Imagine detaching your balcony from your flat, floating it on a canal, driving it along the water round to your friend’s house (with all chairs, tables, plants etc still on it), driving both your floating balconies out to the harbour, tying them together, and then swimming off them or having a party. Mad? Only for the rich? No – it’s what I got roped into yesterday, courtesy of my host Pauli in the unfashionable and brand new Sluseholmen area of Copenhagen, only a 15 minute bus ride from the centre of town. Sjoerd Soeters, a Dutch architect, conceived the canal format and worked with local architects as well as the client [Copenhagen Port's development vehicle By og Havn] to realise this via a set of quite rigid design principles. Architects don’t like the Disney/wallpaper nature of the elevations – designed by 20 different practices – manufactured variety can feel inauthentic if you care about that kind of thing. But the principles are safe and they work here. 1150 homes were built over a 4 year period, with a variety of family and smaller homes around sizeable communal courtyards. Slots in every side of each courtyard allow free ingress and egress for all, and also contain bikes, kayaks and other vessels for water travel, none of which get nicked or wrecked. (It’s a Danish tradition to have shared equipment in communal areas of estates). I could personally do without the Future Systems glory tower nosing into the harbour and marking the entry to the district, but it’s not bad as taller buildings go. There’s a high-end supermarket and three cafes/restaurants open within a 5 minute walk of the whole neighbourhood, which has a density of 110 homes per hectare. Pauli is paying £1200 a month rent for a two bed home here: he knows the neighbours via the sauna and thanks to those key social networkers, children. It’s a little tiresomely wholesome, perhaps, and needing some more critical mass (which is coming, though looking less architecturally promising). But the quality of life and value for money is breathtaking, for a mid-sized capital city.
Thanks to Pauli Østerø for putting me up and introducing me to Harbour Life