A walk through Orestad, Copenhagen’s new architecture laboratory

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On a cold winter morning, Southern Copenhagen is almost deserted. A tiny, toy-like train is zipping past a bright blue cubic building. It is the Copenhagen metro, running overground in Orestad, the youngest city development area in Kopfenhagen. Two students rush to their bikes. Even it is several degrees below minus we are on our way for a walk through Orestad.

The Tietgen student hall

Not far from the metro station we have a look into the courtyard of the circular Tietgen student hall, with colourful letterboxes and washing machines prominently visible on the ground floor and a huge round inner courtyard. The circular building is influenced by a type of traditional Chinese architecture: The Hakka people built round walled villages, which could be defended easily, and where several extended families lived together.

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The Tietgen student hall

The Bella Sky Hotel

Continuing southwards on our walk through Orestad along a cycling road lined by different, but uniformly Scandinavian, family homes, we finally reach the Bella Sky Hotel.

Standing beside the nondescript halls of the trade fair, the Bella Sky Hotel’s two 76 m high towers seem to be swinging forward and backward: Both towers are markedly leaning in different directions, right angles having all but disappeared. From the equally odd connecting corridor on the 23 floor of the towers, we get an overview of the Orestad development area: The Mountain House, the Field’s Mall, and in the distance the big 8-shaped building, all strung up along the metro line.

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A school without classrooms

Placing the mall and an also quite interesting high school (without traditional classrooms, only open learning spaces) in the centre of the new town quarter was clearly a clever move, as it creates some movement between the modern office buildings. However, especially at its southern end, the area appears a bit lifeless, not least because much of the new architecture is self-contained and inward-looking: The offices all have fancy-looking cafeterias, the apartment buildings are arranged around courtyards as social spaces.

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For visitors to Orestadt, it is both fascinating to gape at these glass-and-steel explosions with oddly-shaped windows and balconies, and lonely because you don’t meet the inhabitants much. But then, after all, we visited in winter, when it was bitterly cold. No wonder that people try to stay inside if they can.

The Danish Architecture Center has more information on modern architecture in Copenhagen and is definitely worth a visit.

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