Bloom: celebrating the nature of nature

Festival Watch 2017 continues with Bloom (#bloomdk | FB), a new entrant from the Golden Days stable emerging from 2015’s Open Air Academy. It took place over the Kristihimmelfartsdag (Ascension Day) weekend at Søndermarken, one of two almost conjoined parks on the Frederiksberg/Valby border straddling Roskildevej, a stone’s throw from the ‘new’ district of Carlsberg.

Themed around nature and science, the festival positioned itself as a response to the post-factual era. Speakers came from backgrounds including biology and astrophysics, with more than a smattering of sessions slanted towards ‘lifestyle’. But it was all free, benefiting from lots of lovely sponsorship, taking place in the open air on a warm and rain free weekend.

Now then, I was grateful for a copy of the festival booklet from the library to leaf through, as the website was arty rather than usable. (I’m not the only one; comments on #some ranged from “I’m too old for this” to “how smuk“.) The situation was not much improved by offering the programme as a dense 54 page PDF. And despite the number of sessions in English there was no English version – OTOH there was a lot of English appropriation going on, with the now obligatory “talks og walks” and eight(!) stages with English names (I’m appropriating Wanderlust). Plus they went a bit over the top with schematics and classifications, different types of event and something called Bloom Balls. Let’s hope someone had full control of the big spreadsheet.

While the Danes’ relationship with trees is worth unpicking, Søndermarken is known for its sylvan lovelies, and a clutch of Bloom events went beyond saplings in bags. Saturday saw Perspektiv: træer, with four speakers exploring the videnskab (lit: science; here: what we know) behind trees. There were also three tankefrø (lit.: seed thoughts) exploring the cultural history of the oak, the beech and the lime.

Hans Christian Andersen called the oak “det største og ypperste træ i skoven”, a sentiment no doubt echoed by writer Jens Blendstrup, who together with artist Ole Lejbach completed a four year Ege-ekspeditioner (oak odyssey), resulting in an exhibition which toured the country in 2015 and is now available as a book. We also had a cabinetmaker and the founder of OAK – the Nordic Journal (“echoes of the Nordic way of life”) on the oak in Danish design, plus oak hors d’oeuvres from a food artist. Ah well. Here’s a picture of Klopstock’s Oak in Lyngby instead.

Klopstock’s Oak, where every July members of the Danish Klopstock Society meet for a reading

The beech is Denmark’s national tree, even featuring in the national anthem. Amongst Søndermarken’s beeches we find Ewald’s Beech, planted in memory of youthful Golden Age poet Johannes Ewald (1743-81), with a reed-covered parasol acting as shelter for a bench. Here though we had writer and boatbuilder Sigurd Buch Kristensen, a biologist and an architect, who posited the question of whether the Danish chair is an invasiv art. Plus beech snacks. In lime corner we had inter alia Neal Ashley Conrad on Proust and lime blossom tea dipping, and sessions from a landscape architect and an entomologist. You probably had to be there.

Lindehøjen, a group of limes on an artificial mound, site of Bloom’s Sound stage

Moving on, the walks n talks included lots of sciency stuff, with ant and bat walks for good measure, and three representatives from Denmark’s slim walking canon. Bakkehuset’s Gertrud With led off with Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), author of the national anthem, who as son of the nearby palace’s steward had Søndermarken as almost his private playground. Famously, following a 16 hour walk with Norwegian philosopher Heinrich Steffens he composed Guldhornerne, a 1200 page epic poem, in one sitting.

Next up, RUC’s Dan Charly Christensen went for a walk with Oehlenschläger’s contemporary, the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851; of inter alia the eponymous park), who held Kantian beliefs about the unity of nature and the relationships between natural phenomena. Even more physics on the final walker’s walk, led by Henrik Bohr, grandson of Nobel prize winning physicist Niels (1885-1962), who lived for 30 years just round the corner in JC Jacobsens æresbolig (now Carlsberg Akademi) and made regular head-clearing walks in the park.

