On looking and dog walking

tracks for a human, most dogs, labrador and beagle

I got into walking as a ‘cultural activity’ after our first dog moved in. He’s now eight and a bit, joined two years later by a little brother. Being beagles, known for their stubborn nature and equipped with the second best nose in the canine kingdom, they are not the most trainable of hounds. (My mother: don’t get a beagle – they run away). This can make walks challenging.

The writer walking the dog describes dog walking thus:

a strange activity somewhere between Romantic walking for inspiration and walking to work and leisure walking and a chore like washing up…

We have a repertoire of five walks which can be extended or reduced depending on the season (our routes on the coldest and hottest days of the year are practically identical), a beagle-scale interpretation of the 30 minute walk round the block. We have also tried beating the bound/aries, or at least as much of them as is within beagling distance, off-pavement action permitting.

While the beags keep their noses on the job I am free to make my own observations of our patch, exploring the unexpected in the local streetscape from prize winning modernist housing to a Le Corbusier style block, tracking the latest teardowns and outdoor fashions, and monitoring the state of trees. Our walks are the perfect justification for wandering into areas where a daily routine would never take us.

After growing up with dogs I had my own take on how things should be, and getting to grips with Danish dog walking habits has taken its toll. I never got the memo which said you should train your dog to ignore other dogs – round here most dog walkers would rather cross the road than exchange greetings. End result: a food chain of unsocialised dogs ranging from the French bulldog who reacts to a beagle, who himself reacts to a labrador.

It’s a different matter in parks and open spaces, where it seems that beagle owners are the only ones who pay attention to dogs on leash signs. And the few dog parks are packed with over-excited dogs getting a rare social fix – a stressful environment with a fight just waiting to happen. (Sadly, most dog parks aren’t well fenced, which makes them a no-no for beagle nr 2, a true escape artist.)

All this has a parallel in the unspontaneity of Danish social life, where encounters are planned ahead with those you know and eye contact on the street is avoided. Just the first of many lessons into Danishness learned through walking.

So we tend to walk solo on our own particular kind of drift, with the twin inspirations of John Zeaman’s Dog walks man, a unique combination of doggy memoir and psychogeography, and suggestion 15 of the Lonely Planet guide to experimental travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

In On looking Alexandra Horowitz, psychologist and animal behaviourist (plus owner of “two large, non-heeling dogs”) describes how she was inspired by walking with her dog Pumpernickel to consider how her daily journeys could be done better. In the book she undertakes 11 walks round the block with assorted experts in the way of seeing. Some lessons from her walks:

  • from her 19 month old son – the world at a different granularity, overlooking the edges or limits of an object
  • from  a typographer – the compulsion to read what was readable, to parse all visible text (it’s the same for editors, I’m thinking)
  • from a naturalist – the power of the search image, a mental image of what you seek, ignoring everything else (this explains the efficiency of how a dog finds food – and how we can spot our friends in a crowd but not find something under our noses when it deviates from the expected)

Her reaction to a walk with Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces presents a refreshing take on Jane Jacob’s ‘sidewalk ballet’. Alexandra is a pavement rage type: “slow-moving pedestrians clutching recent purchases and looking at the storefronts, up in the air, anywhere but where they are going…the storefronts that attract their attention are ubiquitous and cluttered – to my eye, visually messy”. For her “a surfeit of slow walkers and loiterers” is a hindrance, for Fred “it’s social; it’s kind of getting a sense of something.”

On that block of Broadway with Fred Kent, I was starkly reminded of the very simple truth that there are many ways to look at the same event.

Alexandra also revisits the territory of her earlier Inside of a dog. Most dog walks are done to allow the ‘animal’ to pee or to get exercise – just as most human walks are done to get from a to b in the quickest time possible. What about walks simply to ‘see’ the world?

Walking with Pumpernickel means seeing the world through her choices, the subjects of her attention and what she balks at or lunges towards. Walks geared to Pumpernickel’s needs:

  • into-the-wind walks – eyes closed, nose in the air, nostrils working
  • smell walks – revisiting old smells, finding new ones…walks defined by smell rather than length or destination (for humans, odours tend to be either enticing or repugnant, alluring or foul, evocative or evaded, but to a dog, smells are simply information, their world a topography wrought of odours)
  • sitting walks for the more mature – in a field with ample olfactory vistas and plenty of dogs upwind (the beags do this in the garden)
  • social walks – to interact with other dogs
  • to avoid: long blocks with no trees or lampposts

Returning alone to her walk round the block Alexandra finds herself alarmed at the limitations of ‘amateur eyes’. Her 11 companions, equipped with diverse sets of coordinates and systems of navigation, have helped her overcome the ‘selective enhancement requirement’ for paying attention, highlighting the different parts of the world we have learned to ignore or do not even know we can see.

She realises that she is missing much simply in the name of concentration (attention’s companion: inattention to everything else): “we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us”.

From Howard Nemerov’s Walking the dog:

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.

…a pair of symbionts
Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.

foto

walk? who said walk?

