This year, the torch of the World Capital of Architecture passed from Rio de Janeiro to Copenhagen. For Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, “Copenhagen will build upon Rio’s achievements, by continuing to show the way in which architecture and culture can respond to the challenges of our time, especially in the environmental field.”
Through the perspectives of various Danish architects, such as Marie-Louise Høstbo, Head of Design at Fritz Hansen, we venture into the unique character of North Copenhagen. Exploring some of her favorite locations –all of which exemplify the city’s culture and sustainable approach– we analyze how Copenhagen upholds a strong legacy and how architecture and urban development play an essential role in shaping its urban identity, while promoting sustainability and liveability. From the serene coastal escape at Bellevue to the reimagined dry dock echoing the city’s maritime history, Høstbo showcases how the World Capital of Architecture seamlessly integrates “design, art, and architecture from the past, present, and future.”
A short train ride away from Copenhagen, the Maritime Museum in the harbor area of Kulturhavn Kronborg in Helsingør (which is the culmination of a project that reimagines the industrial era) integrates architecture with interactive exhibitions to explore Denmark’s seafaring history. For Høstbo, these exhibitions delve into the mythology of shipping and technological innovations in navigation, from the flourishing trading period of the 18th century to contemporary global society.
The project demonstrates how architectural design acts as a tool for strengthening culture and history. With a coastline that extends for a total of 5,440 miles, this geographical feature has played a significant role in shaping the nation’s identity, participating in various historical events from its Viking heritage and maritime trade to its contemporary tourist attractions.
Designed by Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Danish National Maritime Museum is placed in a unique historical and spatial context. Situated within the walls of the former dry dock, without obstructing the view of Kronborg Castle, the design strategy involved the creation of a subterranean museum, with the dry dock as the centerpiece, where visitors experience the scale of shipbuilding.
Without intervening the 60-year-old dock walls, the galleries are positioned below ground and organized in a continuous loop around these walls. The design incorporates three double-level bridges that span the dry dock, enabling urban connections and convenient shortcuts through various museum sections. The harbor bridge serves as the enclosure for the dock while acting as a harbor promenade, the auditorium’s bridge connects the adjacent Culture Yard with Kronborg Castle, and the sloping zing-zag bridge guides visitors to the main entrance.
Mirroring the rhythmic turn of the waves, architect Arne Jacobsen created a timeless and serene coastal escape. Located on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen, Bellevue is a 700-meter-long sand beach in Klampenborg that receives around 500,000 visitors a year. Jacobsen’s iconic Danish design extends from the geometric kiosks and surrounding housing to lamps, fixtures, textiles, and furniture.
Within the Danish design aesthetic, where form meets function, Bellevue Theater –an example of Jacobsen’s classic modern architecture–, the Søholm houses, and the Bellavista apartment buildings are also distinguished architecture spots to visit. Following Høstbo’s guidance, you can enjoy the view from the blue-striped lifeguard towers, located at the end of the pier.
Moreover, just a short stroll from Bellevue Strand, the prototype gas station in Skovshoved has preserved its appearance exactly as it was when it was built in 1936. This building, also known as “the Mushroom”, is characterized by its ellipse-shaped canopy roof.
For Høstbo, going north of Copenhagen is also an opportunity for immersing oneself in art and creativity. Stepping into the private home of architect, interior, and industrial designer Finn Juhl in Charlottenlund opens a world of subtle details, where furniture becomes sculptural masterpieces.
Juhl’s design allows the gentle Scandinavian light to pour in from the wide terrace doors and large windows, reflecting off the soft white walls. Along with the illuminated space, the house’s interior features iconic Danish furniture such as the Chieftain Chair, accompanied by the love seat The Poet.
Next to the house, the Art Museum Ordrupgaard celebrates the centenary of Finn Juhl. Opened in 1918, this museum is known for its large collection of French and Danish art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Romanticism and early Realism, to Impressionism. The museum is composed of different buildings that have been gradually incorporated, which today include the main building, the Lavender House, Finn Juhl’s house, and the modern extension by Zaha Hadid and Snøhetta.