At the Danish Architecture Centre

Dear Readers, over the years I have found that Danish people have a dry sense of humour that I find very engaging, and this morning was no exception. We were just about to sit down for coffee and croissants (£20 thank you very much) when we saw this advert in letters several feet tall. Netto is the budget supermarket in these parts, and there are two within a few minutes’ walk of where we are staying. We are right in the heart of the student area, and how they manage is anybody’s guess.

Anyway, we ended up at this coffee shop. It was packed to the gunnels with Danish goddesses and handsome young men stocking up on caffeine before retreating to their offices. And us. Though we ended up sitting outside.

The croissant was the best I’ve had in years. Just look at that lamination.

And how about this little beauty? This was a twist on the traditional Danish cardamom buns, with poppyseeds, a lemon glaze and that zesty tang of cardamom. How we shared it without rancour I shall never know.

Anyhow, lest you think that all we do in Denmark is drink coffee and eat baked goods, we were on our way to BLOX, a controversial building that houses the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), some workspace, a café, a restaurant and lots of things for children to do. If you go to the exhibition space upstairs, you can also get downstairs in a hurry by taking a twisty twirly slide in a tube.

The Danish Architecture Centre

Inside, there were two exhibitions. One was called ‘A Space Saga’ – a pod designed for people living on another planet was tested out in Greenland, where two ‘astronauts’ lived in the habitat for 60 days. It was a rather intriguing origami-like structure, which can increase its size by 750% when it unfolds. However, it still felt extremely claustrophobic to me. You’d have to get on very well with your co-workers I imagine. It feels to me as if the biggest challenges for long-term space travel will be the physical and psychological problems of the people who go. Still, it was very interesting. You can read a bit more about it here.

The second exhibition was about women in architecture, both those who worked in the past, and those who are coming up now. Only 25% of architecture practice partners are women in Denmark, and this in a country with decent childcare and equality measures. Even when I was here last, twenty-five years ago, I remember being impressed because the Finance Director of the company that I worked at, a man, was taking a few days off because his child was starting school, and parents could accompany their children to help them ease into the new environment. There was no expectation that his wife should do it instead, and this was in addition to his normal leave allowance (which was 40 days). Denmark has higher taxation than we do, but better social care in almost every aspect.

Anyhow. At the end there were interviews with some women architects. They seemed happy to work collaboratively and to share ideas, and they put thought into how to make spaces feel safe and welcoming for everybody. One woman pointed out how important lighting was, especially at night, and how, while bleak spaces might feel hypermasculine and edgy, they did nothing to encourage people to feel at home. I often feel this in new developments – impressed by their scale, but as if I don’t belong there, which is not surprising as they weren’t designed with me in mind. And if I feel nervous, how about all the other people who don’t find spaces easy to navigate? There was plenty of food for thought.

You can read all about it, and see a short film from the exhibition, here.

And then it was off for a walk home via the edge of the Christianborg palace complex, which is the home to the Danish parliament.

The view along the Christianborg canal

We passed the Royal Danish Library, otherwise known as The Black Diamond. It’s an extension to the existing building, and is one of the largest libraries in the world. Copenhagen is full of bookshops, used and new, and it’s clearly a favourite occupation during those long damp winter nights.

And, me being me, my eye was taken by the abundance of berries on this snowberry. It certainly puts the plants in my local cemetery to shame.

Then we wander around the back of the Stock Exchange, where we saw the spire with the four dragons yesterday. Today I was very taken by the reliefs on the back of the building. There were a variety of muscley bearded and moustachioed chaps, a few wan maidens, and one very fierce-looking matriarch.

Then we passed in front of parliament…

….admired the seagull sitting on the head of this copper-clad warrior (who turns out to be Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen)….

and then admired the three storks on this fountain, topped by a cheeky pigeon. Since 1950, newly-graduated midwives dance around the fountain, a piece of news which cheered me up enormously. No obvious midwives when I was there, however.

And finally, I was intrigued by this building, with its decoration of a snake, a lizard (a water dragon by the look of it), a scorpion and a squid. How could I resist?  These days it’s a store selling Bang and Olufsen sound systems, and in a previous incarnation it sold Louis Vuitton handbags, but originally it was the home of the Svane Apoteck pharmacy, one of the first pharmacies in Copenhagen, dating back to 1849. The building, which dates back to 1934, is a listed monument, but why those particular animals were chosen I have no idea.

Well, I’m sure that the creatures have some symbolic value, but they are also beautifully designed and presented. As in most cities, there is much to see above one’s usual eyeline. It’s well worth looking up.

7 thoughts on “At the Danish Architecture Centre

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    That snake looks like it’s lost a piece of its tail…(?) You’re right about looking up. I once produced a walking ‘quiz’ for my work colleagues, which was made of (sometimes cropped) images of ‘things’ around the centre of York. The route was given, but people had to spot effectively what I’d photographed on my journey around the city and answer a simple question. (Well, it was simple if you spotted the item in question). I was amazed how many things I’d never noticed, despite living there for over 20 years.

  2. Garden Life

    The symbolism of the creatures is intriguing. I wonder whether the water dragon could perhaps be a salamander, which is traditionally associated with fire element? However, although scorpio/n is water element, this theory collapses with the snake and squid. Perhaps they are somehow connected to traditional apothecary/alchemy symbolism but Google and wiki have failed to supply any useful leads. Alternately, perhaps they relate to individuals connected to the business, like in heraldry?

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I am very puzzled about these creatures. I am almost tempted to find someone to ask in Denmark, though I’m not sure if the pharmacy company still exists. Thanks for the research, though! I can see that we’re both intrigued….

  3. Garden Life

    Actually, could they be lobster, eel, squid and newt(?) relating to the fishing industry, though why those would adorn a pharmacy is too cryptic for my brain.


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