much as you would expect. It was the projection room that was interesting. The film was projected out through a narrow slot just above the heads of the top or back row of the balcony. The projection room was like a concrete box … well not like a concrete box … it was a concrete box … and the flight of steps up into the space was narrow with bare concrete steps and walls and being there felt like being in some sort of war-time bunke. And then I remembered that of course early film was nitrate celluloid that was highly flammable and serious accidents did happen if a projector - basically a large hot bulb - overheated. People did die in cinema fires. At least that is one problem that architects do not have to take into account now when designing the staircases in a new cinema.


Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was built between 1892 and 1906. The museum and gallery was extended in the 1990s when Henning Larsens built new galleries for the French collection almost as a free-standing building within a courtyard. The staircase to the galleries was constructed in the space between the new building and the external walls of the courtyard retaining arches and other features. The space is top lit so has a sense of ambiguity half interior half the feeling of being outside and the steps are shallow controlling the speed you walk up and down. Visitors slow down and tend to talk quite quietly so the design of the staircase sets a tone ...


Finally natural light on staircases can be difficult … if a stair window is behind you as you walk up a flight then it will throw a potentially dangerous shadow across the steps and if it is in front of you, shining down the flight, then people on the staircase can be momentarily confused if walking towards a bright light … and of course … in a building … any windows also have to fit with any wider and important design principle for the facade for the pattern or arrangement of the fenestration.

But get the design and the lighting right on a staircase and the experience of walking up and down the flights can lift not just the feet but the spirit as well.

So no … staircases are not easy to design.




For a particularly good example of how you design staircases to get people up and down as quickly and as safely as possible … see an earlier post on the design of metro stations in Copenhagen.

can cladding be good or bad or is it just cladding?

Some people get upset when they see an apostrophe in the wrong place on a shop sign and seem to spend half their life looking for examples in order to be offended. Some graphic designers can name a font from 100 metres away and tell you the date and the name of the foundry or the designer and for many it's Comic Sans that sets them off. Me? Well I get worked up about cladding.

OK that's a slight exaggeration but I've spent my working life looking at and taking photographs of and writing about buildings so it really is hard to switch off. Walking along a street, I’ll suddenly spot an interesting or curious feature and then I realise, although I was not conscious that I was doing it, I've been scanning and registering buildings as I'm walking. Perhaps that's why it's difficult sometimes for me to understand that, for lots of different reasons, other people don't even see the awful buildings all around them or, come to that, appreciate when a building has been designed with enormous care.

If I mention cladding then you'll probably look slightly blank … then possibly recall that it's a word for the planks that people nail on the outside of garden sheds. But even architects can be a bit vague when talking about cladding and some manufacturers use the term façade panel and many use the word generically for the exterior skin of a modern building and some only where it is a curtain wall. Using that tighter definition of curtain wall construction is probably a good starting point and so that's where the different levels of a structure are built in concrete or in steel and are supported by pillars or piers in reinforced concrete or steel so external walls do not actually carry any load. So, when it comes to the facades, then anything goes … anything that keeps out the rain and keeps out or keeps in heat and keeps out … or keeps in … noise.

One benefit/problem with concrete or steel-framed buildings now is that there is a general sense of freedom … a sense or possibly the misconception that the outer face of the building, its cladding, does not have to be related to the interior spaces or to the functions of the building in any direct way. For many architects that has released them from conventional restraints - anything is possible and anything should be possible. Recently I read an article by one of the team who worked with Zaha Hadid who said that many of her ideas could not be realised until computer drafting in 3D was developed to deal with the complex shapes the cladding of those buildings form. 

Also, of course, materials can now be shipped in from any manufacturer anywhere in the World so, even if that seems exciting or adventurous or exotic, it begins to undermine the specific character and continuity of place. And those materials cover an enormous range of colours and textures, including shaped and tinted glass, plastics of various forms, artificial stones and coloured and preformed panels of concrete and sheets of metal that will have no relationship to traditional local building materials. 

So some of the new buildings along the harbour in Copenhagen could be anywhere in the World and are ambiguous in terms of a possible date - they could have been constructed at any stage in the last 40 years - and, with several of those buildings, it is unclear from the outside if they are apartments or offices and, when it is an office building, it's not obvious if they have a civic function or are let to a fast turnaround of small companies or are the global headquarters of a vastly profitable organisation. Quite often an ambiguous or bland exterior can be used deliberately to conceal what is happening inside … although of course the opposite is interesting where a flash and brash exterior to a building is used to exaggerate the importance of what is actually going on inside and is much more mundane than the front suggests. 

