Design Day: North of Copenhagen
The northern suburbs of Copenhagen are beautiful and hygge-to-the-max on their own, but they also are a veritable treasure trove of iconic Danish design (with a little Zaha thrown in for good measure) — and we mapped out a day of wandering to see it all. It's a hike for sure (my feet were killing me) but some of this stuff is 100% bucket-list worthy.
Here's an overview: you're looking at the suburbs of Skovshoved, Ordrup and Klampenborg (click on the image to zoom — there will be a quiz later). We started our exploration from the Ordrup S-tog station, which is about a 15-minute ride on the C line from central Copenhagen. After wandering about and taking 6,000 photos, we made our way to the Klampenborg station to head back into town.
After disembarking at Ordrup station, we made our way east towards the Skovshoved Tankstation — zig-zagging through the most adorable streets. Be sure to check out Skovshoved Kirke as you walk by — the low, long 1980's addition is truly stunning. It was designed by Vilhelm Wohlerts (the architect of the Louisiana Museum — post coming soon!), Viggo Kanneworff and Niels Munk. The original was designed by Alfred Brandt in 1914-15, and the stained glass and striped tile mosaics were added in the 1960s by Knud Lollesgaard.
As you get closer to the Øresund (and the Tankstation), you'll pass a gloriously Brutalist 4-building housing project called Kildevang, designed by Svend Fournais in 1960-62. (Not really noteworthy — but I love Brutalism, so I can't leave it out.)
And then, this...
I died, right there. The Skovshoved Tankstation was designed and built by Arne Jacobsen in 1936 as a prototype for Texaco. The idea was to develop this design and replicate it across the world... Well, I'm slightly torn. Glad that this incredibly gorgeous structure has not become ubiquitous and blasé, yet sad that I had to travel thousands of miles to see it instead of walking a block or two.
It was renovated in 2002 from top to bottom by Dissing+Weitling (the firm founded by two employees of Master Arne upon his death in 1971) and is listed as a class A historic monument. It also conveniently houses a coffee shop — so grab a latte and chill for a minute to let the design buzz wear off.
Next up, Ordrupgaard and Finn Juhls Hus. We wandered around a bit instead of walking back to the Ordrup station, but for clarity I've shown how we'd get there if you happened to. It's a fairly long walk, but it's really worth it — the neighborhood is a great mix of very old historic homes and more modern works. On the way, there's a house at Godfred Rodesvej 2 that was designed by Arne Jacobsen for himself. He lived there until 1943, when he escaped to Sweden to avoid Nazi deportation. (It's a private home, and not open to the public — so be respectful and don't snoop around!)
As you meander down Skovgårdsvej towards Ordrupgaard, there's a path through the woods that is a bit more direct — it's also totally infuriatingly gorgeous. I half-expected Snow White to come skipping down the path.
Ordrupgaard is primarily a museum devoted to 19th- and 20th-century Danish and French art — which, frankly, doesn't really interest me. I was there for the Zaha. It costs DKK110 to get into both the main museum and Finn Juhl's house — unless you took my recommendation and got a Copenhagen Card, in which case it's included.
The original 1916-18 building (and most of the permanent collection) were left to the Danish state by the widow of Wilhelm Hansen, a prominent financier / art collector / "state councillor" — it then opened in 1953 as a state museum. Then in 2005, Zaha Hadid added a new black lava concrete extension to better allow international-level traveling exhibitions.
I am a firm believer in getting out there and exploring the world, and letting those experiences continuously shape your beliefs. My opinions on most things ebb and change as I travel, but let's get real: I do not like Zaha's work. I've been in a few of her projects and each time, I leave frustrated. They are diagram-buildings, so deep within their own little world that there is no hope for outsiders to understand. They are formal, rather than functional — there's likely a story for every curve and bend (maybe not, though) but the cloakroom is a joke and the gift shop features sloped displays that make grabbing a postcard an acrobatic feat. The cafe is too tall and too narrow, and the floor slopes upwards to meet the ceiling, which is completely covered in seemingly random sheetrock patterning and thousands of scattered recessed fixtures. It's incredibly odd. It is, however, incredibly photogenic.
Have a coffee (or a beer if you're me) and ponder the headache-inducing visual noise in the cafe before heading to the real reason you're at Ordrupgaard: Finn Juhls Hus.
Finn Juhls Hus is a little jaunt down a path outside of the main Ordrupgaard complex. You must go into the main building first to gain an admission badge. You ring a doorbell and a man lets you in, making sure there are only a few people inside at once. Obviously, don't touch anything or hop over any of the ropes, as tempting as it will be.
Finn Juhl was an architect, interior designer, and furniture designer. Outside of Denmark, he was largely know for his furniture designs — he's credited for introducing Americans to Danish design in the 1940s-50s. He was, obviously, incredibly talented and used his house as a sort of laboratory, experimenting with furniture layouts, finishes, fixtures, and materiality.
It completely knocked the wind out of my chest.