Studying walking and my practice

I’m currently participating in the Walk Exchange’s Walk Studies Training Course, a six week online seminar which “takes the form of a walk that facilitates interaction with the city through the lens of critical readings and examples of artistic practice”. Now I don’t do performance or play, let alone self-identify as an artist (at best a curator/formidler), so it’s all a bit tricky. (For more on tours as performance or artwork see B_Tour’s Imagining new spaces for an urban society through artistic guided tours | full lecture.)

From my course application:

The trigger [for my interest in walking as a practice] was moving to Denmark, which for me has not proved to be a fairy tale. Key factors are the homogeneity of Danish society and what I have come to call ‘Danish scale’ – Danes do not often dare to dream.

Walking (in a city which worships the bicycle) has played a key role in coming to terms with this. Brought up in an Edinburgh suburb in a walking family with dogs as constant companions, daily walks with my two beagles, a questing breed, have led to an intimate knowledge of Hvidovre, the suburb I live in. Weekly excursions to Copenhagen, in the main the less touristed parts, are illuminating in making connections with my life experience in a range of UK urban environments. Overseas trips provide further input – maintaining a holiday methodology in Copenhagen makes it almost feel like being on holiday once a week.

After 10 years in Denmark I still feel adrift – but it’s been a rewarding process getting to know the city better.

As far as walking in Denmark and writing about it goes, it’s a very different culture. There is, however, a wave of site specific work going on over the summer, spotted first in the shape of En landsby på højkant on Amager (reviewanother | Byens NetværkReumert-salon):

My aim in undertaking the course was primarily to put a stop to going down rabbit holes and work out what my walking practice is all about, so I can move onto a more productive phase. Here’s the course process:

  1. Read the attached text and the website linked above.
  2. Look through the walking exercises submitted after last week’s walk. Pick a few to try out during your walk.
  3. Complete this week’s walk along with a few of the exercises developed last week.
  4. Create instructions for a walking exercise that reflects your walking experience. Make sure this instruction could be completed by a solo walker, or a group of walkers. Include your instructions in the comments section below.
  5. Add any reflections, thoughts, writings, photographs, ideas, etc. to your personal page.

It’s an odd thing, with the reading a very mixed bag and the requirement to create a walk and integrate others’ into the next week’s walk representing a further challenge. Plus it feels quite anonymous – compared with a MOOC it’s not very social.

Of the other participants the Edinburgh Walking Workshop, founded in January 2016, is obviously of interest. From performance corner (see founder Jeni on on walking as a creative process), where walkers can engage with the prompts/provocations in any way they like.

Looking through their work so far I enjoyed Jeni on The Esplanade and Account of a group walk to Musselburgh, plus Kay Cur’s Purposes of walking to the airport. And, just seeing the placenames (Crags, Hermiston, Oxgangs…).

I find responding to the exercises hard, but rewarding afterwards, and it’s highlighting some key issues to unpick.

Full posts to come, but for now here’s a quick overview:

  • week 1: territories in transit – a solo walk to Hvidovre’s former centre, now a transit zone (text and photos)
  • week 2: pigeon patrol – a beagle led walk in the garden to reflect on cultural approaches to nature in the city (text)
  • week 3: going for a walk – a drift through shared space and its associated obstacles (text and photos)
  • week 4: the last walk/invisible walking – a drift on Nordic taciturnity and the designing out of personal contact (text)
  • week 5: soul experiments – hitting a dead end (text)
  • week 6: walk anywhere anytime – from oppositional practices in everyday life to the articulation of cultural narratives (text and photos)

Post-course reflection: I only actually went a specific WSTC walk in week 1, which ironically featured the least creative response. In the other weeks I used the exercises as a kick-off for my own walks, with mixed success. The exercises helped create a focus, however my issues with walking art remain. See Debbie Kent:

Does there really have to be a big gap between walking art participant and someone who takes a country walk to look at the landscape or who goes on a tour to learn about the history of a place?

She suggests that “the artist’s walk might tend to have the intention of affecting the participant or the audience in some way, whether by involving them in an unusual activity or shifting the way they perceive and process the world”, but is this specific to walking art?

 

London 2016

Thoughts from a recent trip to London, looking at building, buildings, buildings (more buildings on Flickr). What has changed in the last decade or so, and what does it all tell us about me, Copenhagen, London and life in 2016?

Sunday: Euston Road, Bloomsbury and Midtown

We started out by walking up Hampstead Road from the disused 1907 Euston tube station to Mornington Crescent, the first of many of Leslie Green‘s stations spotted in central London. Despite dying at the ridiculously young age of 33, Green’s impact on tube station design may well equal that of Charles Holden. Then entering ‘forgotten Camden’ (see Tom Bolton’s St Pancras trail) we took in the splendid 1960s St Aloysius RC Church before approaching the three monster stations on Euston Road.

A sort of 19th century Crossrail, the construction process involved in bringing the railways into London extended over the course of 30 years, displacing 30,000 people in the process. St Pancras International was a new one on me, completely renovated from 2001-07 to welcome Eurostar, and now as much shopping destination as station. A symphony in red and white by George Gilbert Scott from 1868, with the kitschy statue to end all kitschy statues in the gallery, its general over-the-topness is not for me.

