Getting that Islands Brygge and (new) Vesterbro feeling...

By: Tim Anderson (

Construction, construction, construction. And falling prices. The Copenhagen housing market is quite a thing to get a handle on these days. On one hand is a rapidly growing number of apartments for sale (with rapidly dropping price tags), on the other is a pile of ongoing and recently completed housing projects - most of these were conceived and started quite some time before the housing market in Copenhagen went belly up some 18 to 24 months ago - after a lengthy and sustained period of rapidly rising prices. So there's plenty of units in these new buildings available if you like what you see.

There are a few intense pockets of construction around Copenhagen - each characterised by lots of visible 'for sale' signs. Perhaps the most ambitious of these development areas is found along the harbour front on both the Vesterbro and the Islands Brygge sides. The buildings are visually quite compelling, though their price tags are less so - for example, the new Havneholm apartments that are effectively opening up a whole new area of Vesterbro. The apartments being built directly behind the shopping mall Fisketorv (pictured above) are another.

For those who have take the bait and bought in this particular re-developed area, well, it's difficult to say how daily life is. There's no question the apartments themselves are (or will be) crisply modern and bright - and highly appealing on this basis.
Yet one can't help but wonder how this squares with the general plan for development around the buildings - or lack thereof. This is the stuff that really makes urban life most pleasurable, at least by many estimations. Amongst that which surrounds these buildings it is strikingly undeveloped, scattered and inconsistent. Actually, it could be said that what isn't fournd in the area that provokes questions. Complimenting these sky-high per sqare meter priced apartments is certainly not trendy cafes and restaurants, or a thoughfully planned out landscape, though there is a certain type of shopping opportunity in Fisketorv. It is difficult to see anything that would compel the residents to do more than simply ride the elevator up and down to their wonderful new apartments - and stay there (granted, looking out at a wonderful view of the channel). See, while Fisketorv may be close at hand, trendy is not a word I would use to describe a day at this or pretty much any other mall.

a second to none waterfront view - though not every day is a
blissfully sunny and warm one, especially in Copenhagen.

The development (and subsequent sales) plan for these new buildings basically goes like this:

1. put building in front of channel, ensuring (at least half of) the apartments have a great view.
2. sell apartments at wildly inflated prices based upon this waterfront location (and view).
3. hope they sell before buyers and prospective buyers realise that coherent integrated plan for creating
life and opportunities for residents around the apartment buildings is non-existent.

But I digress. There is another part of the story.

On a wildly sunny June, July or August day, the Islands Brygge swimming area of Copenhagen is about as good as it gets in Copenhagen - it's few few hundred meters away from these new developments. So this is certainly an attraction and weighty selling point. The crowds (granted Copenhagen-sized ones), flock to the area to bake in the sun, swim in the clean (though generally chilly) channel waters, and barbecue as the sun sets (using with characteristic disposable barbecues that I have only ever come across in Denmark).

Perhaps the development project that epitomises the best and worst of life along the waterfront is the magnificent converted silos that bookend one side of the newly-constructed bridge connecting Vesterbro, via the shopping mall Fisketorv, with Islands Brygge. As an architectural project, this one is something to behold. Above the concrete base of this one-of-a-kind apartment building, sunny circular balconies provide a look-out over the water, and are surely the envy anyone who appreciates a waterfront view. But below the balconies, where the
concrete base of the building begins, it's a different story. The developers simply didn't concern themselves in the least with that.

The picture above tells the story. Notice the wonderful grassy yard in which to relax by the sea, the cheerful play equipment for children, the direct swimming and boating access to the channel (which is indeed clean enough to swim in - there is a channel 'pool' just a few hundred meters away)? No probably not, as there simply isn't any of that! The landscaping is about as raw as it can get. There is a sort of empty modernness about it, but not much else.

On the other hand, the bridge out front is a true selling point, connecting Vesterbro and Islands Brygge as they never have been before - which indeed is a great benefit for those on both sides of the channel.

the bridge by night

So who exactly is buying these places? And what to really make of them? Are buyers really getting a good deal, a 'ground-level' opportunity to be part of something truly unique in Copenhagen? Or are these places destined to quickly shed their value and fall more in-line with the prices apartment around the rest of Copenhagen?

Perhaps this really is phase 1, and phase 2 will see a further transformation of the area as the developers move out, and local entrepreneurs spot opportunities to bring new life into the area. It's hardly around the corner, but it could happen yet. In the meantime, pull out your fat chequebook if you are truly compelled by what you see here and now - because it will cost you.

2 Response to "Getting that Islands Brygge and (new) Vesterbro feeling..."

  1. Anonymous says:

    Or what usually happens to new housing developments with a lack of social facilities:

    1. People move there to live out a promised "dream" of some sort.
    2. The lack of facilities and infrastructure is a problem, but they are adults with cars and freedom and they cope with it.
    3. They have children, they grow up with nothing to do and the place slips into a slump with successive generations.

    Tim says:

    Yep, indeed that sounds about right.

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