Saturday, September 11, 2010

Copenhagen Architecture

Just a brief rundown of some buildings that I checked out during my time in Copenhagen. There isn't a "general" age for the buildings - many are from the 1700s or earlier, but cycles of building booms, including the recent surge in the early 2000's, give the cityscape an interesting heterogenity.

The (almost) ubiquitous 6-storey building height makes for a rather underwhelming skyline for someone used to the tall buildings of Chicago. After a week, though, I much prefer the shorter building height; It seems to keep the city on a more human. The skyscrapers in downtown Chicago can seem monolithic, almost Orwellian.

Copenhagen's short stature makes some for some spectacular views from the corkscrew spire on top of the Church of Our Savior. Getting up there was an adventure in itself - the old carrilon bells and timber beams were tricky to navigate, and the stairs were definitely not designed for two-way traffic. The view from the top is definitely worth it, though

Copenhagen has a fair share of buildings by architecture "names," and in recent times has attracted international attention. Pritzker winners like Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster have buildings in Copenhagen, and Jean-Nouvel contributed to the recently completed Danish Radio Concert Hall (a joint project designed with Vilhelm Lauritzen, Dissing+Weitling, Gottlieb & Palludan and Nobel Arkitekter).

The hall, on approach, is very unassuming. The design is very rectilinear, almost like a large cube. As you get closer to the semi-transparent exterior, you begin to see the expressionistic, geometric concert hall; it appears as though a giant meteor is resting in the enclosure. The effect is even more striking when you enter: the main performance hall is a seperate structure, suspended above the reception area.

I was lucky enough to see a concert in the hall - Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto and Strauss Ein Heldenleben. The acoustics of the hall were somewhat finicky. The brass and low strings projected very well, but the piano sounded a little washed-out and I could hardly hear the concert master's solo in the Strauss. The all-around seating of the audience made the hall seem empty somehow, but the interior design, with its undulating, wood-grained walls and fragmented balconies, more than compesates for the off-putting audience dispersion.

Denmark, named Monocle's Best Design City in 2008, has its share of world-class architects. B.I.G. is one of my local favorites. I snuck into their office - it was like peeking in on Santa's workshop, filled with models of all shapes, colors and sizes, busy little elves (interns) clicking away on computers and cutting with exactos...

If only I had brought my portfolio. Ah well - someday...

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