Copenhagen now houses 30% of the population of Denmark and the city is growing rapidly with 1,000 people moving here every month. Obviously there is a huge pressure to build new housing and with that pressure there is a very clear understanding by politicians, planners and architects that they have to get the new developments right.

An introduction to this exhibition at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts puts the problems succinctly:

“The strain on the city leads to rising prices of land, and high construction costs lead to higher costs of accommodation, both in new build and renovated properties. This makes it difficult to build in general, and almost impossible to build cheaply ….. The city is being segregated into enclaves, with wealthy people in attractive, but expensive districts ….. while citizens with lower incomes have to settle in less attractive districts of the metropolis. This is a threat to social welfare and cohesion.”

But, as with the recent exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about the problems developing with climate change, The Rain is Coming, this is neither a reason for doom and gloom nor an excuse to do nothing but talk anxiously about how awful it all will be. Rather, work has already begun on a massive amount of new building in the city … this exhibition is about housing schemes well on in the stages of planning so either where building work has started or is imminent. The contrast with the UK could not be greater: although both countries have been through the same economic recession, politicians in England seem to talk endlessly about the lack of housing but do nothing while in Denmark there has been a massive investment in infrastructure and work is progressing to build homes all round the city. And this is not small-scale development. The new area of Nordhavn is in part on land that was industrial dockland and in part is claimed from the sea but this area alone will have homes for 40,000 people and places for jobs for 40,000 people. 

Planners and politicians in Copenhagen are no longer at the stage of prevaricating, umming and ahhing and trying to decide what they might do, if they ever were, but clearly, from this exhibition, work is well in hand and now they are making sure that they do it properly.

The drawings and plans also bring out clear themes. In Copenhagen the housing type with apartments around a courtyard is well established and clearly successful so for the future, particularly in the inner city areas, that building type predominates although some tower blocks are proposed in some developments to ensure necessary density. 

Conversion of a grain silo in Nordhavn to apartments by COBE

Balconies, terraces and roof gardens are important for private outdoor living space but there is, in all the schemes, a focus on the importance of common space of a high quality and emphasis on appropriate vegetation and the importance of water not only as a leisure facility, but as an important visual foil to the hard landscape and as a major consideration when dealing with the increased amounts of rain predicted for the region.

There is also a clear emphasis on the use of high quality but appropriate facing materials so building with brick and timber but also using concrete to reflect the industrial heritage of many of the areas being developed. Large windows, light and good views out are priorities and there also seems to be a much more generous allowance for space in the individual housing units than anything seen in new housing in England.

The schemes also include housing in outer suburbs with, for instance, the plans for Vinge, a new town north of Copenhagen that will cover 350 hectares and will be the largest urban development in Denmark.

Arenakvarter in Ørestad South by JAJA

Many of the drawings for these proposals included children playing in meadows and gardens or families on bikes or in canoes. In most other countries that would be artistic licence but in Denmark gardens, public spaces and exercise are not optional extras. Honestly. Look at my photographs taken wandering around Nørrebro just two days ago and when I moved here last summer one apartment I considered renting was unfurnished except for a well equipped terrace and two canoes. As I said to friends … only in Denmark.

The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, KADK, Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé 51, Copenhagen


Continues until 14 May 2015


A housing scheme with balconies and roof terraces at Sundbyøster Plads by Dorte Mandrup