Cladding does not have to be novel or exotic - many building have brick or tile on the front but when you look carefully at the joins you can see they were applied as large, pre-formed panels - rather like a veneer - and that is completely unrelated to the traditional way those materials have been used in the past. This might seem proscriptive or even puritanical but one of the key principles of good design is that good design should be honest about the materials and honest about the method of manufacture or construction. Perhaps the easiest way to explain that is to look back to an early use of moulded plastic. Early household pieces in plastic would imitate glass … often ornate and highly coloured glass or might even imitate cut glass - basically to produce a cheap version - but the products looked wrong and certainly felt wrong because when you picked them up they were much lighter than you expected. Plastic is a fantastic material but only when it is used in ways that exploit it's own qualities. Plastic is a perfectly acceptable material for cladding as long as it looks like plastic and not, for instance, when it is given a colour and fake grain to pretend that it is timber.

If buildings work in the way planned and don't actually look horrendous - simply boring or nondescript - does the cladding matter? And doesn't it make the street or the square more interesting if architects and builders make buildings look a bit more … well … exciting. Who needs drab in a drab life? 

But I'm not saying that buildings should be boring and deferential. I admire clever architect who are pushing the boundaries but I'm worried if a developer or their architect is simply being lazy; being bolshie or testing the limits just to be controversial or they are in a hurry or simply didn't think they had the time to think or because it was the cheapest option or because they think it is fashionable in the sense of being trendy or edgy. Today's edgy tends to be tomorrows tiring and boring.

I'm not sure I will convince anyone that cladding spotting is interesting or fun but maybe you can agree that inappropriate use of inappropriate cladding diminishes the quality of the urban setting of all our lives.


cladding in Copenhagen


the south end of the harbour in Copenhagen looking across to the Gemini  building by MVRDV and JJW Architects converted from silos to form 84 apartments in 2005


There are so many large new buildings in Copenhagen that the city could claim to have the International Reference Collection of Cladding. 

At the very least, if architectural students want to look at what is possible with different types of external wall for new concrete or steel-framed buildings then the city would be a good starting point.

I'm not saying that many of these examples are bad … no value judgements were intended … as they say … to avoid litigation. But some are curious in a bad way and many are curious in a good way … quirky or challenging or very revealing about what the architect or the planner or the client was trying to achieve.

Some are actually amazing and outstanding and tell us much about how and why architecture developed so rapidly in terms of both engineering and building technology through the 20th century and most might be worth looking at because they are interesting to think about … if it's not raining and you are not in a hurry.


early buildings with facing or cladding on a concrete or steel construction:


Copenhagen Teknisk Skole, Julius Thomsens Gade from 1938 by S C Larsen and Aage Rafn. The building is faced in brick rather than constructed in brick. Bricks over the windows in a conventional construction would have to have a lintel or a flat arch to support the weight of the wall above and stop the bricks dropping down. Here the facing bricks must be set against either a steel girder or the concrete floor


Vesterport commercial building Vesterbrogade 1932 by Ole Falkenthorp and Povl Baumann - an early and large steel-framed building with reinforced concrete floors with the exterior faced with copper


Arne Jacobsen - 

Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) was one of the most important architects of the mid 20th century. He was one of the first Danish architects to establish an International reputation but the majority of the buildings he designed are in and around his home city of Copenhagen. He established a style that was intrinsically restrained, simple by the standards of many contemporary buildings yet explored and pushed forward engineering solutions for building types that we now take for granted ... so he refined the planning of complicated arrangements of civic offices, designed factories and petrol stations and new forms of housing. In these buildings he also explored new construction methods and, inevitably, experimented with cladding materials for buildings that were constructed with a framework of concrete and steel. Working on both innovative and important commissions, many of the materials he used were of the highest quality.



Arne Jacobsen faced several buildings with tiles - here in 1937 for the building for A Stelling at Gammel Torv 6 in Copenhagen



The Texaco Service Station on Strandvejen from 1937. Technically amazing for the date with the great concrete canopy above the petrol pumps on a single support but the kiosk and the adjoining car wash are clad in white tiles. Note how the markers of the clock face fit rationally with the lines of grout between the tiles and the glass blocks in the wall of the car wash fit precisely into the coursing of the tiles with two special tiles, with part cut out and with rounded edges, were made to fit precisely. Some would argue this is obsessive but it would stand out and be intrusive if it was badly done.


