conclusion/further directions

December 15, 2007

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Today marks the end of my Valle studies, and I’m actually off for two weeks to do some holiday traveling. However, thanks to the Scan|Design Foundation, I’ll be back in Copenhagen in January to continue my studies until June.

My Valle research ended up leading me in unexpected directions. Although I started by focusing on the SAVE program, I was also able to see several great examples of contemporary contextual design as well as some really impressive urban design projects. My plan is to tie the research that I did on SAVE directly into my urban planning thesis, which I will be working on here next semester at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture. I would also like to make a summary of the contextual projects in the form of an article or a photoessay. When I return to Copenhagen in January, I plan to conduct some interviews with the firms that designed these projects to add to my own personal observations.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to take part in Professor Bo Grönlund‘s ‘New Urban Theory‘ course last week at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture.  I think it’s great that there are some English-language lecture course offerings for those of us international students who are interested in specific topics beyond what is covered in the studios.  The theory course was great – a mix of some of the standards (William H. Whyte, Henri Lefébvre and Richard Sennett) with some new (more Scandinavian-specific) material from space analyst B. Hillier and social psychologist J. Asplund.  I thought it was a great series of lectures, and it was particularly nice to see some more contemporary material in addition to hearing about the ‘classic’ urbanists.

Just a reminder: I have four months’ worth of photos of Copenhagen’s built environment on my flickr page! Check it out if you’re interested.

Lastly, I’d like to say thank you to the Valle Scholarship and Exchange Program at the University of Washington. My overall experience in Denmark has been fantastic, and I have been truly impressed by the quality of the professors, the academic offerings, and the strength of the design community in Copenhagen. I wish that every urban planning student could visit Scandinavia to see some of these really well-designed, functional, beautiful, and walkable/bikeable cities. I feel lucky to have had the experience myself, and I know that my experiences in Copenhagen will affect my approach to design in the future.

This is my third installment of contextual design projects here in Copenhagen…this time I’m looking at two projects by the Danish firm Lundgaard + Tranberg. These particular projects were suggested by one of my advisors, and in all honesty, I’ve found that they have challenged my idea of what ‘contextual’ means. The firm’s mission statement is “[to develop] original and clear architectural concepts while cultivating a highly sophisticated tectonic and material sensibility…[to cultivate] sympathy and understanding for modern society’s social and cultural dynamic.” I’ve found that their projects do exactly this – they are carefully thought out and executed, and are extremely original (see the Tietgen Dormitory and the new Royal Theatre, two of my favorites). but what has impressed me so much about the other projects that I’ve visited is somewhat lacking in these two: a clear acknowledgment of the surrounding existing built fabric. Don’t get me wrong, the projects are fantastic, and it’s not as if they ignore their surroundings completely. Kilen, for instance, is part of a larger landscape plan and responds more to that landscape than it does to the built context, with the result that it appears as a stand-out and stand-alone building, a rare occurrence in Copenhagen. The Charlottehaven apartments are a bit more contextual in that they constitute an apartment block amid an area of apartment blocks, but just appear like a modern (and high-quality) version of the standard. Charlottehaven is also much, and noticeably, larger than any of the surrounding apartment blocks. It’s possible that I may be sounding off a bit too harshly here, which is not the intent, because I really like the projects, and they are extremely responsible from a quality-of-design point of view. Which perhaps makes them successful in a contextual sense…but I wouldn’t put them first on my list if someone asked me to point out particularly ‘contextual’ projects in Copenhagen. It’s also completely possible that there is more to learn about these buildings that I was able to deduce by simple observation and cursory research. I feel that perhaps I’ve been a bit to narrow in my definition…but I’m glad I’m able to learn something new from Copenhagen! In any case, I hope to interview someone at the firm, so maybe I’ll have some answers in the future.

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Kilen, or “The Wedge” (New construction, 2005)

As I mentioned above, this project was part of a larger urban master plan located on the site of an old rail yard. The greater site features include bike paths and park space that turn an area that was previously a barrier into a corridor. They also connect surrounding neighborhoods with the nearby Frederiksberg (shopping) Center and the area Metro stop. It’s a really nice urban design project, and the bike path is fantastic. “The Wedge,” so named because of its distinctive prismatic shape, responds to the sculpted landscape. It functions as the faculty building for the Copenhagen Business School. It also makes great use of natural daylighting and ventilation – unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking and visited on a Saturday when it was closed, but you can see the exterior panels that handle daylight control in the photos. Speaking of which…

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Here’s Kilen with its great terraced bicycle parking ‘lot’ in front.

