Ørestad is a new-ish neighborhood in Copenhagen that is both an architectural wonderland and perhaps a telling urban experiment. Historically, Copenhagen's master plan for urban growth in the 1950's was centered around the Finger Plan. This was an urban strategy that identified potential districts that can extend well-beyond the urban core, or 'palm' shown in the diagram below and connect these suburban districts to the city center by five S-Train commuter lines.
Copenhagen is located on the East corner of Sjælland, the most populous island of Denmark. Sjælland is essentially equivalent to one third the landmass of the entire country. Copenhagen is centered on a canal. Amager is the smaller island that defines the East edge of the canal. Amager was largely undeveloped with exception of the North end of the island. CPH airport is located on the south end of the island near the bridge that connects Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen. Ørestad was envisioned as an extension to the Finger Masterplan in 1995 to seek urban expansion on the island of Amager. The district is centered around a raised metro line instead of an S-Train. First came the metro line, then came Fields, a massive mall and shopping center located at the end of the metro line, and then came large-scale urban developments along the edge of the metro. The area remains largely still in development. The district is home to BIG's 8Tallet and the Mountain, PLOT's (now JDS and BIG) VM Houses pictured above in the cover photo, and a number of other compelling architectural works. It is both an attraction for architectural tourism and parkour enthusiasts, but habitation for a healthy urban life is still up for debate.
At first glance, what is so striking about Ørestad is the scale of the buildings. They are considerably taller and more massive then what you find in central Copenhagen. What is fascinating as an American to come to Europe is to see how contemporary Architects respond to the rich historical context of these incredibly old cities. What is shocking about Ørestad is that it is an area with no existing context. It is a rare example of a vast new development in Europe where developers and architects are given a blank slate to work with. That is what makes it such a fascinating urban experiment to observe. While a number of the projects are token architectural works in themselves, it is not clear how the contribute to the broader urban condition. As a pedestrian at ground level the area is not inviting. There remains a lot of new construction that has yet to be finished. And I know that COBE has worked on the future masterplanning of a district of Ørestad, replacing massive storage buildings with much denser residential townhouses that will break down the rigidity of these massive housing blocks.
Despite the number of critiques I have read about Ørestad, there are some really interested examples of modern housing typologies. I have been really taken by the material and color pallet of the majority of new projects in Copenhagen. Ørestad Huset is a large housing block with really unique precast balconies that are designed to give the resident privacy. It makes for a dynamic facade of a building that otherwise has a much more modest material pallet. You find a lot of black brick paired with wood framed windows. Sejlhuset (elevation pictured above Ørestad Huset) is one of many Ørestad examples with operable facade components. The facade is some kind of charcoal panelling with aluminum framed windows, but they built an external galvanized steel frame that carries the balconies and operable panels for shading that gives the facade some depth.
I will strongly contend that Seattle has a lot it can learn from Copenhagen with regards to housing, material pallets, and color. Copenhagen is dark and dreary in the winter just as Seattle is, yet the city embraces modest, muted colors and materials. Seattle has fully embraced the yellows/browns/reds/green spectrum of color samples that are more reminiscent of 'barf and beans' in a poor attempt to make the city look more colorful and vibrant. The struggle is that colors lose their luster with time and weather. Also the city has to be more stringent on the color pairings they allow. It's something I honestly dread to come back to. The facade pictured above is a nice modest example of a building with some color and raw material.