Saturday, 13 August 2011

Faces of Copenhagen

Østergade Walkabout 11Many years ago, I took a course on the History of Western Architecture from Shane O’Dea. Shane was a great teacher and really brought the subject to life for me. I found it interesting to learn how we “decorated” our buildings and how building styles evolved over the centuries. The lengths to which owners, builders, and architects would go to make a public statement using their sense of style was fascinating. Perhaps that is why I love going walkabout in European cities. The variation in building styles is very stimulating and Copenhagen is no exception. You can see the famous Danish sense of style in their public buildings and in how they decorate their communal spaces.

Style usually provokes an emotion in people, no matter if it is the exterior of Gaudí’s Sagrada Família or the clothes the Lady Gaga wears during a performance. Photography is like that, too. A good photo can provoke an emotion as people react to the photographer’s interpretation of what he saw.

Here are some images that reflect what I saw and felt as I walked about three Copenhagen residential neighborhoods. I chose residential areas because a home’s façade is a bit like the clothes people wear: it is a public statement of their personal style.

I started in Nyboder, a neighborhood built in 1631 by Christian 4. to accommodate the enlisted personnel of the Danish Navy. At the time, Nyboder would have been well outside of Copenhagen. As the centuries passed, the city expanded well past Nyboder and I would now consider it to be in the heart of the city.

I am sure Nyboder has been renovated many times over the centuries. However, the premises looked pretty run down when I was there last. I returned on this trip to see if things had changed, and if not, to capture some more images.

The property definitely has a military feel to it. The buildings are laid out in neat rows and the façades are very sparse. All the buildings are the same yellow colour. Interestingly, this yellow hue is so unique, the Danes have a name for it: Nyboder Yellow.

The sparseness and consistency of the neighborhood is pretty much what you might expect of an area where Navy personnel live and probably reflect military values. However, this scheme works against the designer when the yellow exterior fades and cracks like it has. The area picks up a distinctly welfare feel, which I doubt is what the designers intended.

A much larger slide show of these photos is here.

Nyboder is in the Østergade area of Copenhagen. In between it and the King’s Garden are some newer housing complexes. This area was the second neighbourhood I toured.

By ‘newer’, I mean built after those in Nyboder, but make no mistake; these are still very old by my North American standards. Certainly the worn bricks and slightly sagging structures hint that these buildings are centuries old.

Like Nyboder, there are some similarities in the houses due to the fact that the homes are row housing and construction would have dictated a certain sameness. For example, each unit has a door in the exact same place (always on the left facing the unit). Also, there are two windows to the right of the door and there is the same slight arch over the door and windows.

Unlike the regimented sameness of Nyboder (which is still used to house enlisted personnel), I found the homes in this area had more individual personalities. The walls were painted different colours and the doors were painted to complement the colours on the walls. Random bits of vegetation completed the individualization of each unit.

A much larger slideshow of these photos is here.

The third neighborhood that I visited was Christianhavn. While I have done walkabouts in Nyboder and Østergade before, Christianhavn was new territory for me.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Christian 4. created Christianhavn. That guy really left his mark on Copenhagen. It seems Christianhavn is an artificial island that he had made as part of building up Copenhagen’s fortifications. Originally inhabited by merchants in 1639, the place is about the same age as Nyboder. Back then, enlisted sailors and merchants would have been worlds apart in social status and certainly the difference in the architecture reflects that.

This historic disparity persists today, as Christianhavn has retained its upscale atmosphere. The only commonality with Nyboder is that the buildings are “row” style and all the doors are on the “left”. Everything else is different.

A much larger slide show of these photos is here.

This wraps up my Postcard posts for this trip to Copenhagen. Here are links to all of my posts from this visit:
Faces of Copenhagen
Copenhagen Postcards
Copenhagen Walkabout - Oddities
Postcards from the Bryghus
Postcards from Louisiana MoMA
A Game of Thrones
Postcards from the Glyptotek

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