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Approaching Kilen from the direction of Frederiksberg Center and the Metro stop. The bike lane is to the left, and the landscaped area takes up most of the rest of the photo. The most significant piece of neighboring architecture is the round brick building in the background on the right, which I believe was part of an old porcelain manufacturing plant.

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View of Kilen (far, far in the distance in the center) from the Metro stop area. The buildings to the right are also part of the Copenhagen Business School.

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Two views of Kilen from the bike path.

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The building’s relationship with its neighbor (which is also, I think, a campus or other institutional building). That’s the bike lot again in the foreground…it’s really nicely landscaped with gravel and plantings.

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View of the east facade.

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Details of the berm and one entrance.

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Kilen from the northwest.

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Kilen with ceramic factory stack in the background/Kilen and neighboring tower

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Detail of how the building meets the ground/Corner detail of panels
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Paneling detail – there are two different kinds, solid and slatted, which are movable.

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Charlottehaven (New construction, 2004)

Charlottehaven is an apartment complex located in the eastern Copenhagen neighborhood of Østerbro.  It has an extremely long north-south facade along Strandboulevarden (pictured below), and is, like the rest of the neighborhood, a brick courtyard housing complex.  This project sticks with brick (the standard material in the area), but adds a modern flavor by using a darker shade of brick and adding some more modern materials (lots of metal and glass detailing).  It’s a really nice building, and the interior courtyard is beautifully landscaped (see photos below).  As far as “fitting in” to the surrounding neighborhood…it gets a mixed vote from me.  It’s the right height and material (though material is second to form in my book in terms of “contextuality”), and the rhythms are there, but it’s a huge building, which is immediately obvious upon approaching it from the east…I wonder if anything could have been done to break up the enormous block size and create some kind of pedestrian entrance into the block from Strandboulevarden.

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The long, long Strandboulevarden facade (the east facade).

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Charlottehaven with its neighbors to the north and the south (Charlottehaven is on the left in both photos).

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Basketball court behind the building (center)…a nice community amenity.

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Building end detail/Building signage and balcony detail

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Playground behind Charlottehaven…the two towers to the left are part of the Charlottehaven complex and are actually attached to the lower-rise apartment block.  It was nice of the firm to pull them back from the street so as not to interrupt the more-or-less continuous-height streetwall.

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Entrance to the interior courtyard of Charlottehaven/The towers from the interior of the courtyard (notice the landscaping – it’s like a prairie in there!)

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Another view of the towers (left) and the rest of the housing block (right) with the landscaped area in the foreground.  The podium that the towers rest on is a daycare facility, presumably for Charlottehaven’s residents.

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A view of the low-rise block (this is the “back” of the Strandboulevarden facade).

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Okay, so here’s where I think Charlottehaven really tries to be contextual and does…a not very good job.  Most of the surrounding apartment buildings do something “special” at their corners.  You can see the left-hand building in the photo on the right and how there is an extruded form at the corner from the second story upward.  Charlottehaven (left photo and right-hand building in right photo) recognizes the need to do something different at the corner, but responds by piling a few blocky geometric elements up there and calling it a day.  I found this to be the least thought out part of the whole project and thought it looked kind of awkward, especially when compared to the rather elegant corners of its neighbors.

Although I never really intended to do more case studies on contextual design as part of my Valle research, I’ve found so many excellent examples in Copenhagen that I thought they deserved to be shared. It’s been a while since my first post on modern contextual buildings in Copenhagen (which focused on six projects by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter), but I’d like to pick up where I left off with a new firm, Vandkunsten (literally “water art”), and three of their projects in Christianshavn and Holmen. Although Vandkunsten takes on a wide variety of project types, their main goal is to create high-quality “ordinary” buildings at a reasonable cost. The three projects included in this post are all residential (therefore private buildings) and I wasn’t able to take any interior photographs, but I think that the exterior relationship that each building has with its surrounding environment is worth some discussion.

