Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A touch of Amsterdam in a Danish harbour

COPENHAGEN/CITY OF ARCHITECTURE. When I ask outgoing Copenhagen City Architect Jan Christiansen to give an example of a successful new development in the Danish capital, he points enthusiastically at a series of photos.
The pictures show houses on canals with apartments that have direct access to the water and small boats tied to jetties. It could have been in Amsterdam, but this is Sluseholmen in the southern part of Copenhagen’s inner harbour.
“It’s like a modern version of Amsterdam, with the canals and blocks where the houses have different facades and scale that is Copenhagen. I think it turned out really well”, says Christiansen.
Others would beg to differ. Sluseholmen is one those new Copenhagen developments that have been accused of lacking life and deemed a failure. Many of the new apartments have remained unsold as they reached the market in the midst of a global financial crisis. When some were turned into rental flats instead, people have moved in and the area seems well populated.
As I tour Sluseholmen on a gloomy early spring day, with grey skies overhead, the place isn’t exactly full of life. But it’s easy to imagine the pleasant atmosphere on a warm summer day. And when you consider that this used to be an industrial wasteland, you can’t argue with the improvement the Sluseholmen development started in this part of the Danish capital.
When Sluseholmen was planned the City of Copenhagen brought in Dutch architects Soeters Van Eldonk from Amsterdam to create a master plan for their version of a new city on the water, together with Danish firm Arkitema. The model resembles the Java Island development in Amsterdam, also designed by Soeters van Eldonk, but Sluseholmen and its future surroundings are much bigger.
Most houses have direct contact with water. Manmade canals separate the blocks, which in turn are connected by several bridges. Twenty different architects were brought in to design the individual houses with varying facades reminiscent of old Copenhagen traditions.
Sluseholmen has some 1,300 apartments. In 2007 the first residents moved in. Now neighbouring Teglholmen is under construction as this part of Copenhagen expands.
A new bridge connecting the two developments is due to open early next year, which will improve communications for Sluseholmen. Now residents can take a ferry bus through the harbour to central Copenhagen, or walk to a regular bus stop that feels a little bit too far away for comfort.
As a further attraction next to Sluseholmen you can see an unusual residential building called Metropolis, described as a “futuristic fantasy”. The 40 metre tall building stands alone, surrounded by water as example of architectural playfulness with its round form, unusual balconies and windows. But not everybody likes it, since it’s a radical departure from Sluseholmen’s general architectural idea.
When Sluseholmen last year won a prestigious Danish urban design award, there was renewed debate on whether the development was a success or a failure. It led a resident who had lived there from the beginning to defend his new neighbourhood in an op-ed piece in daily Politiken.
“On Sluseholmen life and water join in a higher entity, as there are plenty of both”, concludes Troels Brücker, a librarian, his article.
City Architect Jan Christiansen, who leaves office in a few weeks after his ten-year tenure, sees Sluseholmen as a good example of the benefits of bringing in foreign architects to enrich the local urban landscape.
He doesn’t agree with those who fear that cities will all look the same as local leaders aspire after “world class” architecture for their cities.
“On the contrary. The foreign architects that have come here have been inspired by our city and are often better at reading the place than the domestic architects. You can skip the term world class, but when local and international goes hand in hand, that’s when it becomes interesting”, says Christiansen.

This is the second in a series of reports on architecture in Copenhagen. Tomorrow we’ll meet one of Denmark’s star architects.


Amsterdam of the north; the canals of Sluseholmen in Copenhagen.


Metropolis, a "futuristic fantasy" on the water.


The courtyards of Sluseholmen are open to enter.

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