Søllerød town hall by Arne Jacobsen from 1942. A reinforced- concrete frame faced in marble from Porsgrund with copper clad roof. The success of the facade depends on the proportions of the design and the quality of the stonework as it has been stripped deliberately of architectural articulation with no plinths, no cornice and no architraves to the window openings. Somehow, though, this is not a stark minimalism ... rather it is architectural rationalism.


Jespersen & Son Nyropsgade Copenhagen by Arne Jacobsen 1955. Here again it is the precision of the design and the proportions of the panels and their relationships that makes the front so elegant


Housing in Rødovre by Jacobsen from the 1950s. This type of facade has not proved popular for domestic buildings


Rødovre town hall

completed in 1956 - marble cladding on a concrete structure


The National Bank in Copenhagen by Jacobsen that was completed in 1971. It is perhaps his most sophisticated game with design and cladding in the city - creating panels and layers above the monumental blocks of stone that face the ground-floor level

Facing or cladding materials:


Den Danske Scenekunstskole, Per Knutzons Vej - a modern building on Holmen with timber cladding

Radiohuset, Frederiksberg by Vilhelm Lauritzen and completed in 1956

Fyrtårnet, Amerika Plads. Apartment buildings by Lundgaard and Tranberg 2007. Unusual use of slate hanging particularly for a high tower. Note the bent pins holding the overlapping slates in place.


CPH Conference Tietgensgade from 2009 by PLH Arkitekter and Schmidt Hammer and Lassen - glass curtain wall at its best?

The glass reflects but also takes on the colours from nearby buildings and in sunlight the shadows on and inside the building add to the complexity


the huge area of glass and its support system of wires at the centre of the harbour front of the Royal Library - the Black Diamond - by Schmidt Hammer Lassen completed in 1999

Architects House,

Strandgade by 3XN from 1996. These details of the back of the building - towards the harbour - show an intricate design grid that links together the panels of a glass-roofed box and facing blocks on the archway. Horizontal lines continue into the building where there is a skeletal or grid-like staircase set just back from the window wall. This is a sophisticated game with lines and planes to create a building that is like complex three-dimensional graph paper


concrete balcony and facing blocks on one of the apartment towers at Bellahøjhusene housing scheme from 1951-1956



the headquarters of Mærsk in Copenhagen

Knippelsbro with copper cladding - originally known as Store Amager Bro or Langebro - this bridge was designed by Kaj Gottlob and opened in 1937

Blue Planet by 3XN competed in 2013 with a steel frame clad in aluminium



copper cladding and rounded corners of the tower at Amerika Plads by Arkitema from 2004

The Mountain - an apartment building from 2008 by BIG and JDS. There are three distinct types of cladding with timber on the south-east side, on the terraces of apartments, but to the east, north and west the lower level has panels of aluminium pierced with holes that create an image of a mountain range and above, for the apartments themselves, plain metal sheet in regular courses and blocks suggesting ashlar 

Toldbodgade 13 by BBP Arkitekter 2012 with perforated metal for the front and for horizontal shutters


Zinkhuset Amerika Plads with 60 apartments around a courtyard. Designed by Holsøe Arkitekter and completed in 2008. The strips of zinc vary in width but are consistent for the full height and carefully respect the edge of the openings or fenestration to give the building an interesting vertical emphasis. The colour is a dull grey green known in 17th-century England as 'drab'


Krøyers Plads by Vilhelm Lauritzen and COBE 2016. Brickwork on large modern buildings is regularly used to give a more traditional look. Applied as a thin face, rather than used structurally, the brickwork does not have to have conventional courses or bonding patterns. Here the effect is slightly curious as the 'frogs' - the hollow normally in the top of the brick to take more mortar, and therefore normally hidden - is turned outwards and the brinks in each course are only slightly staggered with very narrow 'bats' at the end of every other course to fill the gap. The effect, with the thick mortar against the sharp precision of the window frames, is, if anything slightly crude, but then I guess my taste is boringly staid


Horten 3XN 2009. The distinct faceted face to the building has a new type of panel developed for this building with layers of fibreglass sandwiching high-insulating foam


The shaped glass panels of the Saxo Bank building by 3XN from 2008 against one of the three towers of Punkthusene by Vilhelm Lauritzen from 2009

Both Horten and these buildings are part of the redevelopment of Tuborg Havn in Hellerup immediately north of Copenhagen



- a school designed by COBE and completed in 2014. The very unusual facing material is brick slats described as ceramic lamella. The detail of the fixing, hidden on the building, was photographed at the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre in the Autumn 2016 on the work of COBE - Our Urban Living Room

some odd problems with cladding?



