In most ways the developments shown in the exhibition at KADK about housing and welfare tick all the boxes … all of them are imaginative about overall planning with a strong emphasis on sustainability, most are keenly aware of social housing needs, all try hard to provide good, well thought out living space for a family with generous provision for natural light and where possible give good views out for each unit and all the schemes have an imaginative mixture of public and private outdoor space. But the more I thought about what I had seen, the more it struck me that there was one clear omission. Only one of the schemes talked about local provision for work with the inclusion of at least some commercial space. I know that this is an exhibition about housing but there were several area plans and schemes for substantial developments that create large new neighbourhoods. Many developments provide space for cafes and there are a number of gyms for the local community and some plans include retail units but only the scheme by Entasis for A C Meyer Vænge mentions the inclusion of commercial units. I was keen to double check, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, so went back to the exhibition today to read through all the summary texts again and look carefully at any layout plans.
This confirmed something that I had already wondered about as over the last few months I have explored Ørestad, the Free Port, Tuborg Havn and the developments around the south part of the harbour.
Older, well-established workshops and some factories have survived in some of these areas and of course there are office developments often in close proximity to housing and the work by BIG, particularly and very deliberately for the 8 House, layers extensive commercial office space on the lower levels with residential apartments and town houses above. But there were no small workshops or studios.
I’m certainly not advocating here that heavy industry with noise or air polution or businesses that require hefty road transport to deliver materials or to take away finished manufactured goods should be mixed with play grounds and leisure spaces.
It is just that Copenhagen had … and I emphasise the past tense … a strong domestic and commercial mix within the city. The city was constricted to a relatively tight area by defensive walls and so for a start, within the city itself, from the early medieval period right through to the 1960s there were all the trades and businesses associated with the harbour. Is there even a single ship’s chandlers within the city now? Through the medieval period and through the 17th and 18th century, almost everything sold in Copenhagen was made in Copenhagen. More significantly, in terms of the current exhibition, the last period of massive growth and massive development for the city was in the period from the 1870s through into the early 20th century when all the areas beyond the old military defences were built including Vesterbro, Nørrebro and Østerbro. These new buildings then, as with the developments now, were primarily blocks of apartments but in amongst them, in courtyards and on the ground floors were furniture makers, dress makers and, presumably, candlestick makers. Virtually none of these businesses survive within the centre. Rud Rasmussen the cabinet maker on Nørrebrogade, a couple of working potteries on Kronprincessegade and in Islands Brygge and the cabinet makers Københavns Møbelsnedkeri, also in Islands Brygge, are obvious exceptions but for how much longer will they be able to survive rent increases or the pressure to move out to industrial areas well outside the city as developers eye their potentially valuable plots.
Surely there is a strong argument for including small workshops, studios and work spaces as fully integrated within these new residential areas. If wealthy merchants in late medieval Copenhagen lived above the shop why not their modern equivalent? And the potential gains are surely obvious. Everyone talks about a work/life balance but for some the integration of workshop and living space could solve lots of problems … so no commuting for a start and being there when the kids come home from school. Lots of people do now work from home but presumably very few of them can work with anything larger than a computer on a desk in the corner of a living room.
This isn’t a suggestion for a sort of living museum world of performing craftsmen but maybe strict zoning has gone too far. In the same way that children need contact with and an understanding about how food is grown, maybe they need more contact with the world of work. Perhaps local carpenters and weavers and potters would be inspiring. They could be supported with subsidised workshops or tax breaks in return for being there and being visible … how does a child decide that they might like to do a technical training as a furniture maker when they finish school if they have never seen a carpenter working?
If some trades and small-scale manufacturing was brought back into these areas we really could start talking about the local economy.
And if we are talking seriously about sustainability, surely the survival of trade and craft skills and their integration into the areas where we live could be a huge step forward, or at least an alternative step forward and not a step back, but that can’t happen if there are no spaces for bakers, cake makers, picture framers, illustrators, rug makers or basket makers just down stairs or just round the corner. Bicycle repair shops seem to do pretty well already … but why not more local trades? More makers and doers … as long as zoning can allow for makers and doers.
The area around Jægersborggade in Copenhagen and the businesses along Kompagnistræde and Læderstræde in the centre have craft shops and cafes mixed together they show the commercial potential and the attraction of this sort of development but is perhaps more focused on retail and leisure than I mean here and the web site for Northmodern has a post about a Bella Quarter adjacent to the Bella Center with some planning work undertaken by COBE but I’m not sure if or how that will progress and it was certainly not included in the exhibition at KADK.