Adam Oehlenschläger, patron saint of Danish walkers, at the top of Valby Bakke

Frederiksberg was part of the same parish as Hvidovre until 1857, while Valby was not handed over to Copenhagen until its 1901 land grab, so it’s interesting to note that garden designer Marcus Friederich Voigt made a trial run for Søndermarken at Holmegården, just north of the 12th century Hvidovre church, in 1794. Clearly a spot of some note, a great-grandmother of Karen Blixen was installed in the manor house by her lover in around 1810, where she gave birth to three children. In 1833 the house was bought by Søren Kierkegaard’s great uncle, who owned it until 1853. (Our local museum notes that records do not show whether Søren visited Holmegården – but he could have done). Sadly, the original manor house burnt down in 1931 and the garden has long since been built over.

Originally designed in the best Baroque style for Frederik IV in 1709, Søndermarken was laid out in triangles around three long avenues in a ‘goose foot’ system. This layout can just about be detected in the surviving path network. FVI’s 1795 redesign incorporated the latest Romantic motifs such as a hermit’s hut, a Doric temple and a Swiss cottage, plus waterfalls and grottoes. Open to the public from 1852, people flocked from the increasingly built-up centre of Copenhagen to admire the view from the top of Valby Bakke, one of Copenhagen’s highest points at 31 metres above sea level, and to enjoy a picnic on the Smørrebrødsplænen lawn.

After falling into decline Søndermarken’s Romantic features were restored in 2012, with the addition of 21st century essentials such as climbing frames and exercise areas, plus a small dogs run free area (unfenced). Today you are more likely to see lycra clad joggers than poets or physicists taking a constitutional. It’s a nice corner of the city, but surely destined to become the playground of escapees from the hyper-dense new area around Carlsberg.

(Talking of playgrounds, the forthcoming CPH Stage has a clutch of performance style walks around the theme of the city as stage. Of passing interest are OmniPresence on surveillance culture, Inge Agnete Tarpgaard’s walking workshop and Cantabile 2’s Hidden Number.)

Søndermarken’s hermit’s hut, occasionally let out for artists’ residences

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What’s in a name? Creating and curating urban narratives

Exploring place names can increase the interest of a location, triggering a sense of place and evoking cultural or natural associations – like mini cultural narratives, place names create experiences of belonging.

Take Hvidovre, my personal suburb, abutting its polar twin, Rødovre. Tricky for most foreigners to pronounce or even differentiate, with the first featuring a silent H, the second an unfamiliar vowel, and both the ever-softer blød D. Stick with this, it gets even better.

Research traces the two names back to the 17th century, with the ovre suffix coming from Old Danish awartha, meaning åbred (the banks of a stream) or bevogtet sted ved åen (a protected place by the stream). Records of a village with the name Aworthæ date as far back as 1186, when Pope Urban III acknowledged receiving it as a gift from Archbishop Absalon. Variants in spelling abound, and there were several villages bearing the name. To differentiate between the two villages south of Copenhagen Rødovre was initially called Øvre Ovre, as it lay further up Harrestrup Å (stream) than Hvidovre, aka Ydre Ovre. The Latin spelling of Hawerthi was also used by villagers in Øverød, north of Copenhagen, as the name for their locally produced Havarthi cheese.

According to one wag if you say Øvre and Ydre Ovre quickly enough they sound like Rød (red) and Hvid (white) Ovre, but most attribute the prefixes to the local parish churches – plastered in red in Rødovre and in white in Hvidovre. The two colours are used on local street signs – red on white in Hvidovre, and white on red in Rødovre. One street has signs in both variants.

Street names in Hvidovre range from a handful of natural features and the great and the good to batch naming after Greek gods or trees. Former farms and market gardens have been kept alive in the naming of housing estates – Bredalsgården is now Bredalsparken. And in a nice touch, a stretch outside Hvidovre C was recently named Laurits Olsensvej (again), after the hero of the 1919 railway accident at nearby Hvidovre Station (and setting off a debate about whether it should be Olsensvej or Olsens Vej).