Much better is King’s Cross, the gateway to the north, where I have taken many a train and met many a parent. It has also changed completely, a 2014 restoration opening up the concourse and revealing Lewis Cubitt’s beautifully simple building from 1852. In contrasting fortunes 1970s style Euston, originally built in classical style by William Cubitt in 1837 but demolished in 1962, is unchanged, with the Euston Arch still found only on pub signs.

Also shined up is the Brunswick Centre from 1972 , an unusual mixed use development with council housing in a ziggurat design alongside a commercial section. Now renamed The Brunswick with repetitive shopping, and still hosting the Renoir Cinema. Of the Bloomsbury squares and gardens we tarried most at Thomas Cubitt’s 1820s Tavistock Square, with its statue of Virginia Woolf set against Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education. After that, Charles Holden’s Senate House (1937) seemed almost underwhelming.

Walking down Tottenham Court Road heralded the self-styled Midtown, centred round St Giles Circus and the iconic Centre Point (1966), currently under wraps. Tottenham Court Road tube is transformed, with 2010s style wide open spaces inside (Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics either in store or in Edinburgh) and Crossrail damage outside. Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles (2010) sets the tone – time will tell how the refurbishment of New Commonwealth House (1939) will fit into this context.

With the rain showing no sign of slackening we then walked through the gloaming down New and Old Bond Streets to Piccadilly, with its splendidly Art Deco Waterstones in the former Simpsons (1936), before taking in Leicester Square and a sumptuous south Indian thali near Warren Street.

Tavistock Square

Virginia Woolf with Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education behind

Monday: from Hampstead modernism to the Alexandra Road estate

Hampstead modernism day, starting in Belsize Park at the Lawn Road Flats (1934) then on to Ernö Goldfinger’s house (1938) on Willow Road facing Hampstead Heath. By all accounts a formidable figure and immortalised by Ian Fleming, the house is quite superb, a ‘reintrepretation’ of a Georgian terrace in brick and wood on a concrete foundation.

Up to Parliament Hill for a first look at London’s new skyline and an inspection of dog walking mores in this prime spot. In contrast to Denmark dogs almost entirely off leash – although up to four per person – and having a good time, interacting in an entirely stress free way. A proposed Dog Control Order on a lamp post emphasised there were no plans to force dog owners to put dogs on a lead on any part of the Heath, although they are not allowed in children’s play areas. Icing on the cake: ‘no cycling’ signs throughout.

After lunch we followed the rest of the Hampstead modernism trail, juggling a laptop and the London A-Z. Highlights: New House at 13 Arkwright Road (1939) with its blue porthole, the six houses at Frognal Close designed by Ernst Freud (1937), where a resident asked us if we were architects, and the multicoloured 66 Frognal (1938). Round the corner on Frognal Way, one of London’s most exclusive streets, is Maxwell Fry’s Sun House and Gracie Fields’ rather less titillating house (which she probably never lived in), both from 1934. On a mild Monday afternoon we encountered any number of east European au pairs with their charges as we walked down to Finchley Road to gawk at the prices in estate agents’ windows.

Leaping forward more than 40 years we finished the day at Neave Browne’s Alexandra Road Estate (1978), made up of 520 apartments in three long crescent shaped blocks and bounded on one side by the West Coast Main Line. The first post-war council housing estate to be listed, in 1994, Alexandra Road has had its problems but retains a pleasing green ambience akin to that of a traditional terrace, if not exactly Bath’s Royal Crescent. Looking at features such as staircases and balconies more closely the evolution of brutalism from modernism comes into focus.

Goldfinger's house (1938)

Goldfinger’s house (1938) in Hampstead

Tuesday: the Thames, London Bridge and Bankside

After mopping up some final West End sights time to go south of the river, with a brief jaunt to Vauxhall for the PoMo classic that is Terry Farrell’s MI6 building (1994) and the Vauxhall Tower (180m) on St George’s Wharf, the latter striking the same bum notes as the Strata Tower at Elephant & Castle, neither well designed nor in the right place.

Bypassing the South Bank on this occasion we re-emerged at the for me practically unrecognisable London Bridge, taking in St Olaf House on Tooley Street (1930) before catching Renzo Piano’s Shard (2012, at nearly 310m, the max allowed, the tallest building in the EU; £25 to visit). Then onward to Norman Foster’s bijou City Hall (2002) and More London, our first encounter with the privatised ‘public realm’.

The south bank of the Thames is well laid out for walking, albeit with endless upscale shopping and drinking opportunities on this stretch. The outdated 1980s viewpoints with plaques detailing buildings on the north bank provide some sort of context for the changing skyline and an overview of architectural fashions – what will remain after a further 30 years?

Next, a short stop at Tate Modern, itself undergoing redevelopment with a monster extension due to open in June. The gallery has been open since 2000, but I remember it better as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s power station hulk, in operation for a scant 30 years. GGS was also responsible for Battersea Power Station, still ‘under redevelopment’ after being decommissioned in 1983. The Oxo Tower just west of Tate Modern, originally built as a power station but rebuilt as an Art Deco cold store in 1929, has found a new role as Oxo Tower Wharf, with a full raft of shopping, eating, housing and cultural uses.

Then over Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge, a bridge story to rival some of Copenhagen’s, to St Paul’s and Paternoster Square, then onwards to Aldgate, where we were stayed for the next three nights.

