Drawing a City - The Museum of Copenhagen's present special exhibition
April 21st – November 14th 2021
The exhibition shows previously unexhibited architectural drawings of the city charting how the Danish capital became so well designed.
A lot of visitors to Copenhagen talk about how well designed the city is – not only the classics of Danish Design and its restaurants and shops, but the entire cityscape where buildings and street furniture form a synthesis. Now the Museum of Copenhagen invites you to enter the engine room of the people who over the course of a century drew the contours of Copenhagen as we know it today. From the history of today’s hipster meatpacking district to a gigantic, Brutalist sewage treatment plant, museum visitors can see drawings by architects traversing different historical periods as well as photographs of Copenhagen past – and present.
An Entire City Drawn by Architects
The Museum of Copenhagen has opened a veritable treasure chest for the new exhibition – a section of Copenhagen City Archives where no less than 180,000 architectural drawings from the office of Copenhagen’s city architect have been preserved. During a period lasting just over a century (1886-1998), Copenhagen City Council had the largest drawing office in the country. The many members of staff here were responsible for designing a whole range of public buildings, including schools, housing complexes and technical plants, as well as the street lighting and street furniture between them.
Copenhagen Buildings – and the People behind Them
The exhibition consists of original drawings never previously shown to the public, alongside historical photographs from the museum’s own collection accompanied by the latest photographs of the city and its buildings by acclaimed architectural photographer Jens Markus Lindhe.
The exhibition follows selected buildings from their construction and extension to demolition, simultaneously tracing changes in architectural styles from elaborate ornamentation to the clear lines of Functionalism. During the lifetime of the city’s drawing office, migration to the city and new technology changed architecture as well as the use of city buildings. The exhibition provides insight into the ideas and drawings behind the buildings, and presents the experiences of those who created them, those who used them in the past, and those who use them today. People like a pupil from Rådmands School in the 1940s recalling the sex-segregated school life of Danish pupils in the past.
Working for the City Architect
“When I started working at the drawing office as a student assistant in 1969 my first impression was that it was a quite formal, outmoded place. One of the first jobs I was given was measuring an empty hospital ward. But I soon found out that it was a really dynamic place, and one of the biggest architect’s offices in the country. The most extensive and exciting project I was involved in was the Lynetten sewage treatment plant during the seventies, then again in the nineties.
For me the detailed work of drawing was not relegated to the past. It was a working tool when changes had to be made, like new toilets in schools, and also an important source of inspiration when new buildings were to be designed,” according to Svend Baggesen, former architect in the planning department of the city architect’s office.
The New Meatpacking District – Groundbreaking Architecture on a Par with Arne Jacobsen
For many years the new Meatpacking District in Vesterbro resounded with the chopping rhythms of butchers, sack trucks rattling along the streets, and the shouts and greetings of the people teeming through the area. The buildings were heavily used, with signs of wear and tear and dents on the doors and gateways. All of it enveloped in a stench of lard, blood and meat. It’s doubtful that many people at the time thought that it would become what it is now considered to be – ground-breaking architecture on a par with the designs of Arne Jacobsen.
The new Meatpacking District was built by Copenhagen City Council from 1931-34, based on drawings by city architect Poul Holsøe and his staff with an emphasis on straight lines and smooth white surfaces to signal hygiene – the reason it is known by locals as the ‘white’ meatpacking district. Today the entire area has been renovated, and is now a magnet for a young, hip crowd looking for somewhere to eat and drink, or the perfect knife to make homemade sushi.
The exhibited drawings give a unique overview of the new Meatpacking District, black-and-white photographs provide a nostalgic flashback to the way things were, and Jens Markus Lindhe’s new photographs show the area as it looks today.
Extend Your Experience
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication, and the museum shop has a fine selection of other books on Copenhagen, as well as a quality range of original Copenhagener gifts.