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 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.

read more

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.


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.

read more

topography, streetscape, historic maps


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.  


read more

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. 


read more

gardens + parks, streetscape, topography

Skydebanehaven - The Shooting Gallery Park


There is an impressive 18th century building onto Vesterbrogade, set back beyond a forecourt. Most people walking along the street would be hard pressed to guess what its function might have been although it was actually built in 1787 for the Royal Copenhagen Shooting Society. Until this summer it was the Museum of Copenhagen which has now closed pending a move to a building close to the City Hall.

Map showing the Kongelige Skydebane - the Royal Shooting Gallery - in 1860

The shooting range itself was a broad strip of open ground behind the building that ran down to the sea shore and can be seen clearly on 19th century maps. Then, the south approach to the harbour was much wider and the sea shore was on the line of what is now Sønder Boulevard.

First a railway into the city was constructed along the shore and then through the late 19th century more and more land and beyond was claimed from the sea and built over so the shooting gallery became rather cut off and in 1887 a large screen wall in brick was constructed across the south end of the gallery to prevent stray bullets injuring citizens on Istedgade. This is the screen wall that still stands at the end of a short street of houses with a gateway at the centre that now provides a partially-hidden access to the gardens and play area on the site of the shooting gallery. 


Vesterbro in 1879. Istedgade was still not continuous. The line of the brick screen wall can be seen but it was not constructed until 1887. The railway, marked as ‘Nedlagt Jernbane’ was still then on the line of what is now Sønder Boulevard and the first areas of new land out into the sound had been claimed and a new gasworks and the first buildings of the meat market constructed.


After the construction of the screen wall, work began on the Skydebanegade apartments that were built over the south part of the shooting range, on the south side of Istedgade and completed in 1893. 

Skydebanehaven is now an important green space in Vesterbro with a very popular playground for children at the south end. Several blocks of slum houses at the south end on the west side were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s as part of an extensive slum clearance programme and the space was opened up to link through to streets beyond. The space is open but not completely successful … the north part of the shooting gallery feels much more like a large Copenhagen courtyard but, at the south end, the space seem to leach out and break down on the west side creating odd chopped off rows of houses and odd views of the backs of houses that were not designed to be seen.

Even so, this is an amazingly important and much used green space.


The children's play ground at the south end of the shooting gallery with the screen wall beyond that was built in 1887 ... apparently to protect people walking along the street beyond from being hit by stray bullets



Completed in 1893, according to a plaque on a parapet, Skydebanegade is an ambitious and theatrical housing scheme with a complicated plan for apartments in buildings on both sides of a cross street that runs between Sønder Boulevard and Istedgade in Vesterbro. The development was presumably speculative, by a builder called Victor Jensen with the design from an architect called Oscar Kramp.

The street is only about 180 metres long but by pushing back deep narrow open courtyards running back from the street into the facade, with three set backs on each side, the entrance frontages are increased significantly in length- from 180 to 375 metres on the west side. This is not a unique arrangement in the city - deep open courtyards are used as a form of planning in several buildings in Jægersborggade - but nowhere else is it used in such a coherent and dramatic way.

read more

housing, streetscape

clearing the Skydebanegade courtyards

Demolition of buildings within the courtyards behind the Skydebanegade apartments is interesting because of the size and extent of the buildings removed and the dramatic effect that had but it should not be taken as typical for one rather curious reason: the Skydebanegade apartments benefitted enormously from the work even though the courtyards were not actually on land that they owned originally. The distinctive zig zag plan of the apartment blocks, with alternate open courtyards to the street and between them open courtyards to the back forming an outline that looks almost like a Greek key fret pattern, was built right up to the east and west boundaries of the land acquired from the shooting gallery. The courtyards actually belonged to the properties facing onto Absalonsgade to the east and Dannebrogsgade to the west.

Some of the large buildings in the courtyards may have been workshops and there were certainly stable buildings shown in the east courtyard that was accessed from Absalonsgade - two smaller stables with four stalls in one and 11 stalls in the other but there was also one long range which seems to have had a central passage way with 15 stalls on each side and a large yard to the front so there were, possibly, 45 horses in all kept in the courtyard with all the noise, smell, and manure that would imply. The stable with four stalls appears to have two carriage or cart sheds adjoining so may have been used by a carrier or delivery man. Riding horses and carriage horses might well have been kept in some courtyards. One advantage, though possibly on balance not a great advantage was that there would have just been hay lofts above the stalls so the buildings would not have been that high so would not have cut out much light to the buildings around.

