New angles on warehouse living – Krøyers Plads, Copenhagen

Located on the doorstep of Copenhagen’s Nyhavn tourist trap are a trio of desirable new harbourside apartment blocks which echo the area’s traditional brick architecture, but with a modern twist. Sébastien Reed reports.

Probably the most immediately striking aspect of the Krøyers Plads apartment scheme is its location, in the very heart of Copenhagen. Three substantial new build- ings have been inserted next to the harbour on a tight, very central site – facing architects Lundgaard & Trandberg’s 2008 Royal Danish Playhouse across the water, and next to the former location of the ‘world’s best restaurant,’ Noma. It comes almost as no surprise that it took 10 years and a plethora of submissions from top European practices before COBE and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects’ (VLA) joint proposal for a devel- opment by NCC for the empty plot was accepted in 2011.

Five previously-submitted bids were all rejected by local interest organisations and the city due to excessive height, and deviation from Copenhagen’s historical and aesthetic contexts. Following additional stagnation caused by the 2008 financial crisis, the highly politicised site was an “architectural battleground,” according to COBE – and this context would later inform the sensitive and strategic approach it would adopt for this project.

The finished project combines three five-storey mixed-use buildings, together housing 105 high-end residential units, each with its own distinct form. The buildings are skirted at ground-level by a range of retail and food outlets, their high-end nature befitting the neighbourhood.

The plot is sandwiched between the water and Strandgade, a historic and picturesque street running along the harbour front. A basin protrudes into the plot from the harbour towards Strandgade to form one side of the plot, framed on two sides by attractive 18th century warehouses. The one to the north-east was Noma’s former home, now housing a new eatery with the world-beating restaurant having recently relocated to a site not far away.

Hyper-democracy

If the design was to be successful, the approach had to be “hyper-democratic and contextual,” says COBE project architect Nikolaj Harving. Well aware of previous failures further down the harbour, such as “office buildings in the 1980s with no public access,” plus the more recent succession of rejected proposals for this site, COBE and VLA’s first priority was to fully consult local stakeholders and build a collective vision for the project. The two firms working in partnership conducted a series of workshops to open the design process to the public.

“We involved them, and listened to them,” Harving says, “they said ‘no’ if it was too high, or the wrong material,” adding “for some of them, the only thing they had an opinion about was that it was too many square metres.”

This provided the architects with the opportunity not only to inform the public as widely as possible, but also to explain the rationale behind their decisions. “It was very much about involving everybody,” Harving explains, “but also to act as

middlemen throughout the design process.” But, as in any democracy, opposition is a given. Naturally, their client was also eager

to reap the most from the 20,000 m2 plot. When first designed, Krøyers Plads was programmed as two deep-plan office buildings, and one residential. The overwhelming response from buyers however meant that the programming was changed to make all three mixed-use but primarily residential.

Contextual stories

The brief was to “develop the 20,000 m2 and involve the public in the process”, Harving says. Acknowledgement of the sensitivity of the high-profile site was the first step in producing a design that was to be welcomed by stakeholders.

As part of respecting the context, rather than conjuring up an entirely new typology for the buildings, inspiration was taken from the historic warehouses scattered along the harbour. The key design idea was to produce a contemporary vision of this vernacular theme.

To this end, Krøyers Plads also pays subtle homage to the “cut-out” appearance and external symmetry of its warehouse neighbours. Harving explains how the facades communicate this symmetry as well as regularity found in the buildings’ antecedents: “the windows follow the same strict size and rhythm, even until they reach the cornice lengths.”

The way in which the new buildings are arranged topographically is also designed to be a continuation of the other warehouses, replicating the even pattern of distribution along the harbourfront – “like pearls in a necklace,” in the architect’s words.

“From the harbourfront, you see that the buildings share the same scale,” he says, despite Krøyers Plads’ volumes being much deeper planned than those of its neighbours. The architects delivered this trick thanks to meticulous 3D modelling to get the right mix of height and depth.

