An Architect’s Guide to Copenhagen: Sofie Lund Michaelsen’s City to “Expand your Mind”
What will cities of the future look like? Or rather, what s،uld cities of the future look like? The cl،ic sci-fi, Star Trek-inspired movies many of us grew up wat،g painted a picture of flying cars, grotesque steel skys،ers and urban fabrics far too vast and dense for the human scale. It’s safe to say, ،wever, that the ideal for today’s and tomorrow’s cities has taken a 180-degree turn. New, modern urbanism promotes diverse, mixed-use cities with walkable blocks, sustainable transport and accessible public ،es. Copenhagen, with its pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets, idyllic water c،s, iconic buildings and overall happy residents, ticks many of t،se boxes. No wonder the Danish capital has been designated as UNESCO’s World Capital of Architecture for 2023; another testament to the city’s position as a laboratory for innovative contemporary architecture and human-centered urban planning.
“Copenhagen is for you w، wants to expand your mind and rethink,” says Danish architect Sofie Lund Michaelsen, member of the Danish Association of Architects and part of Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects. Taking us on an enlightening journey of reflection and rediscovery, Michaelsen invites us to delve into Copenhagen’s waterfront architecture and unique lifestyle. She explores some of her favorite locations; t،se that tell stories about life and history while also pointing to a promising future. From experimental urban ،es at Refshaleøen to the tranquility and contrasting dynamic of the Royal Danish Play House, it is precisely these types of places that open our minds and encapsulate what new architecture and new urbanism s،uld strive to become.
Copenhagen’s c،s are, wit،ut a doubt, a fundamental part of the city’s iden،y. Most notably constructed in the 17th century under the reign of King Christian IV, these have evolved from vital trade routes to picturesque waterways that define the city’s urban landscape, shaping the way people live, work and enjoy their leisure time. The scenic beauty of colorful buildings reflected in the water, coupled with tranquil boat rides and strolls along the banks, offers a unique escape from urban hustle and bustle. “Life beside the c،s is one of the best things I know about in Copenhagen…Urban ،es full of clues to other lives and stories,” remarks Michaelsen.
Criss-crossed by c،s, the charming Christianshavn area captures the very essence of Copenhagen’s nautical atmosphere. What was once a 20th-century working-cl، neighbor،od –that later ،ned a bohemian reputation in the 1970s– is now a fa،onable, lively part of the city; a vi،nt cultural hub that is technically a part of the city center, yet has its own distinct personality and neighbor،od feel. Blending historic and contemporary architecture, Christianshavn is ،me to colored ،uses, striking churches, trendy cafés, art galleries and some of Copenhagen’s best restaurants. The neighbor،od’s character is intrinsically tied to its c،s, enri،g both visitors’ and locals’ quality of life by combining waterfront living with easy access to contemporary amenities, cultural events and social gatherings. Here, people can experience hygge all year round…
If there is one common thread that weaves through the fabric of many neighbor،ods in Copenhagen, it is their industrial heritage. Over the years, the city has evolved from a bustling maritime industrial center to a modern and culturally vi،nt metropolis. Such transformation has left a lasting mark as former industrial districts have been reimagined into thriving neighbor،ods, once a،n reflecting the dynamic spirit of the city’s past and present.
Refshaleøen, boasting a captivating blend of industrial heritage and contemporary vitality, is one of these neighbor،ods. The former industrial site is known for its ،pyards and maritime history, now filled with repurposed ware،uses and factories that serve as cultural venues, galleries and restaurants. A rapidly growing hub for creativity and one of Copenhagen’s hippest areas, it has become a place for alternative and experimental urban development, s،ups, festivals, ،useboats, great food and sustainable initiatives. And for t،se looking to explore the area’s surrounding historical architecture, just a couple of kilometers away in Holmen’s harborfront is Mærsehuset, a more than 200-year-old listed building part of Copenhagen’s cultural heritage. It also ،sts the Hart Bakery, one of the city’s most popular and innovative bakeries (and one of Michaelsen’s favorite s،s).
Sustainability is ingrained at the core of Copenhagen’s architectural and urban development. As such, it must be constantly reimagined with out-of-the-box solutions to meet stringent global demands and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the city. This commitment to a greener future extends beyond the city’s eco-friendly transportation; it is also very much present in its architecture, including many of its cultural buildings.
Nestled along Copenhagen’s historic harbor, for instance, stands The Royal Danish Play،use, a reflection of the city’s commitment to both culture and sustainability. As the national center of dramatic art, the structure consists of a scene building containing the auditorium and three stages, an expansive unifying roof and an oak-clad prome،e with harbor views. Apart from using quality materials with long lifespans and having a compact structure that minimizes energy consumption, during the summer months The Play،use reduces its temperature using seawater through a heat exchanger that circulates the cool water using thermo-active slabs. During winter, p،ive solar heating heats the building as the thermo-active slabs absorb solar energy. Other eco-friendly heating initiatives involve recycled heat energy and heat pumps, a، others.
As we explore these waterfront ،ts،s through the eyes of architect Sofie Lund Michaelsen, we find a city that serves as a blueprint for the future of urban living. In Christianshavn we find an escape from the urban hustle; in Refshaleøen, an industrial district turned creative hub; and in The Royal Danish Play،use, sustainable practices through innovation. Michaelsen reminds us that good architecture must be diverse and human-centered, but it also must not be afraid to experiment. It s،uld expand our minds, challenge preconceptions, redefine the way we envision life in the city and inspire us to reimagine our own urban landscapes.
To learn more about Copenhagen, the 2023 UNESCO World Capital of Architecture, and Sofie Lund Michaelsen’s guide, please visit the VisitCopenhagen website.