Copenhagen’s gentrification: Nordvest

Nordvest is being talked up as Copenhagen’s next gentrification hotspot. While it’s possible to get some vague Shoreditch/Brick Lane vibes in the former industrial quarter around Rentemestervej, there’s a long way to go. Old school bodegaer are still to be found, for heaven’s sake.

Most of the gentrifying action is concentrated in the former industrial quarter around the Frederiksborgvej/Rentemestervej crossroads. Part of Copenhagen’s 1901 land grab, the area which is now postcode 2400 was rapidly transformed with endless streets of blank five-storey blocks serviced by trams ferrying people between home and work. By the 1980s the heavily polluting factories which had sprung up here and there were as good as gone. With the area designated for the rehousing of people with mental illness in the community, Nordvest became known as Nordvaerst (from north west to north worst).

Farvemøllen, a former paint warehouse at Dortheavej 4 now housing a sound studio or two, is part of the gentrification charge. On the other side of the road at Bispevej 29 is the David Risley Gallery, in a building previously used as a repair shop for police cars. Interviewed in November David said that Nordvest fitted rather better with his world view than the gallery’s previous location on Bredgade in the heart of the happy city centre. He aims to involve the community in gallery events in the future – the gentrification conundrum in a nutshell.

Farvemøllen (1934)

Farvemøllen (1934)

The streets of Lygtenkvarteret offer a cavalcade of housing from københavnerlejligheder to 1970s council blocks with an almost suburban level of stillness, but without the accompanying lys og luft. Architectural gems are to be found – the eight brick blocks on the odd numbered side of Bogtrykkervej provide an interesting contrast to the kiddy reliefs on the karré on the evens side.

A further cluster of former industrial buildings lives on around Skaffervej. At nr 8/Bygmestervej 2 (1936) is the Forlagshuset kontorhotel, incorporating ‘gastronomic oasis’ Tribeca NV, while the former ink factory at nr 4 (1938) has housed Sjakkets Aktivitetscenter since 1995 (its 2004 renovation by Bjarke Ingels of BIG was funded to the tune of more than DK 20 million by Realdania and other deep-pocketed philanthropists).

Sjakkets Aktivetscenter (1938/2004)

Sjakkets Aktivetscenter (1938/2004)

Back on Rentemestervej finds one of Denmark’s few industrial buildings in funkis style, a former factory from 1934 by Marx Ishøy which housed Denmark’s first bakelite factory. NJ Plast closed in autumn 2003, and the building was lovingly converted to offices in 2005 by contractors Rasmus Friis, preserving much of the internal layout.

Rentemestervej 14 (1934)

Rentemestervej 14 (1934)

Such a sensitive renovation could hardly stand in bigger contrast to Emaljehaven (2007) on the other side of the road. On the site of the former Glud & Marstrand metalworks, the development follows Copenhagen vernacular in taking the form of a five-storey closed karré, but with open entrances on three corners giving views of the large green space behind. The prizewinning clunky facade is broken up on the inside by balconies and roof terraces, and on two of the corners there are cafés. Facing the heavily trafficked crossroads is a not very appealing lund (grove).

Described as an ‘oasis’, a self-contained community like 8TALLET in Ørestad, it’s a trophy building for the fortunate few, despite the nod to affordability with one third social housing. And a punch in the face to everyone else.

Emaljehaven (2007)

Emaljehaven (2007)

More successful is Biblioteket Rentemestervej (2011), a truly luxury class library by COBE stuck on the side of the former kulturhus, itself converted from a former warehouse, with murals from HuskMitNavn:

a space that is more than just a place you go to find books – the building also works a village hall, a community center and an urban space uniting the neighborhood…at ground floor, there’s a children’s library, then a youth library, a library for adults and finally on top, a concert hall. The different volumes are connected with staircases and in the space between the boxes, are multi-purpose areas.

Part of the kulturhus has since 2008 housed Ungdomshuset, which replaced Jagtvej 69 in Nørrebro.

COBE’s shiny box concept is due to make a return at Ragnarock, Denmark’s new rock museum in Roskilde, shortly.

Biblioteket Rentemestervej (2011)

Biblioteket Rentemestervej (2011)

After riding various waves of urban renewal the current plan for Nordvest appears to be to become a bit more Berlin (finally!), breaking up the endless parade of housing blocks with lots more greenery (there’s currently barely a tree to be seen), wider pavements, small shops and more cultural offerings.

Shading into the northwest suburbs of Copenhagen but increasingly looking inwards rather than outwards, Nordvest is an edgeland on the cusp. The pending arrival of the metro at Nørrebro may well have sealed its fate as a haunt for the creative classes – performative walks and street art have already been sighted on Nordre Fasanvej to the south. All the same it could well take another 10 years before house prices and hipness reach the heights of Nørrebro, and Nordværst becomes Nordbedst.

