housing, Arne Jacobsen

apartment buildings from the 1930s

'Lagkagehuset' Torvegade 1931 designed by Edvard Johan Thomsen (1884-1980)

 

In Copenhagen, the plan of apartment buildings - the way that rooms in each apartment and the staircases and entrance halls were arranged - developed through the first decades of the 20th century. 

In terms of layout, there was not a sudden change in the number of rooms in an apartment or their arrangement in the 1920s and 1930s but apartments became more compact and certainly less likely to extend backwards from the street block into back ranges. 

By the 1920s, many purpose-built apartment blocks in the city, particularly large new buildings for social housing, were still set out around a courtyard with some buildings occupying a complete city block and most were of five or six storeys but there was a change because where courtyards had service buildings in them, then these were low, only a single storey, to keep the courtyard open, light and uncluttered. 

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Arne Jacobsen, mid-century buildings

Arne Jacobsen - buildings for Novo Nordisk

 

In a period when most major architects have an international career, working on commissions almost anywhere in the World, it is relatively unusual for any to return to work for the same client again or to add new buildings to an earlier commission but Arne Jacobsen worked for the company Novo Nordisk through his career, designing first a villa in Klampenborg in 1933 for Thorvald Pedersen, a founding director and owner of the company, and then factories and housing, for workers in the company, and one of Jacobsen’s last commissions was a finishing plant for Novo in Mainz in 1970, the year before his death.

At one site, in an outer district of Copenhagen in the west part of the city and on the north edge of Fredriksberg, Jacobsen designed three separate buildings for Novo over a period of well over 35 years and it is fascinating, with that single group of buildings, to see distinct phases in the architect’s career. 

Of course the buildings also reflect wider changes of style over a period that covers almost the complete span of Jacobsen’s professional life but you can see how ideas were developed from other buildings he was working on or how he returned to certain ideas and, in revisiting, took the idea in a different direction. Also, of course, the buildings reflect how the form of factories changed in this period with rapid advances in engineering; major changes in production methods and simply changes in the scale of production that required ever larger and ever more specialised buildings to house specific processes.

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Arne Jacobsen, historic buildings

Søllerød Town Hall

In 1939 Arne Jacobsen and Flemming Lassen won an open competition to design a new town hall, a new library and a theatre in Søllerød.

Work on the town hall started almost immediately but, with the onset of war, plans for the theatre and the library were first postponed and then abandoned. 

Completed in 1942, the town hall is stunning but it is a building of curious contradictions …. it is constructed in concrete with concrete and clinker internal walls - making use of new materials and engineering of the most up-to-date buildings of the period - but it is faced with pale, buff-coloured and finely-veined marble from Porsgrunn in Norway so an expensive building material and one more often associated with tradition and status and, certainly, with the implication of a sense of permanence even now not associated with the use of concrete. At the very least, the use of marble for the exterior appears to be a statement that here there had been an investment in a high-quality building that was expected to be in use for many years. 

Although, in many ways, this must have appeared at the time to be an uncompromisingly modern building, the elegant, carefully-proportioned and finely-detailed elevations that Jacobsen designed, owe much to both Functionalism but also to the earlier, well-established Danish architectural style that is generally known as New Classicism in Denmark from twenty or thirty years earlier. 

A new town hall seems to represent stability and optimism for the future, as the old city expanded rapidly out into new suburbs, but it was started in the year that the Spanish Civil War came to an end and just as Europe moved towards an all-encompassing war. 

Above all, although this is the town hall for a new and expanding suburb, the building is not in the densely built-up urban setting of a traditional townscape but has a distinctly rural setting, standing back from the road, beyond a wide area of grass, not in a civic square, but set on a sloping site against the green of the well-established trees of an ancient royal forest.