This building has cladding that tries to imitate the coursing of ashlar blocks but has problems at the corners so curiously it ends up looking more like paving slabs applied to the building


Ordrupgaard Museum - north of Copenhagen. The addition by Zaha Hadid was completed in 2005.  A curiously inappropriate shape that dominates an historic house and good gardens. There are certainly odd problems resolving how the building sits on the ground - the external finish is described as black lava concrete


Tower at Ørestads Boulevard 106 with a dramatic north wall that bows inwards towards the base but there are problems reconciling the glazing with the shape of the silhouette and there is a slightly curious effect with the heavy dark frames of windows forming a vertical line of squares above the entrance


8House by BIG. Apartments over shops and offices completed in 2010. The plan is complex around two courtyards with access from a sloping walkway so adjoining apartments are at different levels and the courtyard facades are made more complex by upper floors over sailing and angled balconies that are in part enclosed to provide some privacy. The result is an incredibly complex patchwork of cladding ... visually irrational and possibly with problems with joins. Every piece of cladding is a different shape creating a feeling of restlessness and at the upper level the top lines of windows appear to be sliding apart horizontally. The concept is brilliant and I am sure that Bjarke Ingels would argue, and probably be right to argue, that with constraints on budgets and with time scales it is better to build first and worry about drain pipes and cladding later.

Bohrs Tårn and the buildings immediately north of the new Carlsberg suburban railway station by Vilhelm Lauritzen. A curious mixture of cladding types and odd junctions of different facades that somehow makes the cladding look like wallpaper. Is this architecture where facades have been reduced to surfaces or is it no longer necessary to relate cladding to the structure, plan, function and engineering of the building?

P-Hus Lüders - Parking House Lüders - Nordhavn Copenhagen


Copenhagen is the city of bikes. There are said to be more bikes than people … five bikes for every four people … and the statistics are mind boggling. Each day people in the city cycle 1.27 million kilometres. I’m not sure how that was calculated but if it was organised as a relay race it would be the equivalent of team Copenhagen riding around the World 1,000 times EVERY DAY.

There are five times more bikes than cars in the city but of course that doesn’t mean that there are no cars in Copenhagen … you can pile all your shopping plus all the kids and an elderly relative onto a cargo bike without any problems but how else could you get that lot out to the summerhouse without a car?

So for maybe 20 years, with many of the new apartment buildings constructed along the harbour and around the city, a common solution is to excavate first and build underground parking below the block.

The other planning imperative in the city is for open space where children can play and adults exercise … despite all that cycling an amazing number in the city run and then insist on adding a few pull ups and squats. This means that many larger apartment buildings have a courtyard with play or exercise equipment or apartment buildings are set around a public square or open space with play and exercise equipment. This seems to resolve several problems. Apartments in Copenhagen are generally larger than in cities like London or New York or Hong Kong - many are over 100 square metres and some over 200 - but even with balconies that does not stop people getting stir crazy and needing open space but also, of course, attractive space, used in a practical way, means that public space is appreciated and well used public space is much less likely to be vandalised.

In the new development in Nordhavn a slightly different approach to the problem of parking cars and getting exercise is being tried. The density of housing that is being built on former dock yards is higher than that of many recent developments and presumably excavation of deep car parks, on what has only been solid land reclaimed from the sea about 100 years ago, would be a challenge so here at Helsinkigade the solution is to build a large well-equipped public square and then hoik it up into the air by 24 metres and slip a multi-storey car park underneath.


model for the extensive new development around Århusgade in Nordhavn that is currently part of the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre on the work of the architectural studio of COBE. P-Hus Lüders is at the centre of the three buildings - on the far side of the canal - with the pronounced angle of the east end following the alignment of the canal. There are apartment buildings on either side and shows clearly the proximity of the Silo - just to the right - to the north - but set further back and there is the distinct shape of the two giant cylinders of the former concrete silo to the left - to the south - and set back slightly from the wharf of the Nordhavn basin. 


A competition in 2013 for a design was won by jaja architects and the work was completed and opened in the Autumn of 2016.

