You like Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen as soon as you meet her. With a huge welcoming smile and infectious energy, it didn’t take long to realise why this popular Danish photographer and Instagrammer had been chosen to be our guide through the unique neighbourhood of Ørestad, a developing city area in Copenhagen.
Ørestad is a “new town”, in that it has been a carefully planned community from inception, as opposed to traditional settlements that develop in a more ad hoc fashion. “Every time I come here, it feels like a new building is going up,” Rasmussen says, as she waves expansively across Ørestad from the metro.
“The neighbourhood here is unique because of the groundbreaking architecture combined with a beautiful common surrounding it.”
Danish architecture, with its trademark marriage of style and functionalism, has long been seen as a highwater mark in the world of design. Walking through Ørestad, Rasmussen was quick to point out buildings that showcased just this balance, with a fair bit of quirkiness thrown in for good measure.
“I believe many Danish architects work on the principle that they should give something back to the city whenever they build. Buildings are designed to fit their surroundings, and landscape architecture has a very huge part in the designs,” Rasmussen says.
The bold way in which architecture in Ørestad embraces mixed use is particularly fascinating, with car parks effortlessly supporting apartments, homes coexisting with offices and communal spaces, and many stops in-between.
Some of the most well-known buildings in Ørestad have been designed by BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group. Bjarke Ingels, at only 42, has catapulted himself onto the international stage, becoming best known in Denmark for his Ørestad housing complexes, and now for designing the new 2 World Trade Centre in New York City.
The first thing I thought when I saw the façade of the VM Houses? That Bjarke Ingels had been dreaming about the White Walkers from Game of Thrones riding on Stegasauri. It’s shiny, pointy, and in-your-face, as well as weirdly beautiful.
The two buildings, on V and M footprints, are like two three-dimensional games of Tetris: of the 225 units, there are more 80 unique types. Central corridors are short, with light coming in from both ends, and sometimes described as “bullet holes” through the building. And those balconies are something else.
This truly incredible complex is located right next to the Kalvebod Fælled’s huge protected commons. It’s built in a figure of 8 and encircled by a 1km community pathway, and is made of horizontal layers that each have their own quality, from the offices below merging with life on the street, to the view and sunlight enjoyed by the apartments. With two central courtyards, day care, office facilities, and communal spaces, BIG’s 8Tallet is designed for life, not just for living there.
We need a car park and some housing, said the brief. No problem, we’ll make that one building, said BIG. And the Mountain was born. The Mountain is on the same street as the VM Houses, but is two-thirds parking, one-third apartments. The parking garage serves as a concrete “hillside”, supporting a thin layer of housing over 10 storeys, including like stacked ground-floor garden apartments, each roof serving as the base of the above dwelling’s backyard. Suburbia? Meet urban lifestyle. Walk under the building and you feel as if you are in a particularly brightly demarcated high-rise car park. With a ski lift.
The apartments are ingeniously structured, like interlocking Lego, and save space with one corridor for three levels. And if you walk away from the building into the heart of Ørestad and look back, a cheeky image of the Himalayas stares back at you from the side of the car park.
TIETGEN STUDENT HALL
Visiting this building made me want to come back in my next life as a Danish university student. Not only is your education paid for by the state, as well a portion of your living expenses, but you may get to live in a residence such as this one.
This beautiful building by Lundgaard & Tranberg, catering for the collective and the individual, is seven storeys with 360 rooms and communal kitchens.
From its reflection on the bordering lake to the dream-like courtyard of trees, this tower of student housing feels like the perfect place to both work and live, study and relax. But it’s slanted towards the studying: we noticed the courtyard trees are just too wide apart to support hammocks.
Best bit about our tour? Not just these four amazing mixed-use buildings, but the way Rasmussen led us through this quirky town of Ørestad like children through a fun house. “Come on,” she seemed to say, beckoning from sidewalk or balcony, foyer or carpark. “Look up, down, back, there and over there — how cool is this place?” Pretty cool indeed.
MEET ASTRID MARIA BUSSE RASMUSSEN
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF? As a freelance photographer and communications consultant who has a great love for Copenhagen, architecture, urban planning and Danish bike culture.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST FASCINATING ABOUT DANISH ARCHITECTURE? Ever since I was a kid, I have been very much into the beauty of architecture. Thanks to a great design and architectural heritage, Danish architects often make light and relatively discreet designs. All in all architecture is made for creating “the livable city”.
WHAT D O YO U LOVE MOST ABOUT COPENHAGEN? The bike culture! Biking is a huge part of a Copenhagener’s identity: kids learn how to ride a bike as soon as they know how to walk. We bike all year roundin every weather condition (“viking biking”) and once I read an article about a woman in labour who cycled to the hospital to give birth.
Follow Astrid on Instagram:@astridkbh