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Arne Jacobsen, housing

Arne Jacobsen - Ørnegårdsvej, Gentofte

 

Ørnegårdsvej 22-50 and Sløjfen 22-48 (1957) by Arne Jacobsen for A Jespersen & Son

 

For the row houses in Ørnegårdsvej, built in 1957 for A Jespersen & Son, Arne Jacobsen used a form of curtain wall construction - with large areas of window for front and back walls of the terraced rows that are not load bearing. Generally, this is a form of construction that is normally associated with commercial and office buildings, rather than housing, and with metal, aluminium or steel, used for a framework that hold panes of glass or opaque panels, but at Ørnegårdsvej the large areas of glazing on the front and back of the the terraced houses between the solid cross walls have relatively thin timber frames for the windows with teak glazing beads. 

The buildings are listed and original colours on the exterior have been retained although inevitably many of the houses have been restored and some the interiors altered. Doors and some parts of the frames are painted a dull olive green; and blind panels, concrete reinforced with asbestos fibre, are painted grey but tall thin panels, on the line of the cross walls and rising unbroken through both floors, are black. The effect is rather like a painting by Piet Mondrian but in a rather more muted colour scheme.

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Arne Jacobsen, topography

Rødovre City Hall

 

Rødovre is a suburb of Copenhagen and is about seven kilometres west of the centre of the city but inside the outer defences of Copenhagen - the Vestvolden ramparts - that date from the middle of the 1880s. 

Rødovre became an independent municipality in 1901, presumably a rationalisation of local government that reflected growth in the population in the late 19th century but there was extensive building of new houses before and after the second world war. As well as housing here - Islevvænge with 194 row houses - Arne Jacobsen designed a major group of buildings in the centre that included a new City Hall* completed in 1956; a long range of apartments to the east of the City Hall that date from 1959 and between them a library that was designed in 1961 and finished in 1969.

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topography, Arne Jacobsen, library

Rødovre Library

 

Rødovre is a suburb to the west of Copenhagen and was established as an independent municipality in 1901 but it was in the 1950s that a new civic centre was created with a new City Hall designed by Arne Jacobsen on the west side of a new square and completed in 1956. The first plan was to build a library and a new technical school on the east side of the square, facing the city hall, but only the library was built … a larger building than shown on the initial scheme and set slightly further north on the east side of the square with its entrance door immediately opposite the entrance into the City Hall, to form a cross axis to the square.

Not completed until 1969, Jacobsen’s library is a large, flat-roofed, single-storey building, that is clad in dark green/grey stone. In fact, the walls are built in brick and the panels of stone are supported proud of the structural wall with small steel anchors. 

There are no windows breaking through the outer wall - just doorways on the west entrance front (facing the City Hall) and on the east side of the building, immediately opposite the public entrance, as access for staff and services.

There are five open courtyards that are glazed on all four sides to bring natural light into the reading rooms and offices and meeting rooms set around the courtyards.

It is as if the aim was to create an inward-looking building to avoid the distraction of views to the World outside.

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Arne Jacobsen, new building

The SAS Hotel by Arne Jacobsen

The SAS Hotel in Copenhagen - designed by Arne Jacobsen and completed in 1961 - is perhaps the best known and the most widely published building from the Classic period of Danish design.

So, it is not really necessary to go back over the history and the design of the building here but I took a few photographs for a recent post about high buildings in the city for the web site and one thing struck me that, rather stupidly, I had not appreciated before and that is that it is built out over the top of the main railway tracks running into the central station from the north … or at least the lower north part of the hotel and the car park to the west is built across the tracks.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been on trains in and out of the railway station but never once realised that the oddly gloomy area of concrete catacombs that the trains go through beyond the north end of the platforms is actually under the hotel. I went back to the reference books and found out that, with the building of the station and the construction of new lines between the central station and Østerport station in 1917, the area along Vesterbrogade, north of the Tivoli gardens, became an area of major redevelopment for commercial office buildings. To the concern of the city council, one prominent but oddly shaped plot - a long triangle left along the east side of the railway track immediately north of Vesterbrogade - remained undeveloped. On the back of other planning applications they stipulated that work should also be completed on that triangular plot and, to make the site viable commercially, the area over the tracks was covered and the massive new hotel was completed on the extended plot.

