The historical vernacular of a small district east of the city is something that Danish firms Cobe and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects (VLA) were determined to celebrate with the design of the Krøyers  Square apartments. Separated from central Copenhagen by the Inner Harbour, the artificial island of Christianshavn dates back to the early seventeenth century and was built as a likeness to Amsterdam – which, at the time, was already known for its international connections and canal typography.

The 3.43 sq-km area was intended as a trade hub, architecturally characterized by warehouses which stored exotic imports – like sugar, tea and coffee – for selling across Western Europe. More recently, the district accommodated the capital’s naval base and the same buildings stocked goods to support the Danish fleet. With a population of just over 10,000, present-day Christianshavn is an industrial island transformed into trendy residential neighbourhoods.

‘It wasn’t long ago that the harbour was congested with cargo ships and cranes,’ recalls Cobe creative director Dan Stubbergaard. Now, the area is bursting with urban life. The distinctive character has infiltrated the area and made the locals keen to protect its historical and architectural integrity. ‘It is full of people swimming, rental boats, canoes and pedestrian bridges. The spring air smells of family barbecues and blossoming cherry trees, so there is a lot to protect.’ As such, the development of the Krøyers Square apartments involved a lot of communication and discussion with the Christianshaven residents.

‘In the early stages, we met with them every few weeks to review the sketches and we went through a good 20–30 different schemes and prototypes to come up with a design that satisfied the locals, the municipality, the client and ourselves,’ Stubbergaard continues. ‘The local organizations, future users, neighbours and the authorities had a lot of wishes for both the height and size of the new buildings. It was also important to all involved that the ground floors were opened for public functions to create urban life by inviting the neighbourhood in.’

VLA describes the five-storey residential blocks – of which there are three – as a ‘modern interpretation of the historic warehouses that characterize the area’ and it’s not difficult to see how the project relates to its surroundings. The apartments are located on a very visible area of the waterfront, looking out over the harbour, in the gap of an otherwise continuous row of old warehouses.

Staying in context, the folded roofs and heavy materiality correspond to the heights and the dense presence, respectively, of the existing buildings. ‘Every angle was designed as a response to concerns about blocked views and fitting in with the local architecture,’ Stubbergaard concludes. ‘The result wasn’t just an aesthetic design but a translation of all the significant characteristics of the old warehouses into modern parameters that met both functional and climatic demands, creating a dialogue between the old and the new.’

Plan – Ground floor

Location Krøyers Plads, Copenhagen, Denmark