Sightseeing: Copenhagen Common Ground?


The project seeks to get behind the scenes of the number-one-tourist-attraction in Copenhagen; Nyhavn. A picture perfect destination in the heart of the city.

Nyhavn is a colorful and well-visited stretch along one of the canals of Copenhagen.

It is an attraction, a tourist destination, where locals are no longer visible.

Nyhavn is a picture perfect setting, a stage for nostalgia and the essence of Danish culture and identity. Mermaids, draft beer, hot dogs, softice, parasols, veteran ships and canal tours are fixed items on the sunny side of Nyhavn.

Nyhavn’s attention-seeking energy and magnetic effect create a life of international character, but only a few local Copenhageners roam in this little strip of Denmark.
We examine the authenticity of a Nyhavn, which has often changed content, but never color.

The project is working towards an understanding of site – a place, versus the common understanding of Nyhavn as a sight – an attraction.

We aim to join the discussion and issue of expanding tourism in Copenhagen, to examine how the industry and our city can develop. We look upon Nyhavn as a neighborhood rather than an attraction. The ambition is to exploit the potential of the site and make it ready to enter a new era where both tourists and locals take part in the environment/development of Nyhavn. A common ground.

By questioning Nyhavn’s current state, the project addresses how we perceive, experience and understand places in our cities. Is common ground possible in a hyper polarised context?

The project is the result of a close teamwork and a desire to combine our various competencies within building transformation and urban planning. The aim was to challenge each other in a collaboration where our common interests in culture and identity unfolds in a study of architecture that spans across borders and scales.

The goal: to gain deeper understanding of the architecture that sets the scene for our surroundings – colored or not.


What prompted the project?

The project is a result of our common interest in culture, identity and places that mark themselves by their differentness. Nyhavn is a one-of-kind place in Copenhagen. Its distinct historical appearance has contributed to the common perception of Nyhavn as an authentic place in the city. Over the years, this perception has been reinforced and has in many ways been staged. It has become a picture perfect destination, an attraction that primarily serves the tourist.
Lately, in Copenhagen, there has been a desire to prevent mass tourism solely concentrated around downtown. The municipality wants to explore possible attractions in areas surrounding the city center, leaving Nyhavn with the possibility to take on a new role within the city. By addressing Nyhavn as a potential site we question its current state and how we as tourists and locals experience, perceive and contribute to the city’s development.

What tools did you use to undergo research on the site? How important was first hand information and interviews with the locals and tourist?

Through thorough site registrations we try to decipher the site with objective eyes. Our starting point was a self-guided tour, which was based on partly our own preconceived notion of Nyhavn partly on the designated tourist activities. This gave us insight into the experience of Nyhavn from both the tourists and the locals perspective.
Through on-site registrations of each building on the Nyhavns strip, photo registrations, mappings, section drawings and immediate text descriptions, we gained an understanding of the different elements and perceptions that defines Nyhavn. On this basis, we established a number of principles that later became guidelines for our design.

What role did the index play in the project?

The creation of the index has been a continuous process through the project, where new findings and registrations could constantly be compared and contribute to the comprehensive analysis. It has served as a tool that continually helped us decode the site, its structure, program and hierarchy.

How important was the drawing as site through which to develop the project?

Based on the initial studies, the project was developed through drawings and models. The site’s architectural qualities, symbolism and historical layers were investigated in different ways to gain knowledge and insight into the complexity of the site. We wanted to get a hold of which instruments the urban spaces use to communicate, appropriate, reconstruct and reconstitute culture and atmosphere in Nyhavn. By tracing and looking into old cartography of Copenhagen it was possible to examine and reveal inherent qualities and past structures of the site. Our research and findings were explored in both drawings and models – thereby using them as investigative tools to determine the choice of site which wasn’t given from start.

How did you work on these collaboratively?

The project has been developed in close collaboration – always with a questioning and discussing approach. Our teamwork has made it possible to produce models and drawings that contains knowledge and registrations of conditions from both past and present. By constantly shifting and taking over drawings and models from each other, our material has been characterized by continuous development.

What informed the various views through which you choose to reveal the speculation? How do these speak of specific conditions you sought to address?

The final physical project enrolls in different places in one of Nyhavn’s large backyards. The choice of placement for the various interventions (and thereby views) is based on site specific readings. Nyhavns is one of Copenhagen’s most well-preserved areas, the conservation value of the various buildings therefore also had significance in relation to our choice of interventions. Certain interventions sought to create new flow, connections and increase the experience of a permeable urban space. Others simply just introduced new programs to enrich the urban activity. The various interventions made it possible to discuss different methods and ways in which to intervene in a highly complex and historical urban structure.

What are your hope for the area in 20 years time?

The project aims to become a driver for new activities for both locals and tourists. Our proposals wishes to create an indirect transformation of the Nyhavn that we know today. Not by neglecting the existing qualities, but by working with them and further explore their future potential. The transformation will function as an engine and catalyst for the area, thereby creating change and giving something new back to the city.

What role do the various souvenirs hold?

Being able to tell about our experiences is an important part of our self-staging, and souvenirs therefore become important objects that can document the truthfulness of our self-stories. Souvenirs serve as proof that you have actually been there. When working with Nyhavn we created our own souvenirs, each of which represents an observation and reflection on Nyhavn as a place. The rendered objects (our souvenirs) was further elaborated and discussed in the written part of the project.

What informed the choice of a book as final format for the project?

The project is a combination of many different media and working methods. Certain aspects of the project are best communicated through model, others through drawing or text. The project was ultimately presented through an exhibition and a book, which made it possible to give a thorough and complete insight into the many facets of the project.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

For us the most important tool has been the ability to dare to ask questions, to be curious and never to preconceive the obvious.