It's the perfect house. It's small, yet spacious. Tidy, yet cluttered with mementos. Cozy, yet spare. I took hundreds of photos — at one point I had to stop in the middle of a group of Japanese tourists to take a picture of a doorknob.
It is overwhelmingly, achingly beautiful — and if I had had to get right on a plane immediately after stepping out of that house, the whole trip would've been worth it. It truly made me appreciate my talents as a designer more, and it made me want to work even harder to somehow become even a fifth of the designer Mr. Juhl was.
If you're in any way in the design field, this is required.
The last stop on this emotionally and physically-exhausting design day is Klampenborg, a lovely little community right on the Øresund. You can get there easiest by taking the 388 bus from the Vilvordevej stop, just outside the entrance to Ordrupgaard, to the Klampenborg S-tog station. If you have your Copenhagen Card, there's no extra fare needed.
Klampenborg is Jacobsen territory, man — and it is worth every minute. We started out at Bellevue Strand, designed by a young and fresh Arne Jacobsen and opened to the public in 1932. The Danish government legislated the right to vacation in the 1930s, and Danish coastal communities vied for every new vacationer's kroner by constructing new beach facilities. Bellevue Strand quickly became the most popular summer spot in Copenhagen. You could get to and from the city to Bellevue for 30 øre, including the beach entrance fee — that's five cents!
Jacobsen believed wholeheartedly in the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk — a German term, roughly meaning "total work of art." The concept began in philosophy and music (specifically with Wagner), but via Art Nouveau and then the Bauhaus, it began to apply to architecture and design as well. It implies that the architect is in charge of the totality of the design — the structure itself, and everything within its orbit. Thus, Jacobsen designed not only the architecture of Bellevue Strand, but the tickets, uniforms and signage as well.
Jacobsen had just opened his office, but the commissions in Klampenborg kept coming. Right across the Strandvejen from the beach is the Bellevue Teatret, and the adjoining townhomes, designed in 1936. One of the townhomes is currently for sale, in fact — for $1.25million. Check out the photos and floorplans on DanBolig. If you're peckish, grab a bite at the Bellevue Bistro or head on down Strandvejen to see more.
Next up is the meandering Bellavista housing estate, completed in 1934 — another example of Jacobsen's attention to detail.
Remember — these are all private homes and not open to the public, so don't wander about in their yards or poke into their garages. Be respectful!
The we do a bit of time traveling to 1961 — Ved Bellevue Bugt (By Bellevue Bay) is a 4-story apartment block and a series of low atrium houses (low as to not block the views of the 4-story block). The atrium houses are stunning — minimalist yet monolithic in a way, set in a sea of brambles.
The floorplans are beautiful, too. Two interior courtyards with lots of glass mean that the private outdoor spaces are treated with equal reverence to the stunning view of the Øresund, and shows an appreciation for indoor-outdoor living. One bathroom is probably a stretch for today's occupants, but who knows?
Then a jump back a few years to Søholm I, II and III — designed and built in three stages between 1945 and 1954. Søholm is an example of Jacobsen's shift from Bauhaus and International-influenced all-white Functionalist architecture to a style called "Functional Tradition" — by using traditional brick construction in a modern way, he honored the context and history of the area while simultaneously rethinking how a house should work.
The Søholm I house closest to the beach, and furthest down along Strandvejen (#413) was Jacobsen's home and office upon his return from Sweden until his death in 1971. It is only fitting that he spent the rest of his life in his ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk — an entire town, designed entirely by him from top to bottom throughout his inimitable career. I think it must have been like living in a scrapbook — he could revisit old memories simply by walking down the Strandvejen. And, how lucky he was — at the same time, he could watch these buildings be used and enjoyed to their fullest extent by the populace, just as he imagined.
After you've stopped sobbing (seriously, I cried), make your way back up towards Klampenborg and grab an S-tog back to the center of town. If you're peckish, there's a Circle-K station with Danish hot dogs — no joke, the Danes do not mess about with their convenience stores. Try a franskepølse — which is simply a hot dog shoved into a baguette. The attendant claimed it "couldn't be more French if it tried," although I do not recall the French having any sort of affinity for hot dogs whatsoever.
There's a riding center just across the tracks from the station that was refurbished by Jacobsen, so you get one little extra tidbit before leaving this magical place.
If all the above just wasn't quite enough for you, head to Sølystvej 5 through 11 — designed by architect Mogens Lassen, beginning in 1935. #5, in particular, was Lassen's personal home until his death in 1987. You'll see a remarkable familiar white Functionalist style, reminiscent of Jacobsen — with a sculptural nod to Le Corbusier.
...And there's my first Design Day guide! It's fairly long, but I wanted to show what's really possible in a day when you know where you're going — and all of these places still haunt my dreams, so it was worth every foot cramp. Stay tuned for the next guide — Amager!
ADDENDUM — Here is a link to the Gentofte Atlas of Important Buildings, lots more to see in the region if you're an architecture nerd like me! It's in Danish, but you can still pick out names and addresses.