Sources: COBE: the libraryIndustri i NordvestkvarteretKøbenhavns nedslidte bydel får milliard-indsprøjtningLokalhistorisk Selskab: KvartervandringerNordvest er Københavns næste smarte bydel | Rentemestervej 14Sjakket: helteakademi i ghettoen


Albertslund: utopia in a Danish suburb

The Vestegnen municipality of Albertslund was created out of bare ground on fields west of Copenhagen in the 1960s and 1970s to a 1957 ‘garden city’ masterplan. Named after a French count who fled to Denmark in 1802 and established a farm in the area, the kommune‘s coat of arms features a vaguely Gallic looking cockerel.

Until 1973 the new municipality was known as Herstederne, after the villages of Herstedvester and Herstedøster. Other subsumed villages include Vridsløse and Risby, all to the north of the business end of things in Albertslund Syd.

Albertslund Syd

the Albertslund Syd masterplan

Albertslund is on the Roskilde – or index – finger of Copenhagen’s 1947 Finger Plan. Separated from neighbouring Brøndby by an industrial zone lining some wide roads, a large area is taken up by Coop Danmark’s headquarters. A further 60% of the municipality is covered by forests and green areas, including a hill created from construction detritus. The main transport arteries are Roskildevej and the B S-train line, plus the network of motorways which slices through Vestegnen’s otherwise continuous sprawl.

Suburb or town? The dream of creating a ‘cradle to grave’ town was in full swing when Albertslund Syd was constructed. The population grew from 3000 to 30,000 over a period of eight years, and today is around 27.7K. 61% of housing is social, income per capital is low, immigrant count is high. Has Albertslund succeeded in establishing its own identity, a place you would visit even if you didn’t live in the area?

The town centre was put together from the standard checklist of station (1963), town hall (1971), cultural house (1974/1996; now MusikTeatret), library (1974/2004) and church (Opstandelseskirken, 1984), plus obligatory shopping (unlike most shopping centres on Vestegnen open to the elements). Walking around on a Sunday in late February, when Denmark is at its most bare and bleak, there was a definite buzz, with people going around their business and a fair number of cafes actually occupied. Two elements help create the feel of a place – the use of canals in the streetscape, making an attraction out of the rainwater drainage system, plus some interesting (and mainly successful) public art.

canal in the town centre

Strictly zoned, with a network of roads and bike/pedestrian paths and a good selection of under/overpasses, the centre gives way on one side to three storey blocks and on the other to clusters of small one-storey gårdhuse and two-storey terraces in an almost Hobbit scale landscape built over a period of three years. Emphatically – and unusually – low rise and high density, with an accompanying lack of horizon, this area feels inward focused, invisible and almost apologetic, although some open spaces have been created by staggering the terraces.

Typically for the time only white, black and grey were used, to allow the residents to add their own personal touch. Equally typically, the gardens are private, with windows facing the street or common areas. With today’s eyes these decisions have led to monotony and uniformity, but at the time it all seemed exciting and new, offering more than ample space, light and air. Less happily, by 1974 it was clear that the roofs were leaky, leading to a drawn out tagsage (roof case; story), renovations costing a total of DK 25 million and 50% rent increases in 1978.

Albertslund Bibliotek is currently hosting Utopia, a multi-media exhibition and associated activities, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. Supported by Kulturstyrelsen, the exhibition is one of three in libraries in the Greater Copenhagen area rethinking the library as Det litterære Udstillingshus (the literary exhibition hall; Bibliotekarforbundet), blending literature, art and theatre. The exhibitions are touring the three libraries, with Ulysses, hot from Frederiksberg, next up in Albertslund, and Hamlet from Helsingør arriving over the summer.

from the utopia exhibition in the library

As well as the exhibition the library is offering utopian reading lists for all ages, a newspaper, a sound experience, the diary entries of a refugee fleeing Utopia and holed up in the library, and two events, one offering readings from More’s Utopia accompanied by hurdy gurdy. I particularly enjoyed the musings of the refugee emanating from behind 1970s style radio-cassette players stationed around the library. He had fled Utopia for its lack of diversity, challenge and stimulation – which could lead us on to an examination of Denmark, the world’s happiest country, as Utopia, but for today I’m staying in Albertslund, a rather different Denmark from the current hype.

And there are things going on. Forbrændingen, a music venue in an old incinerator next door to the district heating plant with its iconic 80m high chimneys, is a regional draw. The council is a frontrunner in environmental issues, in particular the use of innovative lighting and smart city solutions. With the ship of the self sustaining functional city having long since sailed, new connections are coming in the shape of light rail (ETA: 2023), picking up where the 1947 Finger Plan left off with Loop City. And yes, Copenhagen is only 17km and 20 minutes by train away. Albertslundruten, Denmark’s first cycle superhighway, has been speeding people into the city since 2012.