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new building, Arne Jacobsen

office building for A Jespersen & Son by Arne Jacobsen

The office building for A Jespersen & Son was designed by Arne Jacobsen and completed in 1955. Just a few streets away from the SAS Hotel, this is an elegant and beautiful building but its apparent simplicity is deceptive … all the details of the facade, the proportions of the separate parts and even the what was then very advanced engineering underlying the construction were very carefully considered. 

Through a precise and exacting process to refine the design, Jacobsen worked very hard to get a building that looks so simple so right by a process of reduction and simplification of not just the overall design but also of all the individual elements.

It is also an important building because, at a remarkably early date, it exploited complex and novel engineering methods with a cantilevered concrete frame that was used to overcome exacting planning stipulations but also made possible an open plan inside the building and incredibly stripped down and sophisticated design for the facades on the exterior. This is not a brutal building but concrete construction at its most subtle and sophisticated.

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housing, topography, streetscape

Bispebjerg Bakke

The apartment buildings at Bispebjerg Bakke were designed by the partnership of the Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard with the architectural practice Boldsen & Holm. Although the apartments were completed in 2007, the initial idea went back many years before that to a conversation between Nørgaard and the chairman of the Association of Craftsmen so, from the start, an important aspect of the scheme was to have a strong link between an artistic concept and its execution with a very high level of craftsmanship.

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housing

Høje Gladsaxe housing scheme

The Spring sunlight was slightly grey and misty which made the tower blocks at Høje Gladsaxe look almost surreal, almost like CGI. Five large towers are set in line on a hillside in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen. Completed in 1968 they were designed by Hoff & Windinge; Jørgen Juul Møller and Kai Agertoft and Alex Poulsen.

Extensive renovation in 1991-1992 by A5 Tegnestuen included glazing in open balconies on the south sides of the blocks although the walkways across the north sides were left open.

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housing

Brondby Strand housing scheme

The weather was bright and clear so it was a good opportunity to head out of Copenhagen to take some photographs of the Brondby Strand housing scheme.

Designed by Svend Høgsbro and Thorvald Dreyer, there are 3,000 housing units that are split between twelve towers with low-level rows of housing between. It was completed in 1973 but the original appearance was modified when the scheme was renovated by Tegnestue Vandkunsten between 1991 and 1993.

From the photographs it is difficult to judge the scale of the development but the towers are set out along a straight road and look down onto a long narrow park running east west for two kilometres.

library

Gentofte Library, Hellerup

Gentofte Library in Hellerup, just north of Copenhagen, was designed by the architectural firm of Henning Larsen and was completed in 1985. Larsen had graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1952 but for 10 months before he graduated he worked in the office of Arne Jacobsen at that point still in the basement of the architects own house in Bellvue, so just up the coast from Hellerup. The influence of Arne Jacobsen can be seen clearly in this building with it’s simple white facades but sophisticated plan, clever use of space and light and the high-quality fittings. There is a freedom of line at Gentofte that is rarely seen in the work of Jacobsen which is based much more on rectilinear forms with almost perfect proportions. What Larsen does at Gentofte is pay homage to Jacobsen by using some of the older architects vocabulary … so the long proportion of the windows at Bellavue and the relationship of window to blank wall, the completely plain white columns

without bases or caps and the recessed large circular ceiling light fittings of Jacobsen’s Rødovre city hall and the restaurant at the SAS Hotel.

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exhibition review, museums + galleries, streetscape

væggen - the wall

 

Last summer the Museum of Copenhagen on Vesterbrogade closed to prepare for its move to Stormgade, close to the City Hall, where it will reopen in 2017.

