Social housing by BIG at Dortheavej

BIG social housing at Dortheavej

Kan også læses på: Dansk

BIGs latest addition in Copenhagen

BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) is all over. Their projects are popping up around the world and even more in media. But there have been only little fuss about their latest local project which is also a lot more low key than most of their previous projects.

Opened recently, BIG has also entered the field of social housing in an upcoming area in north west part of Copenhagen. Dortheavej 2A is a social housing scheme with small and mid size rental apartments.

Real life area

The area is characterised by small scale industries, car repair shops, storage buildings, big scale, mid 1900 social housing blocks and only little interest from urban planners. Immigrant communities, mosques and social clubs moved in, and in later years more and more small creative businesses take over warehouses and workshops. Gentrification classic!

Still today and in the years to come this area is one of those places with real life taking place, as compared to fancy midtown, where only high income people stand a chance to buy or rent apartments, and with zero immigrant kids in the school classes…

That’s the quality of the area, and that is why I personally find it charming and authentic. I can only guess and hope that it will be long before it will suffer the hype of Vesterbro and central Nørrebro and also become too fashionable, too hipster and too expensive.

BIG light

This BIG project curiously stays under the radar, but compared to their early residential projects in Ørestad it is also less ground breaking – and frankly nothing new from their side. It appears as is a nice little side project that displays a bit of the conceptual, playful approach they have mastered for 15 years, many times in larger and more spectacular projects. Local examples are the Ørestad projects: VM and Mountain Housing projects, and the 8house, and outside Copenhagen in The Maritime Museum.

Having suffered a good deal of downsizing and modifications underway, the resulting building is simpler and with fewer concepts coming together. Modular container-like units are stacked and the wedged spaces between the units adds a bit of variation to the apartments. On the sunny side balconies retracts and adds depth to the facade. While on the northern side, the facade is flat and displays more subtly the small angles deriving from the slightly angled rectangular units with glass and wooden boards alternating in a checkered pattern.

By pushing back the building in a gentle curve from the street line it shapes a small plaza and focal point to the front. On an overall scale this works well and creates an ‘intensified’ space, a view line through the building and the back yard, and connecting physically to the next street. But on a smaller scale, less attention was given to the connection between inside and outside on ground level. As for now as seen on the pictures, the surrounding area is not finished and seems almost hopelessly naked and inarticulate, the units just left on the bare ground.

Of course a bit of greenery is going to improve it but I’m not convinced it will eventually become a well working connection here, between the site and the building.


  • I find it very sympathetic that the worlds highest profiled architecture firm found interest in a social housing project. This happened earlier when Danish, progressive architects (from Bauhaus inspiration) in the period from 1920 to 1950 very seriously developed layout and architecture of affordable housing schemes, also in examples nearby this new building. There is today, I believe, a need for a revival of interest for this field, from politicians and developers. Architects will follow, I’m sure.
  • The overall shape of the building adds an easily appreciable character and interest, and the stacking of boxes is striking, charming and playful. Also the treatment of the wooden facades drives on the same geometrical play.

& cons

  • The connection between site and building is lacking, and …
  • … on the court yard
    side, the curving of the building makes less sense.

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The project at BIGs home page

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