MusikTeatret lends an almost big city feel

Has the confidence and optimism of the 1960s perhaps resulted in a more lasting experience than the more modest projects of the immediate post-war period? Or is it the fact that Albertslund started from a blank sheet, rather than adapting what it already had, the key to its success? If what turns a new town into a town rather than shading into a suburb is innovation, diversity and change, Albertslund rather surprisingly has it, and I would certainly return.

From Albertslundssangen, seen in the underpass by the station:

Du er dagen du er vejen, du er drøm og poesi
du er badesøen som jeg svømmer i når jeg har fri
Du er frihed du er fængsel, du er kærlighed og længsel
du er glædens, du er vredens grund
du er alting Albertslund.

See my Flickr album for more.

Sources and further info: Albertslund får sit navn | Albertslund Syd er kulturarvDet utopiske Albertslund | DOLL Living Lab & En gave fra Albertslund til resten af verdenGåaftstand goes City walking in Albertslund | Kroppedal Museum on Albertslund | Litterære udstillinger: hvad kan man forvente? | Somerset House’s Utopia season & London Design Biennale | Sound Settlements: Albertslund Syd | Utopian events: Albertslund: en utopi bliver til & Hvordan ser utopien i Albertslund ud | libraries and the high brow: the exhibitions critiqued

#kbhlæser: Copenhagen reads!


  • 2018: with the somewhat opaque catch-all theme of Manifest (programmemagazine (64pp; too much already) | news | venues (87)); of note:
    • Frederiksberg læser, one of several articles on bookish things in areas of the city, this one online; others: Vesterbro (unpick: “Istedgade…emmer af diversitet og mangfoldighed”) and Østerbro (just Poesiens Hus then), plus profiles of the new Litteraturhuset at Nybrogade 28 (seemingly beset by delay and various teething issues), Arbejdermuseet (p45) and KBH Tegner, about comics and related (p40-41)
    • Litterært Manifest-kort (p29-30): 12 places; why-oh-why not online, not least when the project has received support from at least three worthy institutions? (this isn’t the first time, either)
    • Europa.Manifest: output of visits to CPH library during the autumn of 2017 by European and Danish philosophers, to be launched 25 Feb (p14-15, 36-37)
    • art writing piece in English (p32-34), by Khalid Albaih, Sudanese political cartoonist, currently in CPH under the ICORN programme; elsewhere also in English, Ark Books’ Manifesto Month
    • OK, while there’s a piece about encouraging children to read (p44) otherwise it’s all more than a tad elitist; on other cultures we have a Flytningemanifest (with translated input; p38) and Beirut læser (p46)
    • finally, Notes for a pamphlet: walking the Assistens Cemetery of Copenhagen: the city as cemetery, by Fabian Saul (p48-49), as seen at Flâneur in Copenhagen nearly three years ago, appearing on 1 March with Mette Kit Jensen at an event entitled: Hvad er flanørens visioner for Europa? on what a drift through the streets of Europe can teach us about modern identity and his Goethe Institut supported project Traces of Resistance (reaching the UK in March)
    • more manifestos? see Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto
  • 2017: with the theme of Vækst (Growth), including:
  • 2016: this year’s theme was Mænd (Men) – here’s a report from IVA students, plus a #litteraturenssteder series on Instagram over the summer

All quite highbrow, compared with British book festivals – you’d be hard pressed to find many bestsellers.

Kbh Læser 2015 (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter: @kbh_laeser#kbhlæser), a literary festival masterminded by Copenhagen Libraries, took place from 27 February to 8 March with the theme of kærlighed (love). The seemingly now obligatory A3 magazine/newspaper stated:

Dette års festival er også en kærlighedserklæring til alle de fine steder i København, der huser litteraturen, plejer den og giver den plads. Hele året. Brug festivalen til at opdage de mange københavnske litterære kringelkroge, som tilbyder intime og unikke oplevelser.

This year’s festival was a “declaration of love” to the literary places of Copenhagen, not just its libraries and bookshops, and to that end events took place in some unusual venues, such as a football club and a public bathhouse. In line with their public library mission a number of experimental and innovative formats were also on show, such as speed literature, bookshelf dating and bedtime stories in Nørrebro, aimed at attracting under-represented user groups to the festival and to libraries more broadly.

Event website critique…usual fish in a barrel stuff. With 159 events from 77 organisers, and 58 venues, you need several ways of finding your way around the programme, but as ever there was no way in via theme or audience. A map/app would have been nice, although there was a list of what’s on at each venue. No search…and while the design is contemporary enough, you are diverted to Copenhagen Libraries’ rather creaky site for full details, where when it’s gone, it’s gone. In archive terms, there is one page on the festival’s history plus brief summaries of the festivals in 2014 (the body in literature) and 2012 (Copenhagen). Coverage limited other than some fine pictorial broadcasting, with the 46 #kbhlæser tweets during the week mainly from organisers.