Until the new museum opens, it is possible to access some of its huge archive of maps and historic images on line or, and much more fun, by visiting Væggen or The Wall that is now set up on Dantes Plads - a couple of blocks south of the City Hall and opposite the Glyptotek.

It is 12 metres long and looks a bit like a railway wagon but smaller and without wheels. One long side hinges and lifts up and out to form a canopy to reveal four large touch screens flanked by smaller display cases. 

One of those cases shows maps and background information about the current location, Dantes Plads, and the other images and artefacts that give a broad introduction to the archaeological work of the museum - primarily their field work to monitor and investigate excavations for either new buildings or the engineering work on the infrastructure of the city such as road works, drainage excavations or the extensive ongoing work on extending the metro.

But it’s the four screens that are the important part. They are interactive and the most obvious way into the material is a scroll of images of people and places that look rather like cut-out paper and cardboard theatres for children from the 19th and early 20th century and below that are date periods and key words for the history of the city. Pointing or touching the screen with a finger brings up a bright narrow spotlight and you can scroll through the images, which actually run across two adjoining screens or bring images to the front to change the selection. 

Choosing an image or a date or a subject opens the equivalent of a work station with two to each screen so potentially eight across the whole wall. Suddenly you have access to a huge number of images and short captions with information and you can swipe through a sequence of images, move down to open similar subjects or link through to related topics.

Many of the photographs and maps are from the vast collection of the museum but it is also possible for citizens and visitors to upload and tag their own images or you can add comments on existing media or even record a video-blog. The aim is to bring the city alive in terms of its social history. Generally these are not stock textbook or guide book views but show how people lived and how they reacted to their city. Visitors to the wall see those links to real people in the past and can see how life then was very very different or surprisingly and disconcertingly much the same and of course contributions added by the public will over time provide a fascinating window on life and attitudes now. 

Instructions and the information panels themselves can be toggled between Danish and English and The Wall is open every day between 8am and 10pm.

 

Væggen, the online site, gives a good initial impression of what it is like to use the wall and from that site you can access data and upload images … not just material about life in the city right now but also old photographs of Copenhagen or of your family and their life in the city.

streetscape

Nørreport streetscape

In an earlier post I wrote about extensive improvements that have been made to the railway and metro station at Nørreport in Copenhagen. As the final parts of this major scheme of improvement are completed, there is now a clear incentive to restore or improve the buildings that line Nørre Voldgade and form the streetscape or backdrop to the new paved area that covers the three blocks from Gothersgade to Linnésgade.

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topography, streetscape, historic maps

Vesterbro

Sønder Boulevard, Vesterbro

 

In the second half of the 19th century, as the city grew, Vesterbro was one of the first areas that developed outside the city ramparts with new houses, apartment buildings, shops and churches built on either side of the roads running out from the old west gate to the royal palace and gardens on the hill at Frederiksberg. Construction work spread south from Vesterbrogade and streets and small squares and building plots were laid out on either side of what is now Istedgade. Many of the apartment buildings date from the 1880s and 1890s although the blocks along the railway are later. Many were poorly built and were divided up into small apartments and lodgings.  

 

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gardens + parks, streetscape, topography

open space in Vesterbro

Saxopark, Vesterbro

 

Because Vesterbro is such a densely built up residential area, green open space with grass and trees seems, somehow, much more important but when compared with other districts of Copenhagen, there appear to be few large open areas here.

The most important open space is Skydebanen, a large rectangular park has the backs of apartment buildings on both sides so that in some ways it is more like a large courtyard. Its on the site of a private shooting range so presumably originally it was just grass or perhaps gravel but now has mature trees. At the south end It has been extended and opened out to the west but it still seems like a well-kept local secret, hidden away behind the apartment buildings and from the north entered through a narrow gateway beside a school and from the south, from Istedgade, approached through a doorway in a forbidding high blank brick wall that closes off a short street of apartment buildings. 

 

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