Long thin buildings shown in the narrow courtyards of the Skydebanegade buildings were presumably toilets - the plan here is at first-floor level or above as the archways from the street at ground level are not shown - so the narrow strips of building are drawn as if looking down on the roof. In the apartment buildings themselves, there are small square, until, internal rooms shown close to the secondary or back staircases and these might have been inside toilets and possibly shared between several apartments but given the date of the building which was completed y 1893 inside toilets and toilets flushed by water are not likely to be an original feature if only because the very first flush toilets in the city are said to date from 1893 and were in apartments in the much much grander street of Stockholmsgade in Østerport.

When the buildings in the courtyards to either side of Skydebanegade were demolished, a range of smaller apartment buildings facing along Dannebrogsgade were also taken down and not rebuilt leaving the courtyard on that side open to the west.

It is difficult to calculate from just the plan but counting the staircases in the demolished buildings with apartments on both side of each landing, and assuming that there were almost-certainly five stories to each range, then around 300 apartments were demolished when the courtyards were cleared.

With the new open spaces of the large courtyards many of the apartments overlooking them were given new balconies. The gardens are laid out with different small areas of planting to enclose picnic tables, children’s play equipment and shelters for bikes. Planting, areas of raised ground and carefully planned and well laid paths and paved areas add considerably to the attraction of the space which, as with so many of these courtyards, provides an oasis of calm just off the busy and noisy streets.

Work on the courtyards and on the restoration and upgrading of the apartments started in 1989 and was completed by 1996.

housing, streetscape

older houses surviving in the city


Ny Kongensgade


By the late middle ages, Copenhagen was enclosed by high embankments with outer ditches and the city could only be entered through gateways that were closed at night. Within these defences there was a tightly packed network of streets and alleyways with small squares and market places and with open areas around the major churches. Few buildings were allowed outside the ramparts so, as the population increased, many gardens and courtyards were built over and then buildings were raised in height or rebuilt as taller and more substantial or more fashionable houses.

With a number of devastating and extensive fires in the city and also with commercial pressure to improve buildings, to create shops and administrative buildings, few early houses survive. 

There are some timber-framed houses dating from the 16th or 17th centuries in the north part of the old city and in Christianshavn. These are relatively low and narrow but deep so they have large high-pitched roofs either running back from the street or more often with the ridge parallel to the street but with additional front gables or high gabled dormers to increase head height within the attic space. The timber framing generally forms square panels and the building are usually rendered and most painted traditional colours - usually deep ochre or a dark iron oxide red. Some of the framed houses show clear evidence that they were raised in height with new floors added and new roofs built or the old roof ridge was kept but the outer eaves raised to form a shallower pitch of roof so that a series of dormers could be amalgamated to form a new complete top floor.


Magstræde, parallel to Gammel Strand but one block back showing clearly the narrow plot width

Houses along the quayside of Nyhavn

Town houses of the wealthy overlooking the King's Garden


There are large merchants houses along Gammel Strand, along the quays of Nyhavn and in Christianshavn but it seems clear that as the population of the city increased then many of the older houses were crudely divided up into apartments or in some cases subdivided for single rooms for a whole family.

Fine town houses for the wealthy were built on either side of the main streets through a new area, laid out in the 18th century beyond the king’s square - Kongens Nytorv, and there are substantial houses overlooking the King’s Garden but in the older part of the city, where there was new building, they are often purpose-built apartments, and to the west and north after the city defences were removed in the second half of the 19th century, almost all new buildings are apartment blocks rather than houses for single separate families however wealthy.

There are some curious examples where smaller houses in a street were replaced by large apartment buildings, presumably working from opposite ends of a block by buying and amalgamating narrow plots, but somehow a narrow plot was left so there is now a small house flanked by much taller apartment buildings.

A small house on Rigensgade near the King's Garden between much taller apartment buildings

housing, streetscape



Christian IV understood well that the men in his navy and in his army might be more loyal if they had reasonable accommodation and some rights to housing after they left his service.

Construction of the naval accommodation of the Nyboder housing scheme, designed by the Flemish stone mason and architect Hans van Steenwinkel the younger, began in 1631 and by 1648, the year that Christian died, there were 600 housing units in the streets laid out north of the city, on land just beyond the king’s house and garden of Rosenborg. 

read more


In the late 19th century some of the earlier rows were demolished and new larger brick houses built - see separate post

housing, streetscape



The houses in Brumleby in Østerbro, designed by the architects Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll, were built for The Medical Association housing scheme and initially were known as Lægeforeningens Boliger.