Copenhagen’s current expansion means busy times for the city’s street naming committee, the splendidly named Vejnavnenævnet. They had a clear run in Ørestad, a tabula rasa on reclaimed land. In an approach to warm the cockles of a jaded urbanist’s heart they went for a modernist theme complementing the aspirations of the area. Streets in Ørestad City are named after architects, such as Arne Jacobsen, who also has his own Lounge in Fields shopping centre.

car park on Kay Fiskers Plads, named after the architect responsible for some pearls of Danish modernist architecture

Streets in Syd are named after artists, including CoBrA founder (and author of Fin de Copenhague) Asger Jorn, while those in Nord after writers (eg Karen Blixen) and musicians (but no Carl Nielsen). Rather more could be made of this though – there are no explanations on the street signs or other information to be had, other than an article in the local rag.

Sadly now though the naming committee seems to have dropped the ball, with streets in the new district around Bella Center to be named after random female writers including, pleasingly if rather improbably, Virginia Woolf. Equally random is the choice of Nobel peace prize winners for the area around Enghave Brygge, where I had spotted a couple of rather nice street signs earlier in the year; historical names disappearing here include Enghave Brygge itself.

Coal Road - named after the quay erected on the same spot in 1920 to supply coal to the nearby power station

Coal Road – named after the quay erected on the same spot in 1920 to supply coal to the nearby power station

Six streets around Rigshospitalet and Bispebjerg Hospital are to be named after pioneering female medics, in recognition of the lack of streets named after women. This well-meaning fashion has led to questions about whether gender is the now the sole criterion, and why all the streets have to begin with E, making them difficult to differentiate, particularly for those feeling a tad under the weather.

In 2014 12 new names were approved for the streets of Carlsberg Byen, a new area emerging on the site of the old brewery. While streets in the south east of the area at least refer back to the area’s historic functions, those in the south west are rather more tangential, supposedly acknowledging Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen’s engagement in Denmark’s cultural life. Whereas Bohrs Tårn is memorable enough, with Nobel prize winner Niels Bohr living in Jacobsen’s house for 30 years, other figures are relatively unknown, and meanwhile some of the area’s most significant architects are being airbrushed out of history. Both Carl Harild, responsible for listed buildings such as Ny Carlsberg Bryghus and Tap E, and Svenn Eske Kristensen, the mastermind behind not least the ‘iconic’ Lægerkælder 3 (now to become a boutique hotel), are invisible.

Similar issues have been encountered in Nordhavn, a new district emerging on reclaimed land previously occupied by the old Frihavn (freeport). It’s a common trope for streets in harbour areas to be named after other port and harbour cities, and Århusgadekvarteret is no exception. Once again, the new names have not gone without comment, and in the end three streets were allowed to retain their original names, with the proposed Liverpool Plads (square) now named Nordhavns Plads.

Some of the new names feel somewhat random, based on ports of all shapes and sizes with no particular relationship to Nordhavn or even to Denmark (Murmansk, anyone?), and ranging from Southampton (which no one can say) to Sassnitz to Skt Petersborg; the clutch around Harwichgade, Calaisgade, Dover Passage and Dunkerquegade at least has a little topographical logic, and ferries used to sail from Harwich to Esbjerg, back in the day…Previous names were rather more grounded in function, such as Jernvej (Iron Road) or Tværgade (Cross Street, now the out of scale Kielgade). Others were named after luminaries now forgotten, such as the freeport’s founder Ferdinand Wilhelm Lüders.

But while Lüders may have lost his road he has gained a car park, currently one of the area’s chief draws with a rooftop exercise area, adorned by a frieze in weathering steel which also tips its hat to the former Glückstadtsvej.

frieze on P-Hus Lüders showing scenes from Nordhavn's history as a working harbour

frieze on P-Hus Lüders showing scenes from Nordhavn’s history as a working harbour

More riding roughshod over the past in Valby, where Grønttorvet (old pics), a market which provided fruit and veg to the cities’ restaurants for nearly 50 years from 1958, has recently moved to Høje Taastrup, reopening in April 2016 after a three year delay as Copenhagen Markets (rather than the initially proposed Det Nye Grønttorv, a nod to creeping Anglicisation). The area had been slated for redevelopment a la Carlsberg since 2006 and is currently experiencing the first stage of gentrification as Det Gamle Grønttorv, while we wait for delights such as Himmelhaverne. Among local concerns is the loss of local heritage, as epitomised in the proposed batch naming of the roads after types of apple, such as Cox Orangevej, more resonant of Donald Duck’s home town than authentic cultural history (latest | Magasinet KBH).