London skyline

City skyline from More London

Wednesday: the City and the Barbican

A tortured heap of towers? Foster+Partners’ Gherkin (2003, 180m), aka 30 St Mary Axe and previously the Swiss Re Building, on the site of the bombed in 1992 Baltic Exchange, was in situ the last time I visited London, but it’s Richard Seifert’s 1980 NatWest Tower, now Tower 42, I think of first.

In 2016 though there’s a whole City cluster away from St Paul’s sightlines – notably Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater (1 Leadenhall; 2013, 225m), across the road from his 1986 Lloyds’ Building, as well as Rafael Vinoly’s infamous Walkie Talkie (2014, 160m; Britain’s most hated buildingstory | Carbuncle Cup) at 20 Fenchurch Street with its Sky Garden (from which you don’t have to look at the thing). Less written about or in your face is the Heron Tower (2011), at 230m the tallest building in the City. Which will last the longest?

What effect is all this having? See climate walk article for starters. Then there’s Crossrail, eliminating numerous blocks, and the general privatisation of public space. Bankrolled by oil money, derided as phallic symbols…but a successful city brand, judging by the number of tourist around in the first week of January. If you enjoy looking up, getting some perspectives on things, it feels well done –  at least if you don’t know what was there before.

On another note, the City is one square mile of prime walking country. Even if you are just popping out for your sandwich/ramen of choice, during office hours the streets are never quiet. Visit the City offers a visitor trail map (“one trail: hundreds of stories”), with a main trail and ‘side-tracks’ for London stories, culture, law and literature, skyscrapers and sculpture, and markets. Each square of the map is approx 400m, or about a five minute walk at a steady 3 mph pace, just feel the walking love…in addition there are 10 city walk leaflets, including a tree trail, and for locals a cornucopia of delights including short lunchtime walks for a quick heritage hit. Apparently Harry Potter tours are a thing, as were James Bond tours around the time of Skyfall, plus anti-capitalism tours such as Occupy London tackling inter alia public realm issues. It never stops…

After all that corporate excess on to old friend the Barbican (story) with its nods to culture (we tracked a lad carrying a tuba across the plaza and back over lunch) and upscale brutalist housing, and the gentrifying 1950s Golden Lane Estate

Gropius shopfront

shopfront designed by Walter Gropius in 1936, at 115 Cannon Street

Thursday: the Olympic Park, Poplar and the East End

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park reopened in Easter 2014. In terms of legacy, without coming over all Twenty Twelve, it shows off a lot of current tropes.

It was rainy and pretty deserted when we visited as part of our packed east London programme, so no time to explore the The Olympic Walk from Sporting Tours of London, good wheeze that. While the revitalised park, “the same size as Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined”, seems focused on looking forward, a London 2012 trail guide does offer pointers to what happened where. Designed by the team behind New York’s High Line with waterways, woods and wildlife habitats created on the marshlands, there’s plenty to explore beyond the playgrounds and between the building sites, although this kind of designed experience hides rather than reveals.

The four interactive trails on offer include a guide to the 26 permanent artworks in the park. Biggest is the 114.5m high ArcelorMittal Orbit, Britain’s largest sculpture. You can climb it or abseil down it for £85 (£130 to upgrade to live vid), and a slide will be in action later in 2016. Also offers activities and events. Entry: £12, which feels a bit steep for a view of east London. Rather more pleasing are Ackroyd & Harvey’s 10 History Trees, placed at entry points to the park; in total 4300 trees have been planted in the area.

The Olympic Village, renamed the East Village, is the most developed quarter, a dead ringer for any of Copenhagen’s bland new areas. Scandi style, or just modern style? It certainly didn’t feel like London. Oliver Wainwright in July 2013: “making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city”. A shopping centre and a new ‘international’ station doesn’t a place make – the arrival of West Ham may be what’s needed. Update: here’s Olly in August 2016.

From Stratford we took the DLR down to Poplar, formed as a district as long ago as 1855 and encompassing areas including Bow, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, but from 1965 part of Tower Hamlets. Two town halls remain, both listed: on Poplar High Street (1870) and the Art Deco style New Town Hall on Bow Road (1938), which we missed by turning the wrong way exiting the station.

Poplar plays a key role in the history of social housing in the UK. Between the wars the council built a total of 1500 homes in the area, including the Art Deco Holmsdale House (1938), complete with deck access. In 1951 the first phase of the Lansbury Estate (again; fab article; in 2017 the home of the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum) was chosen as the site of the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Live Architecture. Alongside is Chrisp Street Market, the first specially designed, covered and pedestrianised shopping centre in the UK with iconic bell tower by Frank Gibberd, from 2012 a Portas Pilot.

A further round of development took place in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in two ‘streets in the sky’ developments. First, the much written about Brownfield Estate, with fairly unobjectionable low rise punctuated by the cluster of Ernő Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (again; 1967, 84m), accompanied by Carradale House and Glenkerry House, aka the rather more well behaved baby Balfron. Goldfinger and his family stayed in Balfron’s Flat 130 for a whole two months in 1968.