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Det Blå Hjørne, or “The Blue Corner” (New construction, 1989)

This is an older project of Vandkunsten and was constructed in a somewhat older and historical housing district in Copenhagen. The neighborhood, Christianshavn, has a very distinct character of four- to six-story walk-up apartment buildings sharing party walls, some along narrow streets, some along canals. The Blue Corner, though unapologetically modern, represents a rather successful attempt at integrating new architecture into an older neighborhood of well-established aesthetic character. Vandkunsten chose materials and colors that were different and served the purpose of making clear the age of the new building, or the time period from which it came. The forms and masses, however, were carefully chosen and proportioned to fit into the surrounding pattern of housing. The building is roughly the same height as those around it, and although the roof angles are turned 90° from those of their neighbors, the pitch is still the same, and the shapes appear harmonious with the surroundings. Also, the mass of the corner building is broken up into two discernible parts, each of which is about the same size as a single neighboring building. This reinforces the rhythm of buildings existing on the street while keeping the blue metal and concrete building from being a large, overwhelming mass among a neighborhood of slimmer, taller brick and stucco neighbors. This project is a great example of how careful attention to mass and form can make even the most modern of buildings really fit into a much older existing context.

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The Blue Corner, corner view of the two masses

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Approaching the building from the north

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The Blue Corner and its neighbors to the west

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Two views of contextual relationships

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Building detail

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Prinsessegade Apartments and Kindergarten (New construction, 1998-2000)

This is an 18-unit housing complex above a kindergarten located also in Christianshavn, a few blocks south of “The Blue Corner” project. The context here is of a similar age, but the existing buildings are large and more institutional in nature. This project’s most recognizable neighbor is Vor Frelsers Kirke, a prominent landmark within Copenhagen – it is located directly across the street (see photos below for an image of Vor Frelsers Kirke). A similar approach to that employed in the previous project was taken with this building – careful attention to the masses and rhythms established by existing neighbors, but executed in clearly different and modern materials. Though not as obviously “different” as its blue neighbor to the south, it is an elegant solution to the problem of new construction in this area.

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Approaching the building from the north along Prinsessegade

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Another view from the north/Street facade

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How the building meets its neighbors

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Street facade detail

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The rear side of the building (on the left), a shared courtyard that includes a play yard for the kindergarten

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View from the south along Prinsessegade/Neighboring Vor Frelsers Kirke (the Prinsessegade apartment building is directly across the street from the church, adjacent to the brick building in the foreground on the left)

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Torpedohallen (Adaptive reuse, 2003)

I think this is a fantastic project.  This building was once a raw concrete hall in which torpedo boats were constructed (circa 1952), which has now been converted into condo homes.  Many of the surrounding buildings, like this one, were once part of a Danish naval complex that no longer exists in this location.  Also, like many of the surrounding buildings, this one was converted from its original military use to serve a contemporary function, rather than being destroyed and replaced by new construction.  Although the only original elements of the building are the bare concrete columns and beams of its profile and the boat-launching basin on the interior (see photos below), Vandkunsten carefully chose the newly inserted materials to fit with the maritime character of the structure and the existing context.  (My fellow Valle Scholar Libby and I were discussing how much this building reminded us of Miller Hull‘s work – it would be right at home in Seattle!)  I particularly like the creative use of the building’s existing spaces and rhythms to create great condo units – for example, the insertion of balconies between the concrete columns, or the use of the existing interior hall as a ‘street’ within the building (see photos below).

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Exterior view of Torpedohallen

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Partial view of the building (to the right) from a neighboring dock

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View from across the water/Another view from the neighboring dock

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The interior of Torpedohallen: The boat launch basin/interior circulation via bridges and an elevator ‘tower’

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More interior photos: A nautical public stair/The interior ‘street’

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Another view of Torpedohallen (on the right) from across the water

