Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Book Review: a5 Copenhagen: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle

A5 Copenhagen: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle
Edited by Casey C.M. Mathewson
and Ann Videriksen.
(Oro Editions, $60)

Copenhagen is indeed a wonderful place, for its urbanity and unfailing commitment to good, humane design. It expresses the integrity of a society that values people over profits, substance over show. Buildings and open spaces are organic parts of a larger whole, and the entire city is tied together by a dense network of bicycle lanes, buses and 24-hour subways. It has made the transition from a pocket capital to a carefully planned metropolis that has outsourced its port facilities to Malmo, and redeveloped its entire waterfront as a mix of offices, apartments, arts, education and recreational space. In these and most other respects, it is the polar opposite of LA, so it’s ironic to find the two cities linked as the first and second in a series of books edited by a Berlin-based architect (who, sadly, died on the eve of publication) and a Danish architect, who now promotes the cause of good design in LA.  

Videriksen is passionate about the achievement of her homeland, but she has left it to Kent Martinussen, the respected director of the Danish Architecture Center, to introduce this collection of buildings by seventeen Copenhagen-based firms. His text is thoughtful, but far too brief and lacking in visual references to provide an adequate portrait of the city and it is studded with typos. (Are proof-readers an extinct species?)  At the least there should be a map of the city, and more than one wide view to establish a context for the individual buildings. The interplay of land and water that makes Copenhagen so rewarding, and the backdrop of sober and quirky buildings is barely hinted at. And the promise of “lifestyle” in the title goes unfulfilled, though this may not be such a bad thing.

The editors have made an intelligent selection of firms and projects, but a third of the buildings are located outside Copenhagen, and there’s only the briefest mention at the very end of the major contributions to the city by non-Danish architects—most notably Jean Nouvel’s Radio Concert Hall. It’s good to know that Danes are building world-wide, but this book is billed as a portrait of a city, so the selection of work should be tightened and broadened. Eighty buildings and a few future projects are well illustrated, and there are plans and sections, but little sense of how they relate together. For that, you’ll have to go to Copenhagen in the summer, visit the DAC to buy its pocket guide to the latest buildings, and stay for lunch on its terrace, gazing with rapture over the city.

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