A very dansk affair, with only one event på engelsk and just a smattering of the usual suspects in translation – and slet ikke anything contemporary. And, just the Copenhagen council area, so no input from literary Lyngby etc. Here’s what caught my eye.

Cellars were a thing. Københavns Radiobiograf, normally found in Gloria Biograf, performed in the cellar of the central library, while Kælderlæsninger, a series of monthly events at Islands Brygge library this time out started in the central library and than travelled by metro to Islands Brygge.

Golden Days’ morning lectures at Atheneum were back (see Facebook), still pulling the crowds and still streamed. Nice work. Listened in on Knud Romer on German Romanticism, highly entertaining. It stopped, as ever, on the dot, which made me wonder if events in Denmark ever run over? I’ve known them start late and finish early too.

A popular view of Kierkegaard in Denmark is as doomed lover, and he made two appearances courtesy of Pia Søltoft, author of Kierkegaard og kærlighedens skikkelser – at the Sorte Diamant with philosophy rethinker Mads Vestergaard.

Denmark has a whole host of literary societies, all tidily organised under umbrella organisation Samrådet for de Litterære Selskaber i Danmark; they held an afternoon of short readings in the central library, from Chrétien de Troyes to James Joyce. There was also a bit of a Jane Austen thing going on, with a read-along of Emma from online chicklit bookclub Lovebooks, an embroider your favourite Jane quote session at Vanløse Kulturhus and a salon in Perch’s Tea Room.

Finally, a Kærlighedskaravan (lit: love caravan) saw five libraries selecting 10 love related texts each, performed by TS Høeg (2016 travel book) and AN Other, with the best chosen and then the best of the best voted for somewhere and a final event on Sunday evening. The events took place in cafes and bars close to the participating libraries, concluding at Din Nye Ven in the heart of the city.

All these festivals do start to blur into one, as the same actors plough on regardless, rolling out the same formats each time or simply rebranding a regular event – looking at you Assistens Kirkegård, SMK Fridays. Are there too many?

Next up: new festival/fair on history, Historiske Dage, which in another developing festival meme includes walks.

Postscript: København læser – IVA læser med: nice article from the kulturformidling perspective. And in unfair comparison time, see Cityread London, a month long celebration around one book.

Vestegnens Kulturuge

Another festival! Vestegnens Kulturuge, with the theme of rum til bevægelse, took place from 7-15 September for the first time. Vestegnen is the name given to seven kommuner at the top of the Køge Bugt, including Hvidovre. Developed after the war to give space for the burgeoning population. Think finger plans, concrete, urban, etc.

Programme available via Kultunaut, DK’s monolithic event calendar, with search, display by day or on a map, although I picked up a copy from the library, easiest way to get an overview. Website could generally be more social, although is on Facebook, and less drear.

Here’s some events of interest:

  • rullende S-togs foredrag – Lisbeth Hollensen of Forstadsmuseet via loudspeaker on the A line towards Hundige (not on web programme)
  • byvandring in Avedøre Stationsby – planned in the 1970s with inspiration from medieval Dubrovik (!), today a symbol of modernism’s bomaskiner, life from cradle to grave (offered fairly frequently by Forstadsmuseet)
  • Fra ingenmandsland til allemandsliv | Facebook – installation at a horrendous bit of concrete at Hvidovrevejs Butikstorv from Hvidovre Produktionsskole and artist Karoline H Larsen, good effort if not for me (involves mime), but the ‘makeover’ will stay until 17 November so will swing by at some point (bit far and boring for a standard dog walk)
  • assorted events in Ejbybunkeren and Vestvolden, part of Københavns Befæstning (child oriented)
  • ditto at Arbejderbevægelsens Bibliotek og Arkiv in Taastrup
  • ditto at Kroppedal Museum in Høje Taastrup, mainly at the Blaakildegaard local history bit, which brings us on to…

Vestegnens Fortællerkreds Festival:

  • group of storytellers, set up in January when four libraries held a storytelling evening, leading to a series of six workshops led by Carsten Islington and Nanna Rohweder (Taastrup libs)
  • 20 storytellers in the circle (Facebook), now a forening (why?), membership costs DK 100 per year; members inc Charlotte Løvenhardt (formand), Freddy August Østbygaard (kasserer), Tue Boje Folden (bestyrelsesmedlem), Leif Loll Jørgensen (suppleant), Inge Beck (suppleant), Annette Skov Friis, Jimmy Stahr
  • 15 taking part in festival on 15 September

the seven kulturuge kommuner