valby phototour 4 of 4

December 4, 2007

Now for the final segment of the Valby phototour. The area covered in this section involved a lot of biking around and across major infrastructure, and I’ve included some photos of bike tunnels and rail facilities at the end of this entry. Again, I saw a real variety of building types: three housing developments (one clearly low-income, one newer brick apartment blocks, and one neighborhood of duplexes/attached homes). I also saw a brewery campus and an enclave of workshop buildings. Now that I’ve come to the end of my survey based on the SAVE assessment, it’s been interesting to see what were designated within the atlases as significant areas. In general, they have been housing developments that were clearly planned and built at one time and have a common aesthetic characteristic. Although I used the map from the SAVE atlas as a loose guide and tool for finding the designated areas, I was almost always sure of when I had reached one because it had a very clear, distinct character. And it makes sense that this is what gives an area its identity – neighborhoods that are easy to describe and classify, and that, in their design, create a coherent streetscape and environment. I also found myself recording some other aspects of Valby that I thought very characteristic (particularly for someone navigating the area on bicycle, and particularly as compared to other neighborhoods in Copenhagen that I’ve visited). These included mostly edges and barriers, transportation networks, and new construction. Valby seems to be an area of ‘multiple personalities,’ of very distinct blocks of built character divided by significant edges/barriers like train lines, topographical changes, and highways. Although it is not likely (and I’m not even sure if it’s possible) that a survey like SAVE would designate these kinds of characteristics, they definitely form the character of Valby in my mind with a weight equal to that of the area’s built character.

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I’ve noticed also that I never really got down to that park…and actually, that the SAVE atlas doesn’t include any open spaces or parks in its designations for Valby.

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61. Folehavn, a large development of newer-looking apartment blocks. This edge of the development was located right on a major east-west arterial.

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62. Another view of Folehavn. One unique aspect of this housing development is the way in which the buildings are connected to one another; the brick is continuous at the corners of the buildings (see above photo), making for more clearly defined adjacent outdoor spaces.

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63. “Kløverbladet og Venners Hjem,” a housing development of attached/duplex homes, much like those seen in the Selveje neighborhood in northern Valby (except these are two stories, not one).

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64. A unified streetscape. /65. Some of the duplexes are painted in halves, according to their individual owners’ tastes.

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66. “Husvildebarakker ved Elebjergvej” was actually a tough neighborhood to find. The houses are tiny, and it’s located right next to the railroad tracks. I was actually almost on top of it and didn’t see it – had to re-check my map several times before I realized it was right next to me.

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67. The little red houses are all of similar character. This seems to be a lower-income housing development, or possibly workmen’s housing. There was some pretty street (and sewer/water?) maintenance happening when I was there.

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68. I thought that this was a really interesting little enclave of buildings. They are called “Håndværkerbyen,” which translates (very) loosely to “Craftworker Town.” I’m a little embarassed to say that I didn’t check for sure to see if these were live-work units or just workshops, but it seems that they have the potential to be either.

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69. The units are all attached and covered by a sawtooth roof. /70. Unit entries are positioned between the buildings, but still under the roof eaves.

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71.  Carl Jacobsenvej, a loose assortment of brick buildings that form a kind of brewery campus.  The building picture above seems to be the newest addition to the group.
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72./73.  Some of the older brewery (?) buildings.

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74.  The S-tog (commuter train) station in south Valby.

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75.  A bike/pedestrian underpass allowing one to travel around the station pictured above.

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76.  The major east-west rail line in south Valby.  That’s the S-tog station in the distance.

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77.  A very artful bicycle underpass.  This wasn’t really in the area that I was looking at on this particular day, but I passed through it on my way back through Valby to get to central Copenhagen.  It was actually one in a series of three bike tunnels in the same area – a little network of graffiti-ed passages.  Very fun.

valby phototour 3 of 4

December 3, 2007

Tour #3 focuses on central Valby, which is surrounded almost entirely by large transportation infrastructure, and is almost an ‘island’ separated from the surrounding areas. There is also quite a bit of diversity in the built environment within this central area – from neighborhoods of pretty pastel houses to industrial campuses to the usual brick apartment blocks. There was some new construction of apartment houses occurring in what was previously unoccupied land, signaling an increase in residential density in the area. valby3.jpg

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44. ‘Karrébebygelse ved Toftegårds Plads’ – housing blocks on Toftegårds Square. These looked like the typical brick walk-ups that I see everywhere around Copenhagen.

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45. Another photo of the Toftegårds Plads area – similar brick housing blocks. There was some construction happening, probably street or other infrastructural improvements.
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46. The edge of ‘Lyset og Valby Vænge’ – a very quaint neighborhood of similarly-designed, pastel-hued homes.

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47. The similar characteristics of the homes make for some lovely streetscape perspectives. / 48. It’s a really nice residential area, with small yards and public paths connecting the streets and homes with one another.

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49. The adjacent ‘Etageboliger ved Carl Langes Vej,’ or apartment houses on Carl Langes Street. These are similar in style and color to their single-family neighbors – a multifamily version of the same house, almost. They are in really great condition – they look almost as if they’ve been freshly painted and maybe otherwise renovated.