The decision to kick off redevelopment of this concrete monster was made as long ago as 2008, since when some flats have provided live-work accommodation for a posse of artists. Other tenants have gradually been ‘decanted’ elsewhere, with the block to be refurbished for sale on the open market. A certain amount of hooha was caused in October 2014 when the Goldfinger flat was done up Sixties style by the National Trust and opened to heritage fans for 10 days as part of Bow Arts’ Balfron Season. Still awaiting refurbishment it all felt pretty desolate with wind of Himalayan proportions – a major treat for concrete fans.

Nearby is the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens (1972), “an urban solution to an impossible site” and perhaps rather too clever for its own good, due (again) to be pulled down soon – there were CPO notices hanging by the entrance. Expecting something on the scale of Sheffield’s Park Hill, the 214 flats actually felt full of potential, and rather more viable than the Balfron wind tunnel, but is seems it is not to be.

Fascinating round here, so close to 1990s Docklands and so clearly on the cusp of 2010s gentrification, with three hotspots on the London campaigns map and cycle superhighway CS3 passing through. More wandering took us to Bartlett Park with its eponymous Brookside style close, complete with two private land signs and a burnt out church.

As for the rest of the East End, despite having visited London countless times from birth and living there from 1987-93 I had no mental map at all, but can now vaguely place what were formerly merely names, known mainly from the Monopoly board, with any number of leads to follow up. Our final impression was the creeping approach of the City, with Commercial Street gradually crumbling away – our bus to the airport left from beside a hoarding surrounding the one remaining wall of the 1929 Fruit & Wool Exchange.

St Leonard's Road, Poplar

converted church and WW1 war memorial at St Leonard’s Road, Poplar

Our trip summed up: a reminder that humanity comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. People just getting on with their lives, without being channelled into an approved lifestyle. People meeting your eye and not looking away (and talking extremely loudly), creating interaction and even a sense of wellbeing. And trees make a city – everywhere should have a Tree Routes app.

Tidy uptight Copenhagen is in a different place on its gentrification journey, with hipsters largely confined to the city centre and few creatives spotted on Vestegnen thus far. Social housing has been rather better maintained than in the UK, and most new housing is going up on brownfield sites left by the collapse of the harbour and related industries, extending King Canute-like onto reclaimed land. But Amager looks like becoming the first front line, as Ørestad pushes its shiny face into the older neighbourhoods of Sundby and Tårnby (which at a pinch translates as Tower Hamlets), creating some awkward transitions.

And Denmark has a different sense of place, very much of the here and now, with style (aka design) winning over substance. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this focus on surface is because there are fewer layers left to unpeel? And that some of the attraction for expat Guardianistas and journos is just how these differences play out? Or is it all just another successful city branding strategy?

Reading: Brutalism:Online | Concretopia: John Grindrod’s book, blog & timeline | London’s: footpathstallest buildings | London Deco FlatsModernism in Metro-Land | Modernist BritainMunicipal Dreams | Museum of London: City & Docklands | Spitalfields Life | Walk London | Adrian Yekkes: East End Modernism & More Hampstead Modernism & London Art Deco part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | yet more. Also Homes of tomorrow, audio on Goldfinger’s “utopian drive to build for a better world”. 

Some East End walks: Alternative LondonBrick Lane and Spitalfields cultural trail | Jack the Ripper tours (at least 10) | The Missing Voice (Case Study B) (Whitechapel) | Memoryscape (inc Royal Docks, Victoria Park) | Soundmap (Brick Lane) | Tower Hamlets walks & trails | A walk through Spitalfields’ stories. See also Richard White’s social walk in QEOP (blog) in May 2015.

Finally, Nairn…two pub walks (London Review Bookshop | Caught by the River), plus Gillian Darley on the bus.

Hvidovre’s trees

Update: 2016’s Xmas trees came from Sydkærsvej 102 and Toft Sørensens Vænge 11

A post in honour of the UK’s National Tree Week (#NationalTreeWeek), running since 1975.

Tree survey

As a planned 1950s suburb, with luft og lys (air and light) as watchwords, Hvidovre has some well planted green areas among the social housing. Bredalsparken boasts a diverse collection of mature trees including poplars and beeches, while Grenhusene, designed to evoke the branches of a tree, is made up of a series of terraces separated by copses. Egevolden makes good use of oaks, as well it might (eg = oak), with one line screening traffic noise from Gammel Køge Landevej and a second hiding the railway line.

oaks at Egevolden

oaks at Egevolden

Risbjerg Kirkegård was landscaped by architect Eywin Langkilde as an new cemetery for the growing kommune in 1965. Its avenue of plane trees between beech hedges was innovative in Denmark at the time. In 2002 the cemetery was extended with the addition of a more open section including a small lake and lawns, plus a group of quince trees.

The grounds are well cared for, although there has been some felling near the gates leaving the remaining topped conifers looking rather forlorn. Some greenery also went on nearby Biblioteksvej a couple of years ago and on the grounds of the school round the corner. Here apparently the trees were syge (diseased), but quite possibly the need for yet more bike racks played as much of a role.

