context and modern design in copenhagen (second in a series of case studies)

December 7, 2007

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

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