What Could Be Rotten in the State of Denmark?
Tyler Brûlé of Wallpaper and Monocle magazine, the pied-piper of modern hedonism (and to a Guardian reporter, a show in his own right), has consistently ranked Copenhagen as one of the top liveable cities in Monocle’s annual Quality of Life survey.
Copenhagen does seem to be in a happy situation of a city somewhat deliberately designed for civic enjoyment, with locals take full advantage of existing infrastructure without whining for properly designated facilities.
Sunny mornings in Copenhagen (and not just weekend mornings) means there are picnic blankets rolled up and tied onto the backs of bicycles parked up along Jægersborggade. Their owners are having brunch at Manfred‘s perhaps or picking up some fresh juice from ROD smoothie/juice bar, or a cinnamon roll at Lyst to accompany a coffee from The Coffee Collective.
With adequate supplies, they head to Assistens Kirkegård (Assistens Cemetery), to commune with the dead – using gravestones as coffee tables, sunbathing and lounging about reading on the grass amongst the tombstones, letting babies play while chatting with girlfriends. There were only a few Americans paying homage to grumpy Søren Kierkegaard, while H.C. Andersen was completely un-feted.
All around Frederiksberg Have (Frederiksberg Garden), just next to the zoo (the elephants had a fine view of sunbathers), bikinis were sprawled out on the grass. Pet dogs rested in the shade of manicured trees, courting couples shared a laugh, curly-haired platinum blonde kids sat upright in their perambulators waving at cooing construction workers etc.
At Ørstedsparken, fully clothed men, some in their paint-splattered work clothes, having lunch and a heart-to-heart with mates.
And instead of paying to dice with death or partaking of greed-inducing games of chance in old Tivoli, families and groups of friends were lounged about on deck chairs having fun on the grass.
And not just in designated gardens and parks but really, on just about any little patch of grass like this bit beside Sønder Boulevard (a revitalised 19th century promenade by architect: SLA), there were picnickers and sunbathers reading while enjoying jazz mash-ups from a nearby concert.
Even on a cloudy day, friends gathered around a statue on Frederisksberg Alle with pastries and drinks from a nearby branch of Lagkaghuset to eat and chat.
The Harbour Baths were thronging (ha!) with children diving off platforms at Island Brygge Harbour Pool and everyone else chilling in the sun on the platforms designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and JDS Architects (both founders formerly from PLOT). The facility was available free-of-charge and allows part of the working harbour to be used for aquatic activities.
Others socialised on the adjacent grass patch, with ice-cream van in attendance, or hung out along the sidewalk chatting and watching boats go by, their occupants whooping and laughing.
Upstream, towards Gemini Residence and across Brygge Broen (Quay Bridge), the more enclosed Copencabana Harbour Bath hosted even more people, just in front of Fisketorvet Shopping Centre. The Bryggebroen combined function (with separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians) with design simplicity (architect: Dissing + Weitling) . And the stunning Gemini Residence was a great example of an industrial building converted for other use – the twin concrete silos once having been seed silos for the enormous Soya Been Cake Factory (architects: MVRDV, JJW).
Downstream, one of my absolute favourite repurposed old buildings: the Torpedo Hall Apartments in Holmen (architect: Tegnestuen Vandkunsten). Love that the Danish re-use existing buildings while retaining structures that hint at their original purpose. This sentiment must be shared by many since the units were said to cost about DKK50,000 per square meter.
Other architectural eye-candy included The Royal Library (aka The Black Diamond) in black African granite (architect: schmidt hammer lassen) and
The Copenhagen Opera House (architect: Henning Larsen Architects) – the Canal Tours guide said it had an interior shaped like a heart and stringed like an instrument.
And if anyone thought the Danish were just going for waterfront “iconic” buildings, this amazing student residence at Ørestad. The Tietgenkollegiet (architect: Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter) was based on the design of a traditional Hakka tu lou 土楼. Unlike the defensive structure of the Chinese original, this circular building was meant to promote community in combination with the individual.
Just next to it was the lovely Boligslangen (Serpentine House) (architects: Arkitema, Domus), a big housing project with integrated day-care facilities. Under the same roof were blocks of public housing, privately-owned units, and co-ops, an experiment in having a mix of residents to create a good urban environment.
At the Dansk Arkitektur Center (Danish Architecture Centre), which was hosting the informative Show Me Your Model display of the architectural models, one of the t-shirts for sale (“What If Architecture Could Change The World?” from a previous exhibition on “Building Sustainable Cities”) captured what seems to be a growing Design As Saviour mentality amongst many of the Wallpaper/Monocle set.
We’ve had prolonged discussions previously about design and town planning for social housing (integrated amongst valuable space or ostracised to the edge of town?) and also, the design of HDB public flats to encourage more of that “kampong spirit”. While design can build safe shelters and meet the needs of the disabled, and might even encourage certain behaviour (eg. interaction between neighbours), can architecture really promote good values (of equality of mankind, of respect (and even love) for neighbour, of hard work, of being law-abiding)?
The Bible reminds us that all evil issues from our hearts (Matthew 15:17-19) and that we are evil all the time. While reminders of beauty, eg. the greenery and sunshine, or aesthetically-pleasing design of our surroundings, may chastise us to act better (but why should they?), this change is external and only temporary. Soon the old man emerges (he was not dead, only resting) and we are back to our nasty old ways. There is no hope for change except a heart transplant wrought by God.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36)