Blox by OMA


BLOX is a ‘city in the city’, mixing diverse functions. These include private penthouse apartments, so-called co-creative workspaces, a gym and the large Danish Architecture Center exhibition space.

Dutch OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) designed this stack of glass boxes. OMA, led by Rem Koolhaas, shook European architecture through the 90s with a radically pragmatic approach, that established what was later known as ‘Super-dutch’.

Their international influence is substantial, and not least found in the works of Koolhaas’ ‘apprentice’, Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels. He worked for OMA before starting his own practice in Copenhagen.

In this case, the building occupies the last empty spot in this stretch of the central harbour, completing the transformation of the former industrial harbourfront.

Albeit less radically, also this project stirs up the situation enough to cause quite some criticism among Copenhageners and the local architects.

According to the critique, it’s too big and modern, and it’s too intrusive, so it dominates the historical surroundings. It’s illogic and counterintuitive to enter the building under the ground, only to go up again. The materials are industrial and non-organic.

I understand – and to some extent agree to – these objections to the newcomer. There is definitely something ‘uncomfortable’ about the building, that does not live up to the usual high standards in Denmark and Copenhagen.

The building sits somewhat unsettled on this corner, partly hanging over the edge. It has no main facade or direction and no clear entrance. It forces functions (and thus people) together with no direct or logic interaction. The flow of visitors and users isn’t intuitive and highly efficient.

The BLOX building is just generally undetermined and unnatural!

So – it’s probably just me, …


But after some internal mind wrestling, I have come to some sort of provisional terms with the building. I find that this uneasy ambivalence actually adds a tone of nervous vibrance to the waterfront. A mild provocation of the senses, that keeps at least me from feeling too comfortable.

Am I just insensitive to historical architecture and atmosphere, then? I don’t think so.

But I find it extraordinarily important, that Copenhagen will not freeze into an open-air museum or tourist/pleasure park, as is the case for a number of European, old city centres. So generally, I appreciate modern architecture that indicates that Copenhagen is a vibrant, present-day city, where citizens also work and live present-day lives.


On three points especially, I could have used more Danish comfort:

  1. in the physical interaction on the ground level. The expected direct access from the street is not there. So a little articulation of the staircases that lead to the underground entrance from three directions would be helpful.
  2. The playground on the city side looks like a miserably failing attempt to grab and merge with the urban space. Large fences effectively keep bypassers at bay, acting more as a physical and mental barrier than as a connector.
  3. And surprisingly from a Dutch architect in the only city that competes The Netherlands on bikes: visitors randomly throw their bikes in a mess along and around the building. So where did they hide the integrated bike parking?!

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