August 7, 2007

Copenhagen 1 (Denmark)

We flew into Copenhagen from Amsterdam, opting to avoid a 14+ hour train ride. Flights were surprisingly competitive with trains in this instance. Our hotel was 2 blocks from the central train station, so getting around was no problem. We noticed in a recent copy of the magazine Monocle that Copenhagen was listed as #2 on their list of Top Twenty Livable Cities, and after a few hours of walking around we could see why. Similar to Amsterdam, large numbers of the population bicycle in dedicated lanes. The derived meaning of Copenhagen is "commerce harbor," the city is vibrant with countless shops, museums, sights and a strong design culture. One drawback: it's very expensive.

After renting a couple of bicycles near the train station, we headed for the Islands Brygge neighborhood. First stop was the Harbor Bath, a public swimming harbor by PLOT architects (now BIG). The project is comprised of several swimming areas, a prominent lifeguard tower, and a boat-prow-like-shaped stepped diving platform all set in a terraced landscape of deck boards. The layout of pools was clearly thought out and the form of the diving platform was exciting. However, the diving platform was not wearing well, with many boards cupping apart. We decided against taking a jump off the platform since it was only 17 degrees Celsius out, which was much cooler than usual for this time of year. Also the lifeguards chased us away... no cameras allowed! Which was surprising because spare a few children in the kiddie pool behind us, the swimming areas were empty. Oh well.

Further south along the waterfront was an MDRDV project, "Frosilos." Here a pair of former seed silos had been converted to residential towers. Instead of placing the apartments within the silos, the architects attached them around the exterior perimeter to maximize panoramic views. They also sought to maintain what they refer to as an "exciting emptiness" inside the silos, by keeping a large central atrium space and grouping support elements (lifts, stairs, ducts and pipes) on the inside perimeter. The building was inaccessible but you could get a good view of the lobby from the entrance doors. The lobby was white and futuristic, reminiscent of THX 1138 and the NYC Guggenheim interior with a series of minimal ringed balconies.

Later that afternoon we biked into "Freetown Christiana," a controversial self-governing neighborhood of about 800 residents. Cars are not allowed in the city, large stones had been placed at the main entrances. Photographing is also not permitted... we saw a few residents waving their arms and yelling "No photo!" The main road inside Christiana is called Pusher Street, famous until 2004 for openly selling hash and skunk weed at merchant stands. There were a few cafes, a bike shop, what looked like an art gallery, and a lot of colorful murals on buildings. Mostly it felt like a hippie commune.

We biked further north towards Holmen, and saw the opera house by Henning Larsen. We were joking that its form looked like the offspring of Jean Nouvel mating with LMN architects. Nearby was the DAC (Danish Architecture Center), a center that disseminates architecture with "a focus on the future." The current exhibit was "Copenhagen Changing"on the topic of the many recent building developments around the city. It was a great find for us, we even picked up several free architecture tour bicycle route maps. It also housed a great bookstore.. we spent an hour just browsing through their collection. Across the water was the Skuespilus, by Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitektfirma, a still-under-construction theater hall with a striking stage tower that soars above the horizontal structure. We tried to get a closer look but it was fenced-off, under construction until 2008.

After a picnic lunch of kippers and sardines on crackers along the beautiful Christanshavns Kanal, we bicycled to the Royal Library. The "Black Diamond," as it has been nicknamed, is a giant monolithic structure that sits at the water's edge, right in front of the historic library building. Designed by Schmidt, Hammer & Lassen, the seven-floor extended wing is comprised of library rooms, a restaurant, a bookstore, a concert hall, and a large central open atrium (29m in height). The "Diamond" is covered with 2500 sq. meters of Zimbabwe-mined absolute black granite. The entire facade at the water's edge is slightly canted, emphasizing a nautical feel. Inside the atrium, the hard surfaces of the concrete platforms and the tall glass facade with its system of steel push rods and traction cables was balanced with a warmer oiled maple flooring on the balconies, walkways and corridors. Upstairs on the third floor were two walkways glazed with fluorescent pinkish glass with super graphics that connected the Diamond with the older Preben Hansen's building (1968) and the H.J. Holm's library (1906). Overall we were impressed with this building.. it sat comfortably in its context, the absolute black facade was sharp, and the minimal interiors provided a calm environment that was easy to navigate.

On a different afternoon we bicycled out to Amager Strand, a 2km beach with a lagoon on one side. Along the running/biking trail was a series of concrete comfort stations, reminiscent of bunkers with their low profiles and canted concrete walls. Designed by Haslov & Kjaersgaard Arkitectfirma, the buildings house toilets and refreshment kiosks, and also provide elevated lookout and vantage points which were helpful to get a good view of the Oresund Sound. Also set in the landscape was a series of lifeguard lookout boxes, minimal in form and painted orange... they looked great in the context.

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