Much fun (and academic ink) can be had tracking Viking place names around the North Sea. Take THING sites – assembly sites throughout areas of Scandinavian influence can be identified by their common ting, thing, ding and fing place names, such as Gulating (Norway), Tinganes (Faroe Islands), Tingwall in both Shetland and Orkney, Dingwall (Highland) and Tynwald (Isle of Man), plus Thynghowe in Sherwood Forest, and not least Folketinget, Denmark’s parliament.

The names a city bestows on its streets are reflections of its current values. Royals may have won over Communist heroes on the streets of eastern Europe, but it’s worth remembering that in the latest chapter of the city’s toponomy St Petersburg only narrowly  beat Leningrad in the public vote. Meanwhile Londonist has a nice article about the role of placenames in city branding. In new Copenhagen street naming follows the best PC fashions, with a distinct leaning towards listing. Should do better!

best street naming ever, in Dessau

best street naming ever, in Dessau

Valby Fortællinger: stories from Valby

Here’s a look at some new public art in my favourite part of Copenhagen, Valby.

The community council’s Valby Fortællinger project is now complete (update: leaflet), with a gallery of gavlkunst (murals and other art on the sides of buildings) erected around the area over the last eighteen months or so.

Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s poem regn søvn blå kys at Herman Bangs Plads works rather better in the dark:

gable end, Herman Bangs Plads

at night the poem is displayed in neon, with the word blå (blue) in blue

Ditto Morten Søndergaard’s Drømmegavl (Gable of Dreams; it’s won a prize!) at Boligforening Gadekærvej, 600m2 of aluminum inscribed with 117 dreams out of 350 submitted by the block’s 203 households. Examples of the residents’ dreams:

I’m dreaming about winning the lottery…about Bosnia and Herzegovina…about my neighbour…

gadekær or pond is a stable feature of old Danish villages. Many have fallen victim in the urban context (Hvidovre’s is now somewhere under the motorway), and the Valby one has been filled in, but the area has recently been landscaped with baby hillocks, lollipop trees and benches, which will have to do.

Round the corner in Pigekvarteret seven streets with girls’ names have been adorned with small decorations created by Mette Hannemann – meet Sylvia, Blanka, Laura, Cæcilia, Lukretia, Beate and Valborg:

Beate (maybe?) seems to have gone missing, but we have the other six, each with a different character based on discussions with the locals:

Finally, not content with having a street named after her, Danish silent movie diva Asta Nielsen has just acquired her own piece of light art, a poem written by local resident Eva Tind on the wall at Valby Langgade 44B. Now one of two branches of upscale supermarket Irma on the street, until 1960 this was the site of Valby’s theatre and cinema (story) :

Seven walks in Valby

Copenhagen”s 10 districts, with Valby in red (Wikimedia)

Update, January 2016: see Valbyruter.dk for a mobile friendly version of the walks på dansk. A PDF is also available (although without maps). And most excitingly, a new route was announced on 22 January, a 7km grey route covering the area’s industrial sites, most of which are currently under redevelopment. Time to revisit and update Walking in Valby!

Valby (Wikipedia), one of 10 districts (map) making up the Copenhagen council area, is one of my favourite parts of the city. It’s got a no nonsense feel, unpretentious, diverse and full of undiscovered corners. It’s even got a hill, although at 31m Valby Bakke is maybe more of a hillock.

Located on the south western fringe of Copenhagen Valby has an air of isolation about it, separated from Frederiksberg to the north by a park and from Vesterbro to the east by a cemetery, with further parks to the west and south. Railway development has also left its mark, with a main line and a local line dividing the district into two with only one bridge across for buses and cars, and two more local lines creating further pockets of edgeland. Several areas of low density housing also contribute to a suburban feel.

