Thanks to the different bricks, and their equally varied structures, we were able to respond to the surroundings and prompt a dialogue between old and new, between lightness and heaviness.
Nikolaj Harving, Project Manager of COBE Architects Denmark
You have won several awards for your pro- ject Krøyers Plads in Copenhagen. Could you tell us more about the project?
Our project was based on the question: how can we design an interesting housing development? We wanted to create an alternative to the usual concept of replicating a given apartment model. So we developed 105 different apartments! Small ones and bigger ones, so families, individuals, or couples could choose a size and design to suit their needs. Krøyers Plads is a refreshing alternative to the usual, monotonous apartment buildings. When we started, the intention was that two thirds of the buildings would be used as office space. Now, all of the buildings are used exclusively for apartments, except for the ground floors, where there is retail space. This way, the ground floor is an inviting, public space that stimulates urban life in the neighbourhood.
Before your proposal was accepted, a lot of other suggestions were turned down. Could you describe your successful approach? What made the difference?
Before our concept was accepted, there had been ongoing discussions and plans for more than a decade. Our design was convincing for several reasons. One of them was adapting to fit the historic setting. Our strong focus on the surrounding buildings, and the fact that we incorporated the district’s atmosphere and history into our design, was key. Involving the neighbourhood in a participatory process was an important factor. We had to contend with a lot of regulations, because the development site is in a central location and forms part of Copenhagen’s historic city centre. Ultimately, we were successful because we managed to unite scale, materials, and architectural context in our plans.
What were the challenges involved in integrating a modern design into the surrounding historic structures of the harbour?
Krøyers Plads blends in perfectly with the historic urban environment of Copenhagen’s harbour front and the streetscape. Façade proportions, roof heights and, of course, orientation of the building complex, all play a key role in balancing the architectural heaviness. Inspired by the surrounding historic warehouse buildings along the harbour, and their rough brickwork, we initiated a dialogue between the new and old buildings. The choice of materials was important. It was at a very early stage that we decided the buildings should be constructed in brick.
Where there any challenges during the design process?
There were many. At COBE, we always want to chal- lenge the “usual way” of doing things. We had to blend modern architecture into a historical context. What we did was to reinvent the warehouse-style buildings of 300 years ago. We analysed their proportions and designed the new buildings accordingly. So the cornices of our buildings match those of the surrounding older buildings. The location also posed a challenge: due to its proximity to the city centre, the area is very expensive. Therefore, we didn’t want to just construct a generic building there; rather, we wanted to include residents in the planning – a democratic process. The strict conformity of the surroundings presented a further challenge – the site is between warehouses with a very high degree of symmetry. For example, although the roofs vary in colour, they appear to have been cut in one piece. That was one of the reasons why we chose to use the same materials for both the roof and façade. We wanted to preserve this impression of a monolith.
All the tiles look slightly different and therefore create a special aesthetic on the building’s facade – how was that achieved?
The differences are very subtle. The bricks are in red and black, the roof tiles have more of a blackish shade – they match the surroundings. We designed them ourselves; the surface of the tiles is roughened with sandpaper to create a varied structure.
Why was it necessary to create a new product for this project?
We wanted to be able to design our own individual bricks, to ensure a perfect fit. We found the idea of completely red buildings super interesting. We wanted the roof & façade to be constructed from the same material, and there was no doubt that we would work with bricks. When visiting a Wienerberger brick factory in the Netherlands, we found out about the many design possibilities they offer. And at an affordable price. It was the starting point of our journey. The process of collaboration was an enjoyable experience, and we found bricks to be an inspiring material.
Could you describe how your office collaborat- ed with Wienerberger during that process?
Dan Stubbergaard (Creative Director and founder of COBE) and I, together with our partners, Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, visited the production site several times. The process was very sophisticated; we felt like ceramic artists. We started playing with clay to find out about its different characteristics. We were working like ceramists: scratching the surface, and tossing it in different kinds of powder to affect the surface. During the whole process of developing a new material, we found Wienerberger’s approach very open-minded, very responsive to our demands and ideas.
Why do you like working with ceramic materials?
Before, I had the impression that working with bricks would mean putting together pre-fabricated pieces of material. But it is the opposite. You can create your own material. The texture of ceramic materials is very special, and every brick is unique. Developing a special material for a project ties in well with COBE’s idea of challenging the traditional ways of doing things.