It is a substantial building, roughly rectangular although the east end is set at an angle determined by a canal between the main area and an oddly angled island beyond to the east. Parking is accessed from the ground level with seven floors or decks of parking above. There is a massive circular ramp for cars is at the east end and rather than having separate ramps, for going up and coming down, this has two lanes together so like a road spiralling to the top. Space around the ramp is dramatic, open through the full height. There are places for bikes to be left here and there will be lockers where people can leave possessions while they exercise on the roof … yup this is for serious exercise.

Access to the roof is by long straight flights of steps with one staircase up the south side rising to a landing at the east end of the south side but with intermediate landings at each level. The north staircase actually starts on the east side of the building, by the entrance to the bike store, and then turns the north-east corner to continue up the north side and again with intermediate landings at each level and each landing with a door into a parking level.


the full run of the staircase that rises up the south side of the building to the north-east corner of the building ... one of two staircases that give access to the car decks and the roof

the east end of the south side of the car park (above) and the staircase with pierced panels of Corten steel and planters (below)

portrait of Ferdinand Lüders at the landing of the north staircase at the north-east corner of the building

detail of the pierced holes in the sheets of Corten steel that face the building - there are doorways at each landing of the external staircases for access to the car decks


Perhaps the most striking feature of the building itself is the metal cladding. For adequate ventilation much of the metal sheet is an open-weave grill but on the staircases there are large sheets of Corten steel 3mm thick pierced with 20mm holes - like pixels on a screened newspaper image - to form a montage of scenes and characters from the historic docks in a bold design by Rama Studios. Their web site has drawings of the whole design and good photographs of the Corten panels as they were fixed into position as work on the building progressed.

The steel has the normal deep rust-red colour of Corten and this is picked up not just by the red metalwork of the exercise and gym equipment and the handrail of the staircases but also in red concrete for the steps of the staircases and large red planters on the side of the building at various levels that presumably will hold trailing plants.

The building is named after Ferdinand Lüders who came from from Odense and was a naval officer who trained as a mechanical engineer. He was an inspector of naval dockyards before being employed in Copenhagen from 1860 to build docks and wharves and was promoted to “harbour captain” or master of the port. The road was called Lüdersvej until 2013 when it was renamed Helsinkigade.


On the roof there is fixed equipment for a cross training gym and a sprint course as well as areas for ball games although the fencing is relatively low so if play gets a bit over enthusiastic then it’s a long way down and back to retrieve a ball.

For children there are swings and trampolines, climbing ropes and at the centre an amazing spiral rope walk. The surface is soft and in shades of red with red painted metalwork for all the equipment and the red is taken down the building as the colour for the handrails of the staircases.

From the roof there are incredible views across the city to the south and west, to the northern area of Nordhavn and the terminal for cruise ships and across the harbour and the sound to the east.


Konditaget Lüders

jaja architects

Rama Studio



above: the view from the roof of the car park across the harbour to Refshaleøen and the new incinerator on Amager

below: the view east towards the triangular fort that guarded the entrance to the harbour and beyond the sound and the Swedish coast


to the north of the car park some parts of the container port are still in operation. Beyond the crane is the large area of land where there is to be major development and just to the right of the crane are the distinct roofs of the buildings of the cruise ship terminal


Lundgaard and Tranberg


CBS Kilen, Kilevej 14, Frederiksberg 2005


For a city of its size, Copenhagen seems to have a disproportionate number of top architects. Some, like Bjarke Ingels, with his rise to international prominence, may now work as often on buildings in New York or London or Dubai or Shanghai as in Denmark but actually, over the last 20 years, there has been so much building work in the city - so much new and high-quality architecture commissioned and completed - that one aspect of the city that might not be more widely appreciated, is that here you can see not just several but many buildings by each single practice or design studio and you can trace, within a tight and accessible geographic area, how their careers and how their ideas have evolved. 

That means for the student, or for anyone interested in architecture and buildings, because the city is still relatively compact, you can get to see these buildings quite easily. And you begin to see that within that broad group of contemporary Copenhagen architects you can discern very different interests, even obsessions, or, more politely, to see how each architect can have a different focus that becomes not so much a specialisation but in effect a signature. 

Walking around Amager to look at the works from the first ten years or so of the designs by Bjarke Ingels, I think I see a man who loves the city - so he often uses well-established themes or planning forms - but he hates the fact it is so flat. He wants to be a downhill skier - actually literally at the Amager incinerator - in a place that does not even have that much chance for cross country. So he twists and tilts … if you can't build on a mountain you build a mountain under the building.