This may however all be about to change, with the redevelopment of the Carlsberg brewery site, higher density housing under construction on a number of brownfield sites and the new Copenhagen-Ringsted railway line, due to open in 2018, cutting through the south of the district.

Valby shares a border with Hvidovre, my home council, to the west. The original village of Valby was even a part of the same parish until 1901, and the two areas are much the same size in terms of population, around 5oK. But with industrialisation starting rather earlier in Valby, and as part of Copenhagen rather than a separate council, it operates in a rather different climate.

On my walk from Frederiksberg to Valby last November I spotted a poster for ValbyRuter, a series of seven colour coded self guided walks. In December Valby Lokaludvalg (community council), announced that a new edition was being prepared, which hit the streets in January 2015.

ValbyRuter in Vigerslev branch library

ValbyRuter in Vigerslev branch library

This being a nice manageable translation project I got in touch with the council, who sent me six leaflets to scribble on. While the translation itself didn’t take too long, some added extras, not least visiting Valby’s farthest flung corners to take photos for storymaps, meant that two months elapsed, but we now have a finished product!

Walking in Valby is a 10 page GoogleDoc. As well as full details and an overview map for each walk there is a link to an interactive storymap for those not fortunate enough to live nearby.

For me the seven walks fall into two main categories, with two looking at historic Valby and four exploring some of the unique housing in mainly lesser known parts of the district, plus a final walk taking in Valby Park, Copenhagen’s biggest. Best discovery: the laundrette in Folehaven. Most surprising: old Vigerslev village, a seemingly unplanned jumble including a Bronze Age burial mound, just a stone’s throw from Hvidovre station.

Having originally planned to plot the routes on a Google map I gave this up, partly as far too fiddly without coordinates to hand, but also because step by step routes can be rather confining, making one a slave to the map rather than drifting and lingering. I don’t think my partner and I have ever managed to follow a route step by step, and not just because of uncooperative beagles.

For such a low word count the translation itself was unexpectedly tricky, starting with the issue of the byggeforeninger, small pockets of housing built around the turn of the 20th century. The literal translation is ‘building society’, but while the English equivalent may have started out in the same way, ie groups coming together to finance and build houses, today when UK building societies can barely be distinguished from banks this doesn’t work. After toying briefly with ‘housing association’, I settled on ‘cooperative building society’.

A further issue is the Danish usage of by and related, eg bydel. Can you really call a clutch of 80-odd houses, come in Den Hvide By, a ‘town’? The new area of Carlsberg Byen is usually translated as ‘city district’, which doesn’t work for me, but the alternatives (quarter, area, neighbourhood) can be equally clunky if not chosen with care.

I like Knight Lab’s storymap service but finding photos for the areas I haven’t systematically walked was a nice illustration of the contradictions in the social/visual turn. In addition to plain old copyright there are issues around privacy and data mining – it’s easy enough to snip from Google StreetView, but should you? And do you really need to contact third parties about using their photos if they seem blithely unaware of rights issues? I have added credits on any borrowed photos on my storymaps, but it’s a rather grey area.

Sources of information on Valby’s cultural history:

Next up, Vanløse, and an update for our Five walks in Hvidovre.

Updates: Byvandring.nu is now offering walks in the area (Vestre KirkegårdValbys Hemmelige Havebyer) and three walks were offered as part of Valby Kulturdage (Valbys hemmelige haver | Valby fortællinger: 4 Sep | 5 Sep | Byvandring i det forskønnede Gammel Valby)

Revisiting Carlsberg Byen

Yesterday we explored the area between Toftegårds Alle and Gamle Carlsberg Vej in Valby, just outside the grounds of the former brewery. Walking along Banevolden the influence of the Carlsberg dynasty becomes ever stronger, for which read, not least, money. This led me to wonder how far the area, despite appearances, is residential. Some of the houses, particularly on Bjerregårdsvej and Antoinettevej, are stunning, although newer buildings have snuck in here and there:

buildings on Antoinettevej and Bjerregårdsvej

two houses on Antoinettevej flanking the location of the home of DASK, Denmark’s first computer, on Bjerregårdsvej

It turns out that several buildings here and on the surrounding streets have been bought by Edlund A/S, a firm of IT consultants cum actuaries. The area is almost an Edlund campus, although in order to conform with local plan requirements most have a residential component. We thought Bjerregård itself, the original farmhouse, was a museum – turns out its Erling E’s house. Sorry!

