Copenhagen: Garvegarden, Charlottehaven, Amerika Plads

Scheme: GarvergardenCity: Copenhagen | Developer: PFA Pension | Architect: Vandkunsten | Landscape Architect: Landskab + Rum
Charlottehaven | City: Copenhagen | Developer: Harald Simonsens Ejendomskontor ApS | Architect: Lundgaard + Tranberg | Landscape Architect: SLA
Scheme: Amerikaplads | City: Copenhagen | Developer: Arealudviklingsselskabet, TK Development, Sjælsø Gruppen | Masterplan Architect: West 8 

Resident feedbackNot available

IMG_0458London is 24% back gardens. That’s a lot isn’t it – almost a quarter of Greater London’s land that the public may never see, enter or own. The capital also has communal gardens, usually behind perimeter blocks, which are accessible and visible to the residents of that block alone (though not always). These can be a source of delight and neighbourliness, if mutual trust and values pertain, or they can cause community tension if they are noisy, messy and not gardened. And finally London enjoys famed ‘Georgian Square’ gardens, which offer welcome visual amenity to the passer-by as well as a private gated green experience to the surrounding terraces. The middle typology is the one which causes anxiety in the UK: who owns that space, who polices it, who can move through it and what is allowed there? [I have left out object buildings floating in landscape – 60s style – for now.]

IMG_0454 (1)In Copenhagen, as in Amsterdam (and doubtless many other northern European cities), there is very little space which is out-of-bounds. But a slight tightening of those boundaries is now evident in the more corporate redevelopments being undertaken at the northern end of the city’s glorious and defining north-south harbour. The open-access variety is beautifully exemplified in two projects of very different eras by Danish architectural practices Lundgaard & Tranberg and Vandkunsten. Garvergarden is like a tiny piece of Newcastle’s Byker: a snaking, collage effect building with characterful staircases, an undulating blue roof and a landscape which takes you, an ordinary pedestrian, on an unexpected journey from one end of the estate to the other. IMG_0440Charlottehaven is its architectural opposite – a highly controlled essay in grey, right-angled restraint – but the generosity and permeability of landscape is striking here too. 178 homes and 44 short-stay apartments form three sides of a huge courtyard, the fourth being completed with a low rise state nursery, a swimming pool, gym and restaurant.The estate is therefore activated with a variety of people using the place for their own purposes and glimpsing the lives of others. It reminded me of Dolphin Square in London, with its gym, squash courts, restaurant and shops as well as a huge landscape (which is still, remarkably, accessible to the public). This is genuine mixed use where the residents are very much part of the urban scene.

04Amerika Plads is where the Danish welcome mat begins to fray. At the southern tip of this new city centre area, a high density sequence of black (surely a difficult colour where light can be so scarce) blocks allows public accessibility to the inner court, designed by the same architects as Charlottehaven. Its northerly cousins do not: a trip up the beckoning steps to the raised courtyards ends with a (rather lovely but closed) gate. The landscape beyond is visible, but is for looking at rather than living in. I hope this does not signify a new ‘international’ sensibility for this wonderful city, which accedes to the security-conscious demands of a less local resident.

Thanks to Jens Kristian Seier for walking me very knowledgeably around Copenhagen

PS: Copenhagen’s white public bikes have SatNav and a motor… Amazingly useful (if a bit heavy).

3 comments on Copenhagen: Garvegarden, Charlottehaven, Amerika Plads

  1. Claire, this blog is fascinating. I can’t help thinking that the UK’s new housing is very dull and unimaginative by comparison (apart from any that you’ve been involved with, natch) but I am ignorant on these matters. What I’d be interested to know is: is ‘affordable’ housing a priority/issue in the cities you are visiting? Are rents/flat prices an issue for residents? Is land and building expensive? As you probably know, a housing association flat is for sale in Hackney for over £1 million, and somehow still fits in with the housing association’s criteria for providing ‘affordable’ housing…

  2. Affordability does crop up as I travel, but it is very clear to me that London is a special case right now. People think that it’s just the shortage of housing supply that affects London prices, but that isn’t right: many European cities have shortages, but not the crippling prices London has. That’s down to a few things. London is a global city and as such attracts purchasers from all over the world. Even if foreign investors aren’t snapping up that many, it drives prices up. The rules and taxes surrounding Buy To Let are very laissez-faire in the UK: over 60% of new builds are being bought by BTL landlords at the moment in London, locking out those with low income and capital. The rules/formulae for how much affordable housing gets built on any given private site are troubled and less is perhaps being built than should be. There is very little state funding now being applied to building new affordable homes in the UK. 300,000 homes were sold under Right to Buy in London alone during the last 35 years and another wave is expected (absurdly). European cities own more land than London’s public sector does, and they can dictate the tenures and quality they want as a result. Affordability is of course complicated by not knowing how much take-home pay people get: I can afford a luxury penthouse in Rotterdam, for example, but how much would I be earning if I lived there? Anecdotally, when I have explained what I am doing to experts and lay-people alike, everyone immediately says that they know London’s property market is crazy, and that it is sad. I saw a big 2 bed flat in a listed building with a balcony advertised in the burbs (easy cycle to centre) in Berlin for £700/month including heating yesterday. In general, more state/city funding, different planning policies, less speculation and less BTL in the cities I have been to so far mean that more new build housing (any housing really) is within reach of more people. Simple as that. London is in danger of losing working people who seek a better quality of life elsewhere: I haven’t seen the exodus or the revolution yet, but it may emerge in about ten years as renters increase in proportion and feel seriously short-changed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.