Copenhagen is a modernist’s delight. Of course, the old town is charming and its origins as a Viking fishing village fascinating, but it’s the 20th century city that I find most compelling. The phenomenal Grundtvig’s Church in the Bispebjerg district is an exceptional example of Neo-Gothic expressionism. Designed by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint, it was completed in 1940 – and set the tone for Denmark’s mid-century aesthetic. Constructed from yellow brick, it seems to glow in the northern light. Breath-taking.
In fact, most of Copenhagen is built from hand crafted brick (more on my visit to the Pietersen brick works in a later post). And dotted about this pristine city, which like so many of the locals we got around in by bicycle, are streamlined mid-century modernist gems. Arne Jacobsen’s Danish National Bank is a graphic black glass block perched upon a marble platform. It exudes security and protection of assets – it is actually a hollow block, with a lush interior courtyard.
In terms of contemporary architecture, the Opera House is obviously the most spectacular, not least because it is a gift from the A.P. Møller & Chastine McKinney Møller Foundation to the Danish people. Designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen, it’s a behemoth in German marble, capped with a slick curvilinear roof that cantilevers over a canal on which it is apparently meant to seem to float. To my eyes, it looks too heavy, too blockish to do any such thing. Call me jingoistic, but I much prefer another opera house, designed by another Danish architect on the other side of the world. Speaking of which, it was my great Sydney friend Mika Utzon Popov – grandson of Jørn Utzon – who gave us the best tips on visiting his ancestral city.
Like New York, Copenhagen has repurposed its Meatpacking district, converting it into a vibrant complex of restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. Unlike New York’s district which is a series of individual buildings, Copenhagen’s packing industry was centred in one immense market hall and this lend the district an incredible visual coherence. Built in the 1930s, its a low-laying two storey structure with a dramatic saw tooth roof enabling an enfilade of skylights. The buzz is palpable, especially on the terraces in the warm summer evenings. Bio Mio is amazing – you order directly from the open kitchen in the middle of the room. Kobyen’s Fiskebar and Nose To Tail are also awesome.
And then, of course, there’s Royal Copenhagen porcelain – I couldn’t resist a set, perfect to top our rustic dining room table back home.