Copenhagen, City of Architectural Ambition

Originally published in Display Magazine No 5 (2006)


Are you getting tired of high-end shopping in London? Bored with the endless white beaches and crystal clear water of the Mexican Gulf? Looking for a cultural retreat with a laid-back atmosphere and cutting edge architectural escapades? Then Copenhagen is the place for you.

At least this is what this capital on the border of Scandinavia and the European continent wants you to think. With a long list of prestige projects, Copenhagen is trying hard to attract attention in the ever growing business of city branding. The impressive economic growth in the region has led to a building frenzy approaching the rate of the post-war period, but this time emphasis is on quality rather than quantity.

Just as many other cities in post-industrialised Europe, Copenhagen has the grand opportunity in transforming the old run-down harbour districts to luxury apartment buildings and waterfront promenades. In addition, the city has developed a giant project called Ørestad, a new city based in the junction between the new metro line and the train to Sweden. The north part of Ørestad is dedicated to the extension of the University of Copenhagen and DR Byen, a building complex which is to house the Danish Broadcasting public radio & television. It includes a new astonishing concert hall designed by French architect star Jean Nouvel which is to be finished in late 2007. There are plenty of beautiful buildings in the area already in use, though. The IT University by Henning Larsens Tegnestue manages to express futuristic elegance with its big glass covered interior courtyard and hanging box-shaped meeting rooms, seemingly defying gravity. Next door is a new round student housing building with 360 rooms equipped with the latest technology and striking views through the floor to ceiling glass walls.

Moving towards the old harbour area of Islands Brygge, an unusual loop-shaped building immediately steals your attention. Gemini Residence is a luxury apartment building with an original approach to its historic structure. The design concept, developed by the Dutch architecture office MVRDV, is based on the idea of hanging the apartments on the outside of two old grain silos, allowing the striking harbour view and sunlight en masse to fill the interior space. The inside is kept as a singular, almost sacred space with razor sharp balconies in chalk white, all flooded with light.

The crown jewel of the harbour refurbishment, the new Opera House, designed by Henning Larsen opened in January 2005. Donated to the city by multibillionaire Maersk McKinney-Møller, the project was lined with controversy as the old shipper, well into his 80’s, wanted total control of the process. On axis with the Royal Palace, the building and its long free-spanning roof totally dominates its surroundings, although a new similar-looking theatre building is under construction, arguing that the harbour is becoming the new cultural competing for the of the culture-thirsting crowd of the Danish capital.