Bjarke Ingels Group has completed Dortheavej Residence, an affordable housing complex in Copenhagen made up of prefabricated modules stacked on top of one another. Named after its Dortheavej address in the northwestern part of Copenhagen, the 5-story building winds through the area characterized by car repair shops, storage and industrial buildings from the 1930s–50s. BIG was commissioned to design Dortheavej in 2013 by Danish non-profit affordable housing association Lejerbo, whose mission is drafted by Danish urban space designer Jan Gehl. BIG was asked to create much needed affordable housing and public space in the area, while keeping the pedestrian passageways open and the adjacent green yard untouched.
“Our ambition was to create affordable apartments by the world’s leading architects,” says Jan Hyttel, President of Lejerbo Copenhagen. “Together with BIG, we have succeeded in creating sustainable, safe and functional homes that see eye to eye with the people who live in them.”
“Affordable housing is an architectural challenge due to the necessary budget restrictions. We have attempted to mobilize modular construction with modest materials to create generous living spaces at the urban as well as the residential scale. The prefabricated elements are stacked in a way that allows every second module an extra meter of room height, making the kitchen-living areas unusually spacious. By gently adjusting the modules, the living areas open more towards the courtyard while curving the linear block away from the street to expand the sidewalk into a public square. Economical constraints often lead to scarcity—at Dortheavej, we have managed to create added value for the individual as well as the community.” explains Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG Architects.
The characteristic checkered pattern of Dortheavej is based on a singular prefab structure. Conceived as a porous wall, the building gently curves in the center, creating space for a public plaza towards the street on the south side and an intimate green courtyard towards the north. On the street level, the building opens up to allow the residents and general public to pass seamlessly into the courtyard.
The housing modules repeat along the curve and are stacked to the height of the surrounding buildings. The stacking creates additional space for each apartment to have a small terrace, providing a setting for healthy, sustainable living. On the sunny south side, balconies retract and add depth to the façade while on the northern side, the facade is even. Long wooden planks cover the façade on all sides, highlighting the modules and alternating to accentuate the checkered pattern.
Large floor-to-ceiling windows in the apartments allow lots of daylight into the units and outside views to the green courtyard or the surrounding neighborhood. The size of the apartments ranges from 60-115m2 and the materials are all kept very simple with wood and concrete in light colors dominating inside and out.
Evening views of Dortheavej situated in one of the most multi-ethnical, low-income neighborhoods in Copenhagen, show the building as light and transparent. Residents can look out from their balconies and the surrounding community can see the activity inside.
The small square created by the building’s slight curve will be landscaped with cherry trees and spaces for bicycle parking—the preferred way of getting around the city.
The north facing façade looks towards an enclosed green courtyard which residents of Dortheavej and the neighboring buildings can use for recreational activities.