Copenhagen to showcase sustainability in building

The eyes of the global architectural industry are on Copenhagen during its year as Capital of Architecture, which gives reason to gauge sustainability in the city’s buildings. Director of the Green Building Council takes stock.

The Danish capital is currently taking big steps in the right direction when it comes to sustainable building, as explained by Sisse Norman Canguilhem, acting director of the Green Building Council. 

The council is a non-profit membership organisation established to promote sustainability in the construction and real estate industry. At the same time, the Green Building Council manages the Danish version of the DGNB certification scheme.

“Sustainable development is high on the agenda – at building sites and in boardrooms. Most companies today have bold ambitions and are planning exciting initiatives, but this doesn’t change the fact that there is still a very long way to go before construction comes close to being truly sustainable. In the coming years, we’d like to see a significant increase in the pace of development, and for all the ambitions to lead to real reductions in the carbon footprints of buildings.”

“And the potential for realising these reductions is there – also in relation to making a business out of it,” she says. According to Sisse Norman Canguilhem, Copenhagen plays an important role:

“I’d love to see Copenhagen becoming a petri dish for sustainable development initiatives, and thus a showcase for Danish companies and all their skills in this area. If we intensify the industry’s sustainable development, we can look forward to a huge export adventure.”

Troldtekt acoustic ceilings are the natural choice when wanting to ensure superior acoustics and a healthy indoor climate in, for example, office buildings
Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen, architect, MAA


Turbinehuset is an office building in central Copenhagen with a restaurant and supermarket at street level. Turbinehuset was designed by Danielsen Architecture in cooperation with Tetris as a durable and carefully conceived office block, but in many ways it is also modern and flexible. The building is DGNB-certified at Gold level.

Tricky building balance in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, Sisse Norman Canguilhem highlights several challenges – especially the difficulty of striking the right balance between meeting housing needs while addressing a climate crisis:

“On the one hand, we’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and we should largely stop building new buildings. On the other hand, we have to recognise that society has other interests: The need for more housing is one of them. Buildings in the wrong places is another example. On top of which come all the buildings that are not suited for modern purposes, or which are simply in bad condition.”

“For a city like Copenhagen, where the pace of development is so fast, it’s hard to stop in one’s tracks and do anything but follow the easiest course of action. Often, you end up constructing a new building that meets everyone’s interests, except those of the climate and the environment. But there’s no way around it. We need to be much more aware and thrifty when choosing to build new.”

Recognised building certifications such as DGNB provide a tool for balancing interests and ensuring a holistic approach to sustainability that also benefits the users of buildings.

It is not only private players who are choosing documented sustainable building. In 2020, the City of Copenhagen’s City Council decided that public buildings with a contract sum in excess of DKK 20 million must in future be DGNB-certified at min. Silver level or certified in accordance with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.

Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen

KAB Huset

KAB-Huset serves as the head office of the housing association KAB, a base for KAB housing organisations and a place where people can gather. The building was designed by Henning Larsen Architects. Troldtekt acoustic panels in natural wood have been chosen for the ceilings, and the meeting rooms and call centre have concealed ventilation which ensures an even supply of fresh air through the acoustic panels – without draughts or noise.

Sustainable prototypes

For the duration of Copenhagen’s status as Capital of Architecture in 2023, the City of Copenhagen, together with various partners, has built seven Sustainable Development Goal pavilions along the waterfront. Some are more artistic in their design, while others experiment with materials, but common to them all is that they offer different solutions to how we can build sustainable homes with a low carbon footprint in future while focusing on people’s health and well-being.

The pavilions serve as signature projects for Capital of Architecture 2023 and the UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen, where approx. 10,000 people from the industry will be participating and immersing themselves in sustainable building on 2-6 July 2023.

Green Building Council: Three megatrends in sustainable building

Sisse Norman Canguilhem, acting director at the Green Building Council, points to the three biggest trends in sustainable building right now:


New EU legislation

“Under the umbrella of the European Green Deal, a large number of important regulations and directives are currently being rolled out by the Commission. At the moment, many companies are in the process of getting to grips with the taxonomy and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will redirect private capital towards more sustainable investments. This is going to play a big role.” 


ESG and sustainability reporting

“These days you would be hard pushed to find a large company in the construction and real estate industry that has not taken on one or more ESG managers. Once they have gathered sufficient valid data on their sustainability initiatives, I expect this to have a big impact on their internal decision-making processes. At the same time, it will promote transparency across companies.” 


Climate requirements in building regulations

“The requirement for LCA calculations and associated threshold values for large buildings is in many ways a milestone – even though in my opinion the threshold is far too high. The very fact that everyone will now be forced to measure buildings’ CO2 emissions will create a real awareness among all stakeholders throughout the value chain.”

Skolen på Duevej, Frederiksberg

Skolen på Duevej in the City of Frederiksberg can pride itself on being the first new school building in Denmark to be DGNB-certified at Gold level with the add-on DGNB Diamond. The way in which the building interacts with its surroundings and its healthy indoor climate were key focus areas, says one of the architects behind the project.