Copenhagen has some of the most interesting architecture in the world, and the Danish capital’s focus on sustainability encourages architects to create buildings that aren’t just beautiful, but also set new standards for eco-friendly design. From underground museums to a clean-energy power plant with its own ski slope, read on to discover the architecture that makes Copenhagen unique.
In Copenhagen’s Nordhavn neighbourhood, a post-industrial area that is being transformed into a new district, architects COBE have turned an old 17-storey grain silo into an apartment block. The result is a monolithic building with a fantastic concrete interior left over from its old life as an industrial storage space. The facade is made of raw, galvanised steel, which acts as a climate screen and makes the building suitable for flats. There are 38 apartments in The Silo, some with ceiling heights of up to seven metres (23 feet), and the building really shows how urban planning can be an opportunity to reuse and reform existing spaces. There’s also a restaurant in the Silo, which can be visited by non-residents.
Due to its peculiar cubic shape and solid black colour, the Royal Library is also known as the Black Diamond. This architectural masterpiece, designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen, is located on Slotsholmen, just by the waterfront. As well as six reading rooms and a great selection of books, the Black Diamond includes a café, bookshop, exhibition room and restaurant. Moreover, theatrical performances, concerts and conferences take place in a specially designed area that can host up to 600 people.
One of Copenhagen’s most attractive qualities is its proximity to water – and the Danes definitely take full advantage of this. The most stylish place to go for a swim in the city is the stunning Kastrup Sea Bath, designed by White Arkitekter in 2004. The fully accessible outdoor swimming facility, known by locals as ‘The Snail’, has a circular shape that provides shelter from the harsh Øresund winds, and in 2007 was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award, which celebrates contemporary architecture. It’s a gorgeous building that enhances the swimming experience – and it’s free of charge and open to visitors every day.
Ørestad City, one of Copenhagen’s newer residential areas, is located outside of town, close to the Øresund Bridge that connects the city to Malmö in Sweden. The architecture of the new neighbourhood is very different to the classic, multicoloured townhouses you’ll find in central Copenhagen – out here, it’s more experimental and contemporary. VM Houses, by BIG and JDS architects, got its name because it looks like the letters V and M from above, shapes that were chosen to allow for daylight, privacy and great views. The result is a fascinating, eye-catching building that’s a great example of modern Danish architecture.
Zaha Hadid, one of the biggest names in contemporary architecture, was chosen in the late 1990s to create the new extension for the Ordrupgaard Museum, which houses French Impressionist art and Danish art from the Golden Age. The architect came up with an edifice that was the exact opposite of the existing building, Gotfred Tvede’s classical 1917 house. Hadid’s undulating building was designed to be a continuation of the landscape and is clad in black lava concrete, which makes it look like it’s changing colour depending on the weather and wind. The beautiful extension makes Ordrupgaard worth visiting, not just for the art, but also the architecture.
Turning a new waste-management centre into an architectural landmark complete with a hiking area and ski slope is a very Copenhagen thing to do – and the idea became reality with the opening of BIG’s CopenHill. The waste-to-energy plant is just one of the steps Copenhagen has taken to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital, and will allow the city to convert 440,000 tonnes of waste into clean energy every year. But it’s the fact that CopenHill is also a social recreation centre, with a sloping rooftop that people can ski down, cross-fit area, climbing wall and the highest viewing plateau in the city, that makes it a truly unique piece of industrial architecture.
The Copenhagen International School was inaugurated in 2017, welcoming 1,200 pupils aged between three and 19 from 80 countries. Four asymmetrical towers comprise the newly built school, which is located in Nordhavn, right on the waterfront, and offers great views over the Øresund. Besides its peculiar size – and the fact that each of the four sections of the school has a different interior design – what makes this building special are the 12,000 solar panels on its facade, one of the world’s largest solar systems in one building. It’s a very Danish way to design a building, with sustainability, style and innovative interior and exterior design all brought together in one structure.
Creating exciting architecture for modern cities isn’t just about adding unusual skyscrapers; looking at what the city needs to better serve its citizens should also be a top priority. This is one of the things that Copenhagen does so well. One of the more people-friendly recent architectural designs in the city is Kalvebod Waves, a collection of resting wooden islands and bridges in the Kalvebod harbour that lend themselves to sunbathing and sports. The cool, wooden design feels contemporary and nods to the Danish fascination with unadorned, light wood, often used both in architecture and interior design.
Whoever comes across the two 75-metre (246-foot) towers rising above Ørestad can’t help but look up in awe. The towers are eye-catching, to say the least, leaning away from each other to create a playful, striking silhouette. They each contain about 400 rooms and, on the 23rd floor, the hotel bar offers a spectacular view of the city. Scandinavia’s biggest hotel, Bella Sky was designed by 3XN, and with its glass and aluminium exterior and 200 individual, innovative designs inside the rooms, it’s definitely one of the most unusual hotels in Denmark.