Modern architects like to brag about creating buildings with small footprints, eco-friendly structures that offer a sustainable solution to urban design challenges. A recently completed Danish development on the Copenhagen harbor approaches the concept of a conservative footprint through a different lens. The Krøyers Plads buildings, a row of polygonal apartment buildings, were designed by COBE Architects and Vilhelm Lauritzen Arkitekter to make the smallest possible aesthetic impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Building within this particular historic neighborhood has been a challenge that many architects and developers have tried but failed to realize. Since 2001, five other teams attempted the build on the site at the center of the city’s historical Nyhavn harbor district, near the Royal Playhouse, Copenhagen Opera House, and iconic restaurant Noma, but a combination of neighborhood resistance and local political pushback doomed every attempt. Evidently, Nordic NIMBYs can be very convincing.
The COBE/Vilhelm Lauritzen team didn’t want to repeat the past, and instead made a concerted effort to get local buy-in. According to Dan Stubbergaard, COBE’s creative director, the architects immediately surveyed local residents, asking them about their worries and wishes for the site, as well as gauging how height and density might present problems on such a delicate site.
The three 5-story buildings were designed hand-in-hand with locals, who would meet with designers every few weeks to review new sketches. Stubbergaard says the design team went through 20-30 different schemes and prototypes. The eventual geometric design wasn’t just an aesthetic decision: every angle was a response to concerns about blocked views and fitting in with surrounding buildings.
“It was a much longer process, but in a way a very fruitful process that eliminated all the difficulties and worries that others developers working with that piece of land had faced before,” he says. “Now, these buildings are part of the tissue, and DNA, of the city. There wasn’t any big fuss or debate then they opened, people just smoothly moved into the space.”
The low-slung structures, contemporary takes on waterfront warehouses, adorned with eye-catching brickwork, also reflect the local building topology, helping the new apartments blend in with the streetscape. Spaced out to avoid too much density, the buildings cluster around a new waterfront promenade where locals can jump in the river and go for a swim.
The Krøyers Plads development is also very sustainable, built with recyclable materials, a green roof, and tightly insulated walls to conserve power. It’s the first Danish building to get the Ecolabel designation, and was recently awarded a Green Good Design Award.
The apartments, which opened last spring, offer a great example of site-specific, sustainable design. Tenants in the high-end units will soon be joined by ground floor retail. But Stubbergaard feels the real reason they’re successful is that the designers and architects were able to tell a story, which residents helped co-write. The clear storyline and collaborative process was very fruitful for the architects.
“We didn’t come with this big, academic architectural language, like some abstract architect dressed in black,” he says. “We showed how it’s related to historical buildings. We wanted to build an interpretation of the warehouse buildings.”