Hvidovre’s lack of street trees has been highlighted in the plans for the new town centre. At our end of the kommune Paris Boulevard is lined with London planes and there is a further group on the corner of Hvidovrevej and Brostykkevej just across the road from a line of horse chestnuts.

early pollarding!

getting ahead with the pollarding

Off the main road, Svendebjergvej somehow retains a well tended ash grove, admittedly with negative effects on the pavement in places, while Catherine Booths Vej running parallel is completely bare, increasingly so as the residents get out the power saw as part of the widespread slapping down the paving habit.

Tree stories

Hvidovre’s tallest tree is the copper beech at Brostykkevej 56, on the corner of Risbjergvej. Here’s a picture of it with Valby’s late lamented gasometer behind:

Around 18m tall, the tree may well have stood on this spot in 1913 when Carl Andersen set up his market garden, using copper coloured tiles for the roof to match. Carl called his business Brassica – he grew cauliflowers and won prizes for his efforts, with the seeds exported as far away as the USA. The business closed down in the early 1950s, with part of the plot taken over for Risbjergskole, a new school.

The house has only had two owners, with the present owners buying the house from Carl’s widow in 1997. It’s an imposing old house and well looked after, so should be safe from the tear down brigade.

Hvidovre’s most famous tree is Smedens pæretræ, a pear tree planted by a blacksmith who ran a smithy from 1897 to 1930 on land now occupied by Friheden Station. Frequently watered by my beagles, the tree is protected and forms an interesting contrast with the rather functional station building dating from 1972. A mural inside tells the full story.

the smith's pear tree

the smith’s pear tree

As I write the willows are the only deciduous trees in the area still with leaf cover. This includes the willow below on Strandhavevej, an award winning estate designed by Svenn Eske Kristensen in 1955. He chose to build round the tree, which was deemed syg in early 2015, to be felled in the summer (source: Hvidovre Lokalhistoriske Selskab). Happily still in place, and looking pretty fit and healthy too:

On a less happy note, two pine trees have just been felled to fulfill their destiny as Hvidovre’s Christmas trees, taking pride of place outside the town hall and on Hvidovre Torv. Until Monday the town hall tree stood on HC Bojsensvej, right next to the water tower. At four o’clock today, the first Sunday in advent, it will be lit with singing, dancing and general hygge. 

Tearing down the neighbourhood

The council is tearing down five buildings. Three of these communal gems are pretty familiar, and all bar one within beagling distance, so last week we took a closer look.

Parallelvej 47

Kindergarten built in 1981 to serve the Nymarken area, a handful of streets made up of detached houses behind Avedøre’s big social developments. Never been there before – tucked behind the main road on the edge of the kommune bordering Vestvolden it’s all nice enough.

The 614m2 building, with its own kitchen, three bathrooms and nine toilets, closed for business on 10 May 2013 as it posed a danger to health. My first thought was asbestos, but a notice on the door blames damp and a bad smell. Two and a half years later it’s all a bit sad, with a broken climbing frame and weeds taking over.

The future of the site is not quite clear. At the beginning of 2014 a proposal for a two storey development made up of 10 low energy houses was approved after appeal, in line with Hvidovre’s policy for tæt-høj developments in areas close to stations. Now, according to the last council meeting minutes, it’s going to be four detached houses (2017 non-update).

Meanwhile, plans to build a glossy new børnehave on Cirkusgrunden, a leftover piece of land closer to the business end of Avedøre, haven’t gone uncriticised. Slated to be ready in 2017/18, here’s hoping Lille Sky will make some concessions to its environment, or it will look like it has landed from Mars.

Not Risbjerggård, Hvidovrevej 243

Risbjerggård

Hvidovrevej 241

Hvidovrevej 243 is next door to one of the kommune‘s crown jewels, Risbjerggård, an old farmhouse from 1850. Following a sustained community campaign and a vote by the full council, Risbjerggård itself, or at least parts thereof, is saved and will now feature in some way in the new bymidte, but Projekthuset, which dates from 1936 and is actually joined on, is to be torn down. Doesn’t anyone care? It looks harmless enough from outside, but has been neglected and hence just doesn’t fit.

Update, 19 Dec: gone!

Biblioteksvej 60A

Bibloteksvej 60A-C

left to right: creche, fishing club, chess club

Featuring on our five walks reportoire, this part of Biblioteksvej is really just the badminton club’s parking lot plus a back way into Gungehusskolen. 60A, put up in 1972, is one of a row of buildings facing HBC-hallen, including a fishing club and a creche. On Monday the door was off and the facade was coming down. Today it will probably be gone.

Hvidovre chess club met here from 2003, sharing the tenancy with three other organisations, but gave it up in 2014 due to heating costs. The chessplayers now meet in Strandmarkens Fritidscenter, a former school on Enghavevej, along with the local bridge club.

The beags usually have a good sniff here on the lookout for anything tasty dropped by passing schoolchildren on the way back from the 7-Eleven at the nearby petrol station. This time we had a nosey round the back, finding a picnic table and a couple of benches, no doubt used for a beer and a smøg on summer evenings, contemplating the next move or maybe just exchanging pleasantries with the fisherfolk next door.

Disused toilet, Strandvej 31A

Again, rising costs have been the problem here. The red brick toilet at the harbour, one of Hvidovre’s few public toilets, dates from 1957. Due to annual cleaning costs of DK 65K it was closed in 2013, forcing those in need of a comfort stop to pop into one of the neighbouring clubhouses. Understandably aggrieved by this, these now restrict access to paying guests, via “get your door code at the till” systems.

