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.

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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.