There are four rows of blocks separated by wide gardens or avenues with 240 units in the first phase begun in 1853 and completed in 1857. Between 1866 and 1872 a further 310 units were added, designed by the architect Vilhelm Klein. Common facilities included a kindergarten, bathhouse and meeting hall and the first co-operative store in Copenhagen.

read more

housing, streetscape

English Row Houses

Toldbodgade 71-85


Designed by Vilhelm Tvede for the charity Det Classenske Fideicommis that had been established in the 18th century by an Army General and armaments manufacture Johan Frederik Classen.

This terraced row of eight houses is just north of the royal palace and runs parallel to the harbour but is set back behind warehouses. There is a courtyard or garden to the front, on the side away from the harbour, separated from the street by iron railings and stone gate piers and there are very small back yards with single-storey toilet blocks - presumably for the use of servants.

read more

housing, streetscape

Building Society Row Houses


Dating from 1873 to 1889 and designed by Frederik Christian Bøttger, there are 480 houses in relatively short and continuous terraces along eleven streets between Øster Farimagsgade and Øster Søgade which, as its name implies, runs along the south shore of the lake Sortedams Sø. 

The houses are popularly known as the Potato Rows or Potato Houses and were built by and for the workers at the Burmeister & Wain shipyard. Workers contributed to a fund and then had their names drawn to see who would move into the houses.

read more


housing, streetscape

late 19th-century terraces

Krusemyntegade running up to the Jerusalem church on Rigensgade


There are several streets in Copenhagen that date from the late 19th century with family homes in terraced rows that have been built following a pattern that is very common in England at the same time. That is, all the houses are directly onto the pavement without a front garden and although the plots are the same width and all the architectural features are close in style, it is clear that along the terraced row the plots were sold to individual builders who put two, three, four or sometimes more houses in a section that are identical but vary slightly from the adjoining houses along the street.

The larger houses differ slightly from the English type in that they are generally wider with two and sometimes three windows to the front on the ground floor lighting a main front room and because the houses are wider there are rarely ranges extending out to the back although there are often detached washhouse and toilet blocks in the back yards. 

The English versions, being generally narrower, usually have a long thin entrance hall leading to a staircase in line in the back half with a front room onto the street, usually a sitting room, a back room alongside the staircase, either a dining room or a main kitchen and a narrow range to the yard with a third room that was either the kitchen or if the kitchen was in the middle room, a scullery or so-called back-kitchen. 

There is one short terraced row near the harbour called The English Row Houses but these too differ from standard English houses in plan and form.

Olufsvej just below the Brumleby houses and close to the football stadium in Østerbro

housing, streetscape

Nyboder - rebuilding in the late 19th century

The Nyboder housing - on the north edge of the historic city and close to Kastellet, the fortress or citadel - were houses built for the navy. The first of the houses were constructed in the early 17th century and through the 17th and 18th centuries more rows were added with a series of parallel streets with long narrow yards between the rows of houses. 

In the 1880s several blocks of the old Nyboder houses were demolished. New streets of apartment buildings were constructed between Borger Gade and Store Kongensgade and a new church, Sankt Pauls Kirke, was built facing a new square with new naval houses constructed along three parallel streets close to the church including Haregade, Gernersgade and Rævegade. These houses are much larger than the earlier Nyboder row houses and were subdivided into apartments.

read more


The church of Sankt Paul from the square with the new houses from the 1890s beyond and the gable end of one of the 17th-century row houses to the right



Studiebyen housing quarter


Built for KAB (Copenhagen Public Housing Association) between 1920 and 1924 to designs from Edvard Thomsen, Anton Rosen, Ivar Bentsen, Thorkild Henningsen and Kay Fisker. 

Nearly 6 kilometres (3.5 miles) north of the city, There were 104 houses including a number of villas and two long rows along Rygårds Allé that face each other, running north south, with a large road-width gateway at the centre of the west row for access to a small group of semi-detached houses. All the houses including the rows have small front gardens and back gardens. The landscape was designed by G N Brandt, the municipal gardener in Gentofte.


more photographs and a longer assessment


Bakkehusene housing scheme


About 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) to the north west of the city on a slope that faces south east and looks down on and across Copenhagen, this was the first scheme built for KAB (Copenhagen’s Public Housing Association) that had been founded in 1920. The Bakkehusene scheme was designed by Ivar Bentsen and Thorkild Henningsen and completed in 1923. 

There were 171 low-rise houses in short rows running away from a large, tree lined rectangular green that rose up the slope from Hulgårdsvej. The row house was a traditional rural form found in villages and small market towns although a few survive in Copenhagen, notably in Sankt Pauls Gade - some of the earliest houses in the Nyboder area and dating from the early 17th century - and in a short row at the south end of the Frederiksholm Canal.


more photographs and a longer assessment