Two houses facing each other on Bjerrgårdsvej are particularly interesting. Built in historicist style, Frans Schwartz’ house and Onkel Toms Hytte (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) both have a half timbered appearance and an unlikely selection of ornamentation, including elephant heads on the former and dragons on the latter. Both were restored by Edlund in 2010.

Frans Schwartz' house (1884)

Frans Schwartz’ house (1884), designed by Hans Jørgen Holm, a leading proponent of National Romantic style

Onkel Toms Hytte, the slighter of two, dates from 1905. At that time it stood at the entrance to the harbour near Østerport station and housed a corner shop, but had to make way one hundred years later for an extension of the railway tracks. It was saved from being torn down by a campaign led by architect Michael Varming from Foreningen til Hovedstadens Forskønnelse (lit: Association for the Beautification of the Capital), who I’ve not come across before but who sound splendid.

In the same eclectic style is the nearby Jesuskirken (Jesus Church), erected in 1891 by Carl Jacobsen (for whom the berg was named) as a mausoleum for his family. Designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup, responsible for most of the turn of the century architecture in Copenhagen it seems, the church boasts a campanile decorated with swastikas and a troll statue.

Jesuskirken (1891)

Jesuskirken (1891); the troll is just out of shot

Could you get much further from Danish minimalism?

Sources: Politiken; Valby før og nu on Bjerregård, Frans Schwartz’ hus and Onkel Toms Hytte, all with lots of lovely old pictures.

Featured image: The troll that smells Christian blood (1902)

Den Grønne Sti: walking from Frederiksberg to Valby

Amid the cacophony about cycling in Copenhagen there is a handful of innovative facilities for walking as a way of getting around. Den Grønne Sti (green path), also known as Nørrebroruten, is a handy way of cutting across Copenhagen’s tiresome topography from outer Nørrebro to Frederiksberg and on to Valby. Started as a pilot project in 2008, Nørrebroruten is 9km long, part of a 40km network of green (cycle) paths to be completed some day soon.

The path starts at Lyngbyvej in Bispebjerg and ends at Valby Langgade. Copenhagen Green states almost as an afterthought that “pedestrians are allowed to use the route too”, thanks guys, and bigs up mainly the northern section. Here’s a look at the southwestern section, following parts of the old railway line through Frederiksberg to Valby. Signage isn’t fantastic – a couple of times I had to retrace my steps to relocate the path after crossing a road, but for most of the stretch it’s a pleasant stroll. OpenStreetMap’s route plan shows clearly how the path opens up new routes from a to b across the city.

Start at Kejserinde Dagmars Plads, just across the road from Frederiksberg Centret and the metro. Kejserinde Dagmar, aka Tsarina Maria Feodorovna and mother of the last tsar, was daughter of Christian IX of Denmark (the father in law of Europe) and younger sister of Britain’s Queen Alexandra. Seemingly a feisty pair.

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Cross the road and walk across the windswept plains of Copenhagen Business School’s campus (update: redevelopment afoot), complete with pampas grass.

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A bit of a dogleg at Finsensvej brings you to a bicycle counter…

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…and a nice wooded stretch. The path was initially designed for commuters, but on a Saturday afternoon there were dogwalkers, people carrying their shopping home, etc. But let’s just enjoy the autumn colours.

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HF Dalgas (usually translated as allotments, but with permanent structures allowed and running water for six months of the year many people use their plots as quasi summer houses) offers some great photo opportunities…

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…with some reasonably successful new developments the other side of the path.

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At this point the path runs alongside Solbjerg Parkkirkegård, dating from 1865. One of Denmark’s biggest graveyards at 18 hectares, it’s to be turned into a park by 2050, the result of changing burial fashions.

A rather larger dog leg at Roskildevej (a labrador rather than a beagle, maybe) and under the railway bridge brings you to Domus Vista, completed in 1969 and until 2005 the tallest residential structure in Scandinavia. Now in need of the same level of TLC being lavished on all those new developments.

