Copenhagen Architecture – an overview

Kan også læses på: Dansk

Copenhagen Architecture

Copenhagen is world famous for its architecture! We have an exceptional reputation that first and foremost has its roots in the ‘classic’ modern era between 1930 and 1970. Not least 1950s Danish furniture design is still today celebrated world wide for its aesthetics and craftsmanship.

Modernism in Denmark

Danish modernism is almost synonymous with functionalism. Danish architects and designers quickly adopted the ideas from the German art school, Bauhaus. The thoughts went far beyond merely stylistic expression and  included all sides of the new life and community of modern man. Modern technology, industry and machines inspired new forms of rationality, necessity, common sense. Reason.

The phony fancy of the architectural styles of the past was removed and naked necessity was truth. These thoughts seems to have been well received in a prudent Danish farmer mentality, and in a strong protestant tradition cherishing modesty and restraint. It is a local – and modified – versio of an international movement, that made ‘Danish Design’  a more well known brand than ‘Denmark’ itself.

In the following decades it was difficult for Danish architects to surpass the old masters. But after the recent 15 years Danish architecture has  new heyday. It is a roaring success that is mostly connected with one name in particular: Bjarke Ingels. With a series of buildings in Copenhagen and Denmark, he and his company – earlier Plot, now BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) – reached the absolute top of world architecture.

He represents an international movement that had its main starting point in Rotterdam based OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture). Also OMA is lead by a strong, charismatic figure, Rem Koolhaas, who in a (supposedly) fact oriented and analytical approach develops a straight forward, unpretentious and colorful architecture. After graduating from the Copenhagen Royal Academy of Art, Bjarke Ingels worked at OMA, so it’s easy to trace the roots of his work. But just as the international modernism had its softer version in Scandinavia, this Dutch wave have taken a less radical shape with new Danish architects. A version that has won international acknowledgement to a level never seen before.


A few constant hallmarks is traceable several centuries back as a Danish tradition or character. Sensibility and objectivity, a subdued and restrained formal expression, careful detailing, genuine materials and craftsmanship.

As a fine example of these qualities I will mention Lundgaard & Tranberg that currently extend this tradition.

Pomo 2.0

BIG and other young firms have created another track. Thanks to their original work and international attention they created a new alternative line in Danish architecture. It’s the ‘popular’ line that is different from the classical tradition with a much more aggressive visual appeal, more ‘fresh’ and with an accessible and narrative style. It is postmodernism 2.0. Concept is king, materials and details are (not irrelevant but) secondary.

And it’s moving fast. I’m inclined to think that this architectural approach also looses it’s freshness quicker than more classic modern architecture. To critics, this readily happened for sure, but for most parts, it’s a party that is still loud.

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