Buildings by 3XN in the city seem to focus on an open core for the circulation through a building that comes back to an atrium and often a phenomenally complicated staircase - so these are inward looking, cerebral building - while the architects at Cobe appear to work in absolutely the opposite direction to bring the outside in so barriers or boundaries become blurred but they also give the outside space fittings and functions of the interior but just without a ceiling.

With the buildings in the city by Lundgaard and Tranberg, some of those same features appear - obviously - so the Kilen building at the Copenhagen Business School has an amazing atrium and staircase as the main internal circulation area - the point everyone comes back to - but they have also opened up the entrances on both sides to welcome people to walk straight through so that the atrium becomes a public square on the way from one place to another. 

But if there is one clear and essential quality with all their buildings in the city, it seems to be a focus on the colour and the surfaces of the exterior in a very thoughtful, very careful and very sophisticated way. They play with and control texture and colour and tone and reflection in very different ways in each building. It's a subtle approach and not something tangible - a form or plan or feature - in common between the design and appearance of different buildings. It’s not even a style, as such, but an astute awareness of the quality of the natural light in the city that is the constant.

Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter


CBS Kilen, Kilevej 14, Frederiksberg 2005. The building appears to be raised above street level on a grass mound. Approaching from the south the entrance is at the centre and gives access to the central atrium with doors out of this public area on the opposite side. The atrium is at street level but on either side there are steps and blocks up that can be used for seating where people sit and have coffee or sit and talk and the main rooms at either end of the building are at what is, in effect, a raised ground floor level. The internal steps of the atrium are continued on the outside on either side of the entrance to form seating areas that are presumably used in the summer.


CBS Kilen, showing the entrance from the south and showing clearly the columns of the floor structure set well back from the windows and panels of the exterior. The atrium with its dramatic staircase is not only a central space for circulation within the building but the central area on each long side seems to drop down through the line of the embankment that forms the base of the building to make the opposed doors a cross route through the building. 


Tietgenkollegiet, Rued Langgårdsvej 10-18, Copenhagen student housing from 2006. Student accommodation around a circular courtyard. Student rooms are on the outside and look out over the campus while common rooms and balconies look inwards to the courtyard to reinforce a sense of community.


Skuespilhuset - The Royal Danish Playhouse - Sankt Annæ Plads 36, Copenhagen 2007. The large tower is the fly tower above the stage. Long thin, dark grey bricks used for the main facades were developed specifically for this building. The east wall of the theatre looks out over a broad board walk or jetty and the harbour beyond ... this area is the restaurants and the foyer to the theatre itself, which is at the centre of the building. The band of glass above that is jettied or cantilevered out is actually dressing rooms and offices with lower levels and seating immediately on front of the glass so actors and staff retain a strong sense of the outside world. The glass is tinted but also picks up the strong colours and reflected light that comes up off the water


Charlottehaven, Strandboulevarden 76-88, Copenhagen 2002. The design here is more conventional ... certainly more regular with clear references to the style and form of Copenhagen apartment buildings from the past ... from the 1930s and 1940s and 50s. The courtyard is large - long from north to south and enclosed on the east side by a series of detached blocks although buildings at ground level are continuous and maintain the sense of enclosure and privacy. Here the colour palette is soft greys and mauves. The planting of sedges and grasses and pines is particularly good but there are still the bike sheds and play equipment you would expect but carefully integrated onto the arrangement of paths and open areas  


SEB Bank and Pension, Bernstorffsgade 44, Copenhagen 2010. Between the two blocks is a steep slope of paths that zig-zag up and the area is densely planted with conifers and larches to form an urban woodland. The cladding of the building has a vertical accent with the panels and windows being of various widths but with the width consistent for the full height. Colours are the deep blues and turquoise greens that go back to the period of Arne Jacobsen and earlier in the city 


Pakhuset På Langelinie, Langelinie Allé, Copenhagen 2015. Here the use of red brick was determined by an over riding scheme for the quay where the new buildings are very deep, substantial blocks, that pick up the scale and the simple form of the massive brick-built historic warehouses of the inner harbour. The trial section of the roof that was built on the quay adjoining the construction site offices is a fairly common requirement for planning where the architects and the builders show what the building really will look like and it can be used as a clear guide to what was agreed in case finishes or designs are modified as work actually proceeds. 


Axel Towers, Axeltorv 2, Copenhagen ... nearing completion. The cladding is copper. This group of circular towers is close to the north side of the Tivoli Gardens but not far from the large copper-clad building on Vesterbrogade by Povl Baumann and Ole Falkentorp from 1932 so the new building will pick up a well-established material and colour tone for buildings in this part of the city


to clad or to cover …..

DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen by Jean Nouvel 2009


Cladding, the general term for the external skin of a modern building, comes from the word to clothe - to clad - and with that meaning can be traced back in written English to the 1570s but the use of textiles or, more specifically woven materials, is conventional for clothing but on the exterior of buildings is still relatively unusual in European architecture.

Of course textiles are used extensively inside buildings to control how much sunlight comes into a room or to cover windows for privacy, to stop or at least restrict people outside from looking in, and textiles are used for heat insulation and to dampen down sound, particularly in a large space, but it is less conventional and less common, for some fairly obvious reasons, to use woven materials on the exterior.

Robust canvas is used for temporary structures such as tents or large marquees and for awnings but for more permanent use, throughout the year, then synthetic materials are better at resisting water, should be less susceptible to mould and should have less problems with shrinking or stretching or fading in bright sunlight.  

A summerhouse in Jørlunde, designed by Dorte Mandrup 2004, has terraces within the overall outer shell of the building and these can be closed off with large sliding screens or panels of synthetic textile for privacy or for shade or to form internal but unroofed spaces so these are like external curtains or blinds. 

But in some buildings woven materials have been used on a larger scale in what appear to be more structural ways.

DR Koncerthuset - Concert House - at DR Byen to the south of the city centre in Copenhagen or rather at the north edge of Ørestad, is one of four large new buildings for the Danish national broadcasting corporation. Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, it was completed 2009.


It is a substantial and complex building with concert halls and a large entrance hall but it is encased in a striking and visually simple blue box of PVC coated polyester mesh. With an extensive metal framework, the woven outer face is supported well in front of windows … in fact so far forward that there is a walkway between the outer box and the walls of glass of the building itself. This woven outer cover shields the interior from direct sunlight to reduce heat gain on sunny days and prevent glare. There is a view out from the inside but during the day the mesh obscures the view into the building from outside. On this scale it might be assumed that the woven outer box would be held taut but actually sections can be raised like giant Roman blinds giving the building a slightly domestic feeling - be it on a giant scale - but at night there is real drama as the raised sections create patterns of bright light and sections of the facades can be used for the projection of images. 


Frederiksberg immediately to the west of Copenhagen, has a large shopping centre - Frederiksberg Centret or FRB.C that was completed in 1996 as one of the first major buildings that were part of an extensive new development on the site of railway yards and also part of the construction of the new metro. Around 2000 a broader area plan was drawn up by the Copenhagen architects Henning Larsen. That initial shopping centre, in brick, faced directly onto the main street Falkoner Allé with service roads on the north and south sides but was rather lower than adjoining buildings in what is a fairly densely built-up street scape and, in that intervening period, the shopping centre has become part of a more extensive pedestrian area of squares to the west with major new or remodelled civic buildings including a school or Gymnasium, the remodelled main library and, most recently, new law courts and, further west, new buildings for the Copenhagen business school.

The shopping centre has been extended and remodelled by the architectural practice of Krohn Hartvig Rasmussen with the work completed in 2015. The long north and south sides have become much more important, the south side in particular with surviving buildings from the old railway station on the site and the external steps down to the metro station and connects Falkoner Allé to the east with the civic buildings and squares to the west. The shopping centre has been raised in height and new shops added and the exterior of the two long sides have been covered with a taut membrane that is tensioned over a frame to create bold faceted geometric shapes that project out above the ground floor. That structure would not have been possible in more rigid materials because of weight but, as it also covers existing windows to staircases and offices, it has to be in part transparent.

The shapes project out from the original facade to form a series of shallow triangular canopies and the area of the long narrow public space will be used for outdoor markets and other events.


street view from Google recording the construction of the woven panels that now screen the upper part of the shopping centre

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. 


Ofelia Plads

Work on Ofelia Plads - a large, new public space in Copenhagen - has just been completed. 