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Leaving Frederiksberg and walking across the aktuell if underwhelming Monrads Plads (DG Monrad is the anti-hero in DR’s current blockbusting 1864) and you are on Valby Langgade. Turn left for Langgade S tog station on Herman Bangs Plads with its new street art, courtesy of Områdefornyelsen Gammel Valby and Statens Kunstfond.

Now clearly this only works when it’s dark (see pics in Magasinetkbh’s article), but Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s poem regn søvn blå kys from his 1982 collection Ukendt under den samme måne is displayed on that building in neon, part of the Valby Fortællinger gable art project. The word blå (blue) is in blue. Søren Ulrik sounds like a good egg – in an article in Politiken about the opening he says “there should be traffic, so you can get the city buzz. Lots of traffic, on different levels and going in different directions.”

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Bedre byggeskik in Valby

Update, July 2015: article on Bedre byggeskik in Faaborg (and more broadly)

Last Sunday I went on the Danish Architecture Centre’s Bedre Byggeskik i Valby walk, the first of three walks hosted by DAC as part of CPH’s Golden Days Festival themed around World War One (of which much more to come). Unlike most of DAC’s walks which celebrate the shiny and new this walk looked at the Bedre Byggeskik/better building movement, set up in 1915 to encourage good craftsmanship in the building of social housing – think traditional architecture/vernacular. Update: on 17 Sep Frederiksberg Stadarkiv hosted a walk around early social housing in the west of the borough – see the great pic.

On the old road to Roskilde, Valby (Wikipedia) and its tingsted date back to the Middle Ages. Until 1901 it was part of Hvidovre, but with industrialisation and not least the development of Carlsberg it was drawn into Copenhagen. I’ve always liked the area – it feels more ‘normal’ than the regularly feted parts of Copenhagen, neither hip nor pretentious, almost like a northern English town in a no nonsense, let’s get on with it sort of way. There’s life about the place, plus a sprinkling of urban grit.

Turns out there may be a reason for this – large areas of housing were built and laid out following the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and his garden cities, resulting in low density and room to breathe. The only drawbacks are the size of the gardens, meaning the houses are pretty close together, and some are now pretty close to the railway lines, with two S tog lines plus the main line to Roskilde passing close by.

The walk was led by Nan Dahlkild, who has written an article on Bauhaus in Denmark, which I shall have to hunt down. Both Bauhaus, in particular its early stress on craftsmanship, and the Garden City movement got frequent shoutouts during the walk, which also benefited from contributions from a couple of locals. Those now much sought after one family homes were previously occupied by one extended family per floor, with a famous photo showing all 28 occupants of one house posing in the garden.

Bedre Byggeskik supported developments built by byggeforeninger, of which there were seven in Valby, with members drawn from particular trades. Byggeforening translates as building society, but here they did the building as well as the financing. For more on the development of housing in Copenhagen up to the explosion of the suburbs see Plads til os alle: fra baggård til beton and accompanying video (Filmstriben).

Stops on our walk included Lyset (1912-14; Wikipedia | dansk), Valby Vænge (1918-19), buildings put up by Valby og Omegns Byggeforening (1898-1903), and finally Den Røde By/the red town, and Den Hvide By/the white town, also known as Trekanten/the triangle (1915-20).

All rather less quaint than Brumleby or Kartoffelrækkerne, and with re/development focused on the Carlsberg area on the border with Frederiksberg and the metro nowhere in evidence, thankfully currently free of building sites. Reuses are being sought however for a succession of old industrial buildings, with both Spinderiet, a shopping centre in the old cotton mill, and Valby school in the old porcelain factory, both proving moderately successful.

General walking type Peter Olesen comes from Valby and has a new book coming out imminently, both på dansk (Ude i Valby) and in English (Out here in Valby) editions. We’ll have to go back, although green areas for the beags within the residential areas are at a premium, with both Valby and Vigerslev parks, which we already know well, to be found on the edges of the kommune. 

For some wonderful old photos (trams!) and the latest developments in the area see Valby og København, før og nu.