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50. And it appears that some of them are being worked on – this one was having its roof replaced/repaired.

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51. This is a very small quarter called ‘Arbejderboliger for Valby Gaswærk,’ or workhouses for the Valby Gasworks. They are only three apartment houses arranged in a triangular shape, but they seem to be very high-quality buildings. Not sure how many workers lived/live in each apartment house, but it looks like the gasworks did a nice job of housing its employees.

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52. The triangular arrangement of the buildings makes a lovely public space in the middle of the block. / 53. There are benches and picnic tables – it’s like a nice little park.

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54. A neighboring housing development called ‘Storgården’ (large garden?)…I think that the name makes reference to the large, shared interior courtyards of the housing blocks, but I could be wrong. These looks like a more modern version of the brick walk-ups we saw earlier, a little more suburban in character.

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55. The courtyards are exceptionally large, and it seems that they serve a variety of shared functions for the building residents: parking area, playground, bike storage, and park.

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56. An area called simply ‘F. L. Smidth,’ which I am assuming refers to a company of some sort. The area as a whole seems to be some kind of mixed-use campus. There are buildings that appear to be university-like (above) among others.

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57. The same area, but more industrial-looking buildings. / 58. More of the F. L. Smidth campus.

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59. New apartment construction happening on previously unoccupied land. This development is fairly close to the S-tog (train) station.

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60. A bike tunnel near the Valby Vænge allowing access under one of the main train lines that cuts across Valby.

valby phototour 2 of 4

November 11, 2007

This time I started out in the northwest corner of Valby, and worked my way south. I visited three developments of very distinct built character, as well as ‘Gamle Vigerselv,’ which appears to be the historical center of an early town that was later consumed by what is today Valby, and ‘Vigerslev Haveforstad,’ or Vigerselv Garden Suburb. Also observed more rail lines and how they are accessed by area residents.

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25. The Ålholm-kvarteret (Ålholm quarter) is characterized by large brick courtyad buildings that take up entire blocks.
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26. More of the Ålholm-kvarteret. The masses of the buildings reinforce the street pattern and make for a clear reading of the block structure.

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27. Vigerselv Haveforstad, or ‘Vigerselv Garden Suburb.’ This is a neighborhood of small, quaint houses and quiet streets; each house has a yard, and there are few multifamily units in the area.

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28. + 29. Houses in Vigerselv Haveforstad.

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30. More houses in Vigerselv Haveforstad. This block has a unified appearance.

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31. Further south, across the train line, was Det Gamle Vigerslev, or ‘The Old Vigerselv.” This appears to be the nucleus of what was formerly a community in its own right. Small in size and scale and varied in character, it is now surrounded by the comparatively larger and unified housing developments of Valby (see photos 32-37).

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32. Streetscape of Det Gamle Vigerslev.

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33. A housing development called Store Vigerslevgård, or something like ‘Greater Vigerslev Square’ (my Danish translation skills may be failing me a bit here…I’ll find out more). This neighborhood is essentially a superblock of large, rectangular multifamily units that are joined at the corners to form slightly diagonal rows of buildings.

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34. + 35. More of Store Vigerslevgård. Notice how the buildings are connected at the corners (33) to form a solid, but modulated row of buildings and how the rows repeat one another (34) across the superblock.

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36. “Rækehusbebeggelsen” is a community of single-story row houses.

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37. + 38. One of the many rows in Rækehusbebeggelsen. At the end of each building was a brickwork mosaic of sorts. Each row had a different, but avian, motif.

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39. Multifamily housing at the border of Vigerslev Haveforstad, where it borders the rail line.

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40. Vigerslevvej, one of the main north-south arterials in Valby.

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41. S-tog (train) station at Valby, just east of Vigerslev Haveforstad.

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42. A pedestrian bridge over the rail lines, connecting Valby east with Valby west.

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43. Looking up the tracks to the north (opposite the train station).

valby phototour 1 of 4

November 9, 2007

I’m supplementing my interviews with bicycle tours of the neighborhoods I’m investigating. I decided to do this for several reasons: to get to know my study areas better (especially for my interviews), to compare what I’ve seen in the SAVE atlases to what’s on the ground, and to discover areas that are not in the atlases, or that seem to be undergoing change. I did use the areas outlined in the SAVE atlases as points of departure for my survey, but made sure to walk or bike between the designated areas in order to observe what the rest of the neighborhood looks like. I’ll post the Valby phototour as four separate installments. During this first survey, I visited the “old town” of Valby as well as some interesting housing enclaves of singular character. I also had a chance to observe some new projects going up in older areas, and I saw the divisive infrastructure at work, separating the municipality into multiple “slices” of neighborhood.

