This house appeals to both mind and senses. You are met by a grey concrete monolith, rising up like a three-storey mountain wall. Visually, it hits you like a fist in the diaphragm, reminding you of a scene in a Lars von Trier movie.
If this building had been built in the town hall square of Copenhagen, thousands of people would have gathered in protest threatening to kill the architects. However, the building is in fact situated in the North-West of Copenhagen which is a neighbourhood with many industrial buildings, workshops and various mixed building types. Here, on the corner of Dortheavej and Peter Ipsens Allé, you do not need to worry about the surroundings. Nevertheless, experiencing the newly build trade union house for the first time is astounding – a highly raw and massive architectonic statement.
After the first chock, it becomes clear that very special things are at play inside this building. The nice proportions of the windows and the deliberate position of the characteristic entrance form a delicate composition implying sensitivity beneath the rough exterior. This assumption proves to be correct; the inside of the house is welcoming without being uninspiringly ‘pretty’ – a tendency found in many similar domiciles. The setting is unpretentious but at the same time, the building is a well-functioning headquarters with many different activities organised by a modern trade union.
The courtyard façade facing West is a striking contrast to the rough attitude of the street-façade of the house. Here, the building is covered by a gigantic sun cover made of horizontal larch wood lamellae. The wooden wall is brought out from the façade and has a small bend which creates a great visual effect. The lamellae create a subtle structure making the building transparent and very elegant. A broad flight of steps that function as seats in an amphitheatre connects two large wooden terraces.
Lager, Post and the service workers’ union LPSF needed to consolidate their activities in one house and at the same time, they needed to strengthen their profile. In 2004, the trade union was presented with a good solution via the company Oskar Jensen Gruppen A/S. In the North-West part of Copenhagen, they had found a piece of land well suited for the project and had already contacted the architectural firm Entasis Arkitekter – a small yet very recognized architectural firm run by the architects Christian and Signe Cold.
Architect MAA Christian Cold says:
“Three years ago, when I was contacted by Oskar Jensen A/S, we were given a very short deadline to present a proposal. We were unable to meet with the construction committee before the presentation and we therefore had to create an architectonic ‘portrait’ of an organisation that we hardly knew. We associated the union with May Day Demonstrations, solidarity, unemployment, settlements, socialism, strength etc. Yet the question remained: did these associations represent a modern trade union in the 21st century?”
“At a relatively early stage, our thoughts were concretised, and we came up with an easily explicable and understandable metaphor. The trade union is two-faced. From the outside, it represents strength, persistence and clear objectives. Therefore, we named the exterior the masculine identity of the trade union. The interior represents intimacy, solidarity and care. Therefore, the interior of the house represented the feminine identity of the union. This was the foundation for our architectural design of the project. After studying the sketches and assessing the presentation carefully, the representatives of LPSF went with this simple idea. We hit the nail on the head! The result is a building which, from the outside, depicts the union as a masculine organisation represented by a characteristic in situ concrete façade. Behind this façade, you will find a different universe of warm, welcoming materials and light pouring in through larch wood lamellae. Here, you take care of each other”, Christian Cold explains.
The interior of the house
Visitors are welcomed by a café- and reception area. On the right, the administration and meeting rooms of the unemployment insurance fund are situated. On the left, situated below the ground floor, you will find a large high-ceilinged hall – a bright, square room measuring 13x13 metres which has room for 200 persons. Three large doors can be opened from the foyer and thereby, you can create a visual contact to the hall. The hall is connected to the terrace and has a very streamlined look with concrete walls covered with plywood and light cement-bonded wood wool panels from Troldtekt, which has also been mounted on the ceiling. Christian Cold says:
“In this house, there are no clinically white walls or dull plasterboard ceilings. All surfaces have texture. The oak floors and the large concrete surfaces create a warm and welcoming the atmosphere.”
The other spacious floors of the house are organised around a central flight of stairs which, together with the elevator, functions as the vertical link of the house. Again, Troldtekt acoustic panels ensure good acoustics, add a nice texture to the rooms and create a contrast to the raw concrete. On these floors, there are offices, canteens and meeting rooms – all are lid up by the large sections of windows of the West-facing façade. The beautiful larch wood sun cover softens the daylight and, creating a visual link, the lamellae continue from the exterior into the interior in the form of a fillet ceiling on the first floor.
More than 230 linear transversal sockets have been installed in the Troldtekt panels. Designed by the architects from CUBO Arkitekter, these are specifically designed to fit the Troldtekt panels. The sockets have also been installed in the fillet ceilings, and the result is very nice. The many details suit the building, and the fact that the lighting has been custom designed to fit the Troldtekt panels adds an aesthetic calmness to the rooms. The sockets break the monotony of the panels and in the corridors, these are installed close to the walls, which thereby creates a greater effect. CUBO Arkitekter have also designed a wave-shaped glass shade for the sockets which scatters the light optimally without blinding. The elegant, wave-shaped shade has been named Wave.
Inexpensive and rustic
The residents are particularly satisfied with the interior of the house. Finance Director at LPSF, Helge Geest, participated in most of the meetings throughout the building process:
“Previously, we had three offices in the city, and it has therefore been a very positive experience to move into a custom designed house with room for the administration and for having meetings and hosting large events. Moreover, this house is in keeping with the spirit of the trade union – it is rustic and has been relatively inexpensive. We did not want a flashy house; instead we wanted it to be a well-functioning home to us and our members.”
“The architects have carefully selected the materials, and they have succeeded in mixing fine and rough surfaces. Moreover, the acoustics are particularly good. The sound environment is fantastic thanks to the Troldtekt acoustic panels which have been installed on the ceilings and on the walls in some of the rooms. Personally, I was rather sceptic to the idea of installing cement-bonded wood wool on the walls, as I was afraid that it might be difficult to clean. However, this proved not to be a problem and the acoustics are simply brilliant! In our previous offices, the acoustics were bad, but fortunately, this is now a closed chapter”, says Helge Geest.
The Eckersberg Medal
In 2006, the architects Signe and Christian Cold received the Eckersberg Medal, which is one of the most prestigious awards in Denmark. Among other things, the nomination stated:
“Their architecture cannot be questioned and it is anchored in a materiality that appeals to the masculine and feminine senses. Through their works they show us the true nature of world class architecture that really moves us.”
The main entrance of the Copenhagen Zoo and the expansion of the sports hall Kildeskovhallen are among their most known works. In 2007, they won an international competition where the assignment was to show how the Carlsberg area in Copenhagen could be turned into an active part of the city.