To the north of the Skuespilhuset (Royal Danish Theatre or Playhouse) is a 19th-century staithe or pier that was constructed parallel to the shore with a basin, Kvæsthusbassinet, and a wharf with a large brick warehouse, now the Admiral Hotel, on the west side and the main channel of the harbour to its east and most recently it was used as the dock for ferries to and from Oslo and to and from the Baltic islands and ports. In an ambitious and extensive engineering project that has just been completed, the pier has been excavated or hollowed out to create a large car park that has three levels below ground (or, perhaps it’s more important to point out, there are three levels below water level in the harbour) and the surface then reinstated with a number of simple, small, low, new, metal clad structures for staircase entrances to the parking levels and ventilation systems.


a photograph from about 1900 showing just how busy the pier was when ships docked on both sides were loaded and unloaded


This hardly sounds devastating or dramatic in terms of city architecture but it actually shows Danish engineering design and urban planning at its very best - very, very well thought through; carefully and efficiently executed and with no attempt or need to show, in any flashy way, just how much money was spent. In fact the project was a gift to the city through a collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Realdania.


there has been an open-air exhibition on the pier with a lot of background history and information about the recent work ... these illustrations were part of the display


The design for this major project was by the Copenhagen architects Lundgaard & Tranberg who completed the theatre itself in 2008 with a board-walk or promenade around the water side of that building so this work on the pier should be seen as the final stage of that project.

About 50 metres wide and over 300 metres long, the pier runs out from the north side of the theatre, and, as rebuilt, it now forms a much more appropriate setting for the theatre in the simplest possible way: it creates a base line or subtle plinth for the theatre when it is seen from the north and it completes and links together an increasingly popular area immediately around the theatre, where citizens meet to sit in the sun or walk to look over the harbour. 

Kvæsthusbassinet, a large basin to the west of the pier, between the pier and a massive historic brick warehouse that is now the Admiral hotel, is 8 metres deep and the refurbishment of the pier has been designed so that large ships can still dock here.

On one of my first visits to the city I stayed in the hotel and was given a room on the harbour side. Arriving in the late afternoon, the first thing I did was unpack a few things but suddenly the room became dark and looking up I realised that a huge ferry was coming into the berth. I watched as the pier came alive with people and goods being unloaded, and was amazed at the speed with which the whole area was transformed with noise and people. The harbour area in Copenhagen is amazing now with buildings like the Opera House and the theatre itself and new apartment buildings and new bridges allowing people to get around the area to the masses of events held on or near the water. It is one of the great planning and rejuvenation projects in the World … but … but although two massive cranes survive near the opera house and some of the old dock buildings have been retained, there is less and less sense of the working dock in all its noisy and scruffy and dirty glory and, after all, the harbour and its trade was and is the reason that Copenhagen is here and was the source of the city’s wealth and power. Perhaps many do understand the historical and cultural significance of the harbour but also I do wonder just how many assume that the warehouses were built as expensive apartments and cannot imagine them full of goods from all over the World.

The pier is near the start or, if you are going in the other direction, at the final stage of a wide and pleasant harbour-side walk that now runs from the the major tourist attraction of Nyhavn, around the theatre, past the historic warehouses and the royal palace and on to the Kastellet - part of the 17h-century fortification of the city - on to public gardens on the harbour side used as a setting for sculpture, including the Little Mermaid, and then around a yacht basin to the quay of the Langelinie where many of the cruise ships arrive and berth, and ending, for now, with a view across to the new building for the United Nations - a distance walking of almost 3 kilometres. Curiously this too is part of the long established social history of the city and not simply the result of recent and enlightened planning … although obviously that helps. Citizens have promenaded along the harbour front for centuries, particularly around the ramparts of Kastellet. In part, this must have been because, with the city defences restricting growth outwards, the city became densely packed with houses and then as now public space was valued as a place to exercise and relax.


the view across looking from the harbour side with the basin, the north end of the Admiral Hotel and the dome of the Marble Church and part of the royal palace


from the pier looking across the basin towards Sankt Annæ Plads (above) and from in front of the Admiral Hotel looking across the basin to the rebuilt pier with the main harbour and the Opera House beyond


One key feature of the pier is that it has been kept uncluttered so that it can be the venue for a very wide range of events.

An important feature of the new arrangement of the pier is that in the angle at the end of the basin there are broad shallow steps so people can get down to the water and at the far outer end the pier the surface slopes gently down to the water across the full width to form a beach … again to let people get right down to the water. It also gives a sense of the harbour being open to the sea and tidal as the water rises and drops back or floods with the wash from a passing boat. 


Realdania Kvæsthusprojektet

Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter


* Maybe this sounds more dramatic than it is in reality ... the harbour is tidal but the maximum tidal range is about 12cm which explains why this type of project is possible although ongoing research on the effects of global warming and changes to patterns of severe weather has suggested that, in certain conditions, in the future, there could be tidal surges from the south that could have an impact on the city and on property along the water front.