Here is a map of the neighborhood with the photo locations indicated by number (see photos below):

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1. + 2. The Carlsberg quarter is a mostly residential area of squarish, brick houses (1). The brewery (2) lies in the northeast corner of Valby.

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3. More houses in the Carlsberg quarter.

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4. This is one area whose character wasn’t self-explanatory. It’s labeled “Vebyggelse ved Toftebakkevej of Valhøjvej” in the SAVE atlas…I’ll have to ask further about what exactly it is. There is a row of similar-looking houses, but it’s not big enough to be a planned residential quarter, and I don’t see any signage or iconic buildings. Perhaps a home or business of historic importance?

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5. A detail of the street in the above photo (4).

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6. “Det Gamle Valby,” or Old Valby. There is a clear sense of a downtown main street, and several of the old buildings are a similar yellow color, which gives the area a feeling of cohesiveness.

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7. + 8. Other building types in Old Valby.

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9. Old Valby, just behind the main street. Narrow streets and closely-packed buildings give this area an older feel.

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10. Nordisk Film, one of Valby’s major employers.

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11. Behind Nordisk Film’s fenced-in compound.

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12. Selveje, a neighborhood of duplex homes. You can see that the homes are divided right down the middle, often with the two halves being painted different colors.

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13. Another of the duplex homes in Selveje.

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14. “Den Røde By,” or The Red Town, is a residential area with particularly wide streets (paved with red gravel, though I’m assuming the area gets its name from the small brick homes that populate it).

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15. Homes in The Red Town. Most have small yards, and often two adjacent houses share joined carports or garages.

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16. + 17. “Den Hvide By,” or The White Town, is a bit more true to its name than the previous area. All of the houses in this small residential area are very similar and are all painted white. This seems to be a slightly more well-to-do enclave than the other ones I’ve visited so far.

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18. More homes in “Den Hvide By.”

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19. The rail line that bisects Valby, running in an east-west direction.

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20. A view across the border of Valby of northern neighbor Frederiksberg’s high rise housing.

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21. Train bridge over one of Valby’s main east-west streets, Valby Langgade.

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22. New residential construction happening in Old Valby.

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23. Another major groundbreaking in Old Valby (not exactly sure what this project is; need to ask).

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24. A large ongoing construction and renovation project in the main public space of Old Valby.

interview/kirsten mølgaard

November 4, 2007

My first interview was wih Kirsten Mølgaard, who works for Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Administration. Ms. Mølgaard oversaw the production of several atlases in 1991, and was able to give me an overview of their creation, as well as her own reflections on the process. She was also able to suggest some contacts for further interviewing. Following is a summary of our dicussion:

What was your role in or involvement with the SAVE program?

  • Project leader, along with someone from the state department
  • The creation of the atlases involved cooperation between the state and the municipality

What, if anything, do you feel makes one study neighborhood different from another?

  • The atlases helped to answer the questions: “Is there any identity?” “What should we preserve?”
  • The atlases give a picture of the landscape seen overall; each quarter is different, and has a different dominant structure
  • Valby, for instance, is sliced into triangles, small enclaves of different urban typologies

How were the municipal boundaries decided upon?

  • It was a very pragmatic decision – they were chosen by the municipality; existing boundaries were used for the SAVE atlases
  • You can’t see these boundaries when you are out in the environment

What do you feel is the relevance of the SAVE survey today?

  • Use in local planning, in the creation of local plans
  • Provides a brief characteristic of an area
  • Provides place/traffic analysis, overall architectural values (building value rating)
  • Describes “saved” buildings in a legal way – local plans have to accommodate such buildings
  • Tool for people needing permission to change a “saved” building or to make a new development (if there is no local plan, one must be made up in order to protect it)

How long might the existing atlases remain relevant?

  • Different from part to part (of the city) – changing uses, new development
  • Revisit areas on a building-by-building basis
  • Not as necessary to review the inner city; new analysis needed in areas of change
  • New registrations might evaluate structural integrity of individual buildings

Did participating in SAVE change your perception of any of the neighborhoods?