The council installed a new toilet in the summer of 2013, partly financed by advertising. This kept breaking down – an eight year old boy locked himself in and had to be rescued – and was finally burned down a couple of months later by local vandals. It’s been replaced by one of those coin operated jobs, which seems to be functioning OK for now. This story has run since 2009.

Update, 17 Nov: a(nother) local fishing club applied to take over the old toilet building, but were refused permission. For shame!

Byvej 98

A typical red brick house from 1935, nr 4 on Hvidovre’s building register and still occupied by a range of clubs (Denmark is big on clubs), including the bee people and the petanque club, Byvej 98 looks in reasonable shape, so it’s not quite clear what the issue is. Probably, like Projekthuset, it just doesn’t fit any more.

A number of other buildings have stalled due to neglect and rising costs over the years, including the main post office on Hvidovrevej and the police station at Hvidovregade. There’s also a former old people’s home at Langkildevej 5-7, dating from 1975 and closed down in 2009. Owned by Copenhagen council, the site has been for sale for over three years, and it’s hoped that a new local plan adopted in May this year permitting housing on 50% of the site, both good old tæt-lav bebyggelse or flats, will finally kickstart things. Updates…Feb 2016: 64 house terrace on the way?…April 2016: now it’s 29.

We’ve had a good look round – as well as the main building there are two rows of sheltered housing behind. With nameplates still on the door, and in some cases curtains still hanging, it almost looks like the residents have just popped out to the shops.

In an area with a low tax base it’s probably inevitable that things drift in the hard times, but still, along with all the houses and trees going it seems there’s an unstoppable urge to follow current fashions with little heed to the area’s cultural heritage. Hvidovre has form here – unlike neighbouring kommune Brøndby few old buildings survived after 1930s council leader Arnold Nielsen commanded: “Riv det gamle lort ned!” Avedore landsby was only saved as it was part of Glostrup at the time.

Sources:

The bridges of Copenhagen

Updates: what’s the collective noun for bridges? Scroll to the foot of this post for details of the bridges, big and small, which have opened since I wrote this post in April 2015…the big news is the opening of Inderhavnsbroen on 7 July 2016 after over three years of delays, creating a direct connection between Nyhavn and Christianshavn….my CPH bridges album on Flickr…the bridges of NewcastleBridge in London7 iconic English bridges

This post needs a good rewrite before the next new bridge, the very Danish Lille Langebro, in summer 2018.


Easter, which kicked off yesterday hereabouts, heralds the start of Denmark’s bank holiday season. There’s a total of seven public holidays between now and 5 June, a good opportunity for some more challenging outings with the beags.

Copenhagen has surprisingly few bridges, with only two, Knippelsbro and Langebro, carrying motor traffic across the main stretch of water in the city centre, joined in 2006 by Bryggebroen for pedestrians and cyclists.

In December two new bridgelets opened after the usual delays, joining up some of the dots between Christianshavn and the islets (holme) created for naval or industrial purposes on Holmen itself. The half moon shaped pasty of Christianshavn, with its crenellated edges, was created from reclaimed land from the early 17th century onwards. Previously occupied by the army and navy, it was opened to public use as late as 1991.

We tend to visit Christianshavn on bank holidays, when the only people about are tourists, so it’s maybe a little unfair to criticise it for lack of buzz, however the area does have a sleepy frozen in time feel, perhaps due in part to the fact that the area was – and still is – characterised by inaccessible corners. But it’s a nice place for a wander with some well preserved warehouses and other industrial architecture, and if you stand in the right place on the vold (rampart) you can catch a half decent city vista.

The two new bridges, funded by AP Møller Fonden with the council coughing up extra due to the lengthy delays, have separate lanes for peds and bikes (one each way). Designed by French studio Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes neither is exactly a feast for the eye, but Tranggravsbroen is a pleasing amuse bouche, a three legged construction connecting Grønlandske Handels Plads, Trangravsvej and Islands Plads. Canal tour boats and smaller motor boats can pass under, and two of the legs can be raised for taller boats, as long as you put in your request four hours in advance.

tranggravsbroen

the three legs of Tranggravsbroen

The Proviantbroen bridgelet, presumably part of the deal to make a route from Christianshavn to the Opera without any form of deviation, sits parallel to Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé – previously you had to take a (not huge) detour.

2015-04-02 11.53.06

Proviantbroen – if you squint you can see the road behind in black

Oh, the beagler i byen attracted a lot of attention and behaved pretty well, all things considered.

2015-04-02 12.08.56

flags and a small beagle outside Nordatlantens Brygge

Sources: Politiken, Magasinet KBH, Byvandring.nu. You want more? Politiken (again) comes up with the interesting factoid that the original plan for a bridge from the Royal Theatre to the Opera was vetoed by Mærsk McKinney Møller, more history from Byvandring.nu, plus a piece on Islands Brygge and Bryggebroen.


