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

December 14, 2007

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.

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