  • You become more certain of the identity of an area
  • See an area in a new way – visit all corners of an area
  • The group took a bicycle tour of each new area
  • Became more conscious of value and identity

Could you describe some positive and negative aspects of the SAVE program?

  • Positive – they are a useful survey tool, helpful for local planning; spreading consciousness of values of the town – to be able to discuss what is good and bad in an area
  • Negative – done according to the whole country – too broad; hard to rectify between Copenhagen and small towns; “cultural” value on score sheet “empty” (survey done by visual methods – the cultural evaluation should be done using research methods, in parallel with the visual evaluations)

What are your feelings about the participatory aspects of the SAVE program?

  • Had to find people who would be suitable or glad to participate
  • Invited individuals and organizations (“town beautiful”); people with connections
  • Local people were located by calling around – not an open invitation – had to limit the numbers (would be difficult to deal with too many people; administratively difficult and expensive)
  • Sometimes a bit hard – locals were very concerned about specifics and small areas (sometimes provided valuable stories – hints for more interesting information)
  • Difficult to fulfill wishes of the volunteers – there was no voting, only discussion
  • Have to decide what to concentrate on – project group gave suggestions
  • Difficult to get anyone to work between meetings
  • Some volunteers were satisfied, others not – there were different types
  • Honesty in meetings about inability to agree; discussion and sharing of knowledge was the priority

Is there anything else about your experience with SAVE that you would like to share?

  • Problem of understanding the project – main ideal was to get an overall, superficial survey of values, buildings, etc.
  • A few years after it started, there was a financial incentive given to renovate “preserved” houses (based on the SAVE findings) – this was never the intent of the project; it was never meant to have an economic effect
  • Need to be rules about choosing information to transfer to local planning efforts – this was also not the aim of the project, but has become a use of the atlases

This interview was a great start as an overview. I’m looking forward to speaking with some people who were involved with specific neighborhoods. I’ve noticed a few recurring themes that have come up when speaking to those who put together the atlases. One is that of the project’s priorities. Both Gregers Algreen-Ussing and Kirsten Mølgaard emphasized that the greatest value of the atlases is their function as discussion-starters; the sharing of information was one of the key points. Also both mentioned the misuse of the atlases after they were published. They were never intended to be plans or bases for decisions, just tools to help engender discussion. This interview also raised a new question about the selection of “volunteers.” It had been my understanding, based on what I had read and my discussion with Gregers, that an advertisement for volunteers had been placed and that the call had been made public. However, my interview with Kirsten suggests that they were hand-picked, which puts the project in a slightly different light from the participation angle.

The municipality of Copenhagen is divided into 15 administrative, statistical, and tax city districts. I have been informed that the boundaries were chosen more for pragmatic purposes of administration than for the division of distinct communities or environments from one another (they are not “communities” or “neighborhoods” as much as they are municipal divisions). However, these divisions have served the purpose of breaking the municipality into manageable pieces for projects such as the creation of the SAVE atlases. Although the intent of the boundary delineation was not necessarily to separate the different areas by character, some of the districts do exhibit cohesive architectural character, and all of them can at the very least be discussed in terms of the character of its built environment, whether is be cohesive or not. I have chosen the following three districts as the departure point for my project in the SAVE atlases:

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Amager is an island that is connected by several bridges to the “mainland” of Zealand (Copenhagen is situated partly on Amager, and partly on Zealand). The island has long been populated and well used thanks to its rich soil and proximity to Copenhagen, but it was only in the late 19th century that Copenhagen began to expand onto the island. In 1902 the built up areas were incorporated into Copenhagen. Much of the island that exists today is the result of a public works project that added a large amount of land to the city that was reclaimed from the sea. The island’s built environment is quite diverse; it comprises Islands Brygge, a very cohesive older residential quarter of brick apartment blocks, a construction area called the Ørestad (a “new town” extension of central Copenhagen), many residential areas situated along the main commercial strip of Amagerbrogade, and a new artificial island and park, Amager Strandpark (Amager Beach Park).