Trophy bridges focused as much on show as function:

Photogenically situation across the water from the Black Diamond, the 38m long Cirkelbroen (Circle Bridge) spans the rather shorter mouth of Christianshavns Kanal in an anonymous location somewhere between Islands Brygge and Knippelsbro. Another piece of the jigsaw creating an unbroken route around the old harbour area, its role is just as much one of public space, where passers-by are encouraged to slow down or take a break (albeit without any form of seating). Rather than a conventional bridge it’s a shiplike construction with five masts, a reference to the ships which previously lay at anchor at the warehouses on the wharf, costing DK 80 million and taking three and a half years to build, due to two of the contractors going bankrupt and objections from a local resident. It is expected that around 5000 people will use the bridge every day, although how many for transit purposes and how many for recreational purposes is not known.

Other planned bridges:

  • Albert Nobels Bro – connection between Sluseholmen/Teglholmen and Enghave Brygge at Frederiksholmsløbet, eta 2018 (soft traffic) and 2023 (cars)
  • connection between Nokken and Amager Fælled
  • a key project for eager cyclists is a ‘super’ route through Christiania, facing extensive delays due to protests from the locals

Less peripherally, Mini-Langebroa new cyclist and pedestrian bridge is due alongside Langebro by 2018, where the original bridge crossed the harbour, one of those “gifts to the city” as part of Realdania’s Bryghusprojekt. You will be able to “exchange the car-filled HC Andersens Boulevard for Vester Voldgade, which buzzes with life rather than the noise of cars”, says city functionary Morten Kabell. There’s also a new light project under Langebro.

Gåafstand’s State of Exception

State of Exception/Undtagelsestilstand from Gåafstand, part of Copenhagen Art Week, explored the world of international diplomacy, embassies and the legal exceptions which apply on their enclosed territories. I had planned to go, but being home alone with the beags all weekend even I couldn’t face three walks in one day. Lightweight! Luckily there was a review in Information, plus a report by Gåaftstand.

Charlotte Bagger Brandt of Råderum, curator of Copenhagen Art Week, gave Information the rationale for their guided tours: public space is more than just a space, it’s also a political space for personal expression. A walk can be an intervention, with all its participants contributing to the knowledge the work creates. By walking and thinking together one is part of a creative process. Urban space is both a physical and a mental space created by our thoughts and glances. When you walk you relate yourself physically to the space in a conscious way. She didn’t mention the soul moving at three miles an hour, but still.

During the walk Palle Roslyng-Jensen (Saxo Institut) threw in some pearls on the history of Copenhagen’s embassy quarter, for example that the British and Spanish embassy buildings were built by gullaschbaroner during the First World War, and that the American embassy, opened in 1954, followed Bauhaus principles. The British embassy, the stronghold of the Nazis during the Second World War, is today one of the most fortified – I can confirm this. Arriving just outside office hours to pick up my new passport I felt like I was in an episode from The Americans. Embassies are both islands and oases – a reception at the Belgian embassy in April was a cultural shot in the arm.

The tour followed Ho Chi Minh Sti, a path between Lipkesgade and Bergensgade forming a shortcut from Kastelsvej to Kristianiagade. Dubbed thus during demos at the American Embassy in 1970, the path was also used by diplomats to go discreetly from one embassy to the other during assorted international crises in the 1980s. The tour finished at Kastellet, where Nis Rømer explored the philosophical background to states of exception as defined by Nazi lawyer Carl Schmitt, who saw dictatorship as the purest form of legitimised power. States of exception can also be found in the contemporary Danish state, in particular in the practice of surveillance and monitoring in (undefined) states of war.

In one of those coincidences you can’t plan for, created by the plethora of events in Copenhagen over the summer, the Danish army was celebrating its 400th anniversary at the fountain, so Nis spoke in front of a physical background of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, plus the inevitable øl og pølser. The city showing its layers again.

Wish I’d gone…on a more mundane level I’m interested in issues of semi-private space as states of exception, and frequently reflect on no dogs signs on streets, at shopping centres, as a metaphor for this. Dogs on leash only signs, however, are more likely to be ignored.

At the last Still Walking festival in Birmingham Danielle Blackburn led a loiter, testing the boundaries of access to public space, encountered on the Copenhagen walk with its green metro fences and a newly built wall in a graveyard necessitating a new route.

Byens Hegn, unadorned (photo: Din By)

Gåaftstand is a walking group organised by artists Nis Rømer and Pia Rönicke (profile | ugens kunstner). The blog has posts from 2005-13, with translations on Walking Distance from 2005-10. HEART! We’ve covered many of the same places, such as: airport | Albertslund | Amager | Djursholm (SE) | Indre By (esp on surveillance) | Nokken | Nordhavn | NV | Nørrebro | Prøvestenen & Refshaleøen | Sydhavn |  Tingbjerg | Vanløse

2013: By og læring i Vanløse – 21 Oct | 8 Oct

2012:

2011: Nokken | Nokken: hvad er det?

2010:

2009: three walks inspired by Denmark’s anti-terror legislation and its relation to the judicial, the legislative and the executive powers: Present the evidence Intelligence – dvs surveillance/CCTV The architecture of anti-terror – see report. På dansk: Fremfør beviset | Efterretninger & Anti-terrorens arkitektur.

2008: The scene of the crime | Gerningsstedet & announcement (Sydhavn)

2007

2006

2005