The roofs’ angular corners reflect the heights of the neighbouring warehouse structures, maintaining continuity and helping to preserve the city centre skyline, punctured by church steeples. However while providing some continuity of rhythm they also playfully and subtly distort the traditional contours of the original warehouses. Harving also notes that this departure from traditional forms was motivated also by the client’s scramble to maximise the utility of the given space.

Brick innovations

Another key area of concern for locals was that appropriate materials would
be specified for the project, but the resulting choice of brick would also mean discovering an innovative means to deliver the forms required. In the meantime, the architects settled on the colour palette early in the design process, with response to the site context being paramount. Harving explains: “We wanted red

and black, which were very common in the roofs of surrounding historic warehouse buildings.”

VLA and COBE’s interwoven design approach precipitated the development of an entirely new cladding method. Due to structural reasons and the sheer size of the buildings’ roofs, the monolithic aesthetic that the architects were keen to create couldn’t be achieved using traditional facade bricks.

Harving and his team took regular trips to Wienerberger’s Copenhagen brickyard, where they experimented extensively with different clay and kiln techniques to produce precisely the desired shape and colour palette.

The result of this collaboration with Wienerberger was “a new type of brick – a

cladding brick that can be used for both roofs and facades,” he tells ADF. The shallow U-shaped cladding tile are hung from the wooden roof and facade slats, making it possible to clad a range of more atypical geometries – such as found on Krøyers Plads’ roofs.

This innovative material is used extensively on the two parallel buildings closer to the water’s edge (which were origi- nally to be office buildings). The material continuity of each structure’s exterior elimi- nates any obvious frontier between roof and facade, blending construction elements apparently seamlessly.

On the facades facing the Strandgade, the original intention was to use a standard Danish brick rotated 90 degrees to reveal the individual recesses created in the brick casting process and create a more rugged look. However, again a traditional approach was not structurally feasible: “The engineer said the facade would not be able to stand as it would be too thin,” Harving explains, “so, we used a special heavier brick.”

A third brick was also devised by cutting away the sides of the rotated bricks and using them to clad the interior of each balcony. Harving admits to having his negative perceptions of the material were shattered: “I found out through the process that there are so many possibilities – with colouring, depending so much on the clay, the heat – every stone is unique.”

Ground floor passages crossing through the colossal buildings are clad with mirrors. The reflective properties of the material carry light through the tunnels, allowing passers-by to feel more secure; and the “non-material” concedes to the red-black colour scheme.

High return

“The most amazing thing is that there has not been one negative response – that’s really remarkable”, Harving chuckles. Winning the MIPIM 2015 Award for Best Residential Development, COBE and VLA managed to design a building that is almost indiscriminately generous each and every user and party involved.

Although the harbourfront space at Krøyers Plads is owned by the property’s residents, it is open to the public. “Traditionally in Copenhagen,” says Harving, “you have these courtyard houses, with a private courtyard in the front, whereas here the whole ground floor is functionally ‘public.’”

Nearby additions to the built environment have placed yet more emphasis on the public realm, with the inclusion of a foot and cycle bridge easing the circulation of pedestrians to and from the Nyhavn district, and the establishment of a new square. All of this together has transformed Krøyers Plads from a neglected milieu to a new hotspot.

The scheme exceeds Danish energy efficiency standards by nearly 40 per cent, resulting in Krøyers Plads housing the first apartments awarded with the Nordic Ecolabel certification – normally applied to eco-friendly cosmetics and toiletry products in Scandinavia.

The architects were no less successful in terms of fulfilling their client NCC’s aspirations, and the initial delays paradoxically delivered it an even more handsome return. Due to the fallout of the decade-long litany of unsuccessful planning applications, the developer was able to purchase the land for a sub-market price. Now, the finished apartments are among Copenhagen’s most desired.

Comfortably progressive, the architects’ new cladding methodology is catching a wave as other projects begin to specify similar brick facades. In this way it has been the catalyst for other modern emulations of familiar monolithic structures which are now appearing across the city.

PROJECT FACTFILE

Project: Krøyers Plads
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark Client: NCC Bolig
Size: 20,000 m²
Architects: COBE and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architect