Valby is located in the southwest corner of municipal Copenhagen. The main square of Valby, Toftegårds Plads, is a center for community events, including the lighting of a Christmas tree during the holiday season. However, Valby does not have a singular architectural or environmental characteristic; rather, it is subdivided into many pieces by large infrastructure (wide arterials, train tracks) and is in some places separated from neighboring areas by greenbelt parks. Some of the individual pieces of this somewhat fractured environment have very distinct environmental character, however – small pockets of look-alike single-family houses can be found in one area, while another might contain new high-rise apartment blocks; some streets have a clear commercial and pedestrian character while others are clearly intended to serve the automobile. Valby is also home to major industry such as the Carlsberg headquarters, Lundbeck (a pharmaceutical company specializing in CNS compounds), and the Nordisk Film production company. Overall, the area is a diverse mix of environmental characters, connected and separated by infrastructure and services.

Nørrebro, located closer to the center of Copenhagen, is an up-and-coming residential area whose population is composed of a diverse mix of ethnicities. The environmental character is Nørrebro is somewhat more cohesive than in the other two study municipalities – many of the buildings are 4-6 story brick residential blocks, which gives the streets in the area a characteristic proportion and feel. This neighborhood is somewhat infamous for a certain degree of crime and social unrest among its population, but it also has a bustling and healthy street life, with many active commercial strips and animated public spaces. This includes several public squares on which daily or weekly outdoor markets are held. Nørrebro is not as well off as the neighboring municipalities of Frederiksberg and Østerbro, and most of its building stock is quite old, though in fair condition. Nørrebro is one of the three “bridge quarters,” the main residential areas that exist outside the city’s ramparts (and are separated from the city center by a series of lakes and bridges). The overall character of Nørrebro is one of bustling commerce (both formal and informal), tall residential blocks and well-defined street spaces.

I had a great meeting last week with one of my advisors, Peter Thule Kristensen (Gregers is in Italy until November). We talked about my first draft of interview questions for those who have been involved with the SAVE program here in Copenhagen. I expressed my desire to speak to professionals as well as those who volunteered in the program as sources of “local knowledge.” I’d really like to get stories from participants – about what the participation process meant to them, how successful they perceived it to be, and what changes they feel it brought about in their neighborhood or in perceptions of their neighborhood. We decided that I should create two separate questionnaires, one for professionals and one for volunteer participants, since the roles of the two groups in the SAVE process were quite different. Also, although I had started with a long-ish list of rather specific questions (in part adapted from some earlier interview research I had done), Peter encouraged me to limit the questions to five or six per interviewee and to keep them more open-ended. I liked this suggestion, because I really am more interested in hearing stories…in other words, the kinds of responses that I am most likely to get from more open-ended questions.

The goals of the interviewing are, briefly:

  • to get a story – the interviewee’s personal experience with SAVE
  • to understand the individual’s attachment to and/or perception of the neighborhood
  • to find out about changes that have occurred in the built environment since SAVE -opinions/awareness
  • to get opinions about the relative success of SAVE (particularly the participatory aspects) or lasting influences
  • general reflections on experience and hopes/directions for the future
  • conception/understanding of the area surveyed: characteristic features? what is special?

The meeting with Peter also made me think about some of the assumptions that I’ve brought into this project – this is one of the reasons for running my questions by my advisers before contacting my interviewees – particularly, some thoughts that I had about neighborhood identity in Copenhagen. Because of the way the SAVE atlases were produced, one per neighborhood, I had assumed somewhat that these neighborhoods were recognizable as urban units apart from the SAVE survey (I know that living in Seattle, with its very strong sense of neighborhood identity has colored my perception somewhat). Peter suggested that Copenhagen residents may not identify strongly with a particular neighborhood, and that the boundaries of different “areas” are less recognizable in everyday life. The SAVE survey needed some way of splitting up the work and data, so the atlases were made for particular neighborhoods. (It seems that the neighborhoods may just be administrative districts and not necessarily socially, economically, or otherwise definable areas.) In any case, this information doesn’t really change my project, but it does help me with my interview question design. I’m beginning the interview process by contacting professionals involved in the creation of the Valby and Amager atlases (and hopefully also the Norrebro folks eventually). My advisers have been able to provide me with connections to start with for those two neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods fit with my desire to explore the more physically eclectic and “ordinary” areas of Copenhagen. More soon on the interviews!

On a separate note, I’ll be starting a Danish language course this week at the Center for Sprog og Kompetence in the Norrebro neighborhood. It’s about time to start getting a better handle on Danish pronunciation…!