Thursday 20 March 2014

A summer in Scandinavia - Copenhagen

Copenhagen radhus 1950s
Copenhagen's City Hall (Radhus) 1956
At the end of my second year at Cambridge I realised that the time I had spent rowing had taken its toll on my academic work. I had to retake one of my subjects in the September. My colleague at Emma, Walter Mildmay, also suffered the same fate so we agreed to devote more time to our architectural education.

Walter was a descendant of the founder of Emmanuel College and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay (1523 to 1589). I was invited to spend a couple of weeks at the family home in Stroud, Gloucestershire. His father was a local school master and they lived in a modest stone built house in the countryside. Walter had a younger brother who was destined to go to Emmanuel in a couple of years. He was a very lively individual whom I imagined would make full use of the opportunities at Cambridge. Although the family were linked to the aristocracy, they were by no means rich, however the social graces were evident in their way of life and standard of behaviour.

That same summer of 1956 Walter and I arranged to visit Scandinavia to study modern architecture. By using the Student's Union network we were able to arrange some travel and accommodation in advance. I had already decided to study multi-storey housing for my written thesis and high rise dwelling was very common in Scandinavian countries.

We were lucky enough to cadge a long lift from my sister Betty's boyfriend at the time, Peter Gosling, who was travelling through Germany with a friend. He took us by car from Peterborough, across into France, through Belgium and Holland into Germany and up to the ferry terminal at Grossenbrode for our trip across to Gedsar in Denmark. From there we made our way to Copenhagen by train.

We spent three weeks in Scandinavia, the first week in and around Copenhagen. We were put in contact with the chairman of their architectural students association who was most helpful in guiding us to building projects of note as well as inviting us to his home for a meal with his young family.

town hall rodovre 1950s
Detail of Town Hall in Rødovre
I was impressed by the clean, efficient lines of Danish design. The layout of homes and quality of fittings, particularly joinery, were the hallmarks of modern living whether in single or multi-storey dwellings. What we saw here in the mid-fifties was way ahead of architectural design in Britain. We visited a number of new buildings including the Town Hall in Rødovre designed in steel and glass by Denmark's most famous architect Arne Jacobsen.

We also visited a museum of modern art which was being constructed in the grounds of a 19th century house. It extended through various levels and directions, sweeping down towards the sea. [This is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art which opened in 1958]

Copenhagen itself was a beautiful city. Many buildings of renaissance style were given a distinctly northern flavour with ornate spires and cupulas covered in copper which gave them a rich green colour. The general atmosphere was one of great friendliness and this was nowhere more apparent than in the famous Tivoli Gardens. There was a party atmosphere at any time of day with its many bars, restaurants and entertainment, plus a modern concert hall, newly built, overlooking the sea. After dark it was even more vibrant with a blaze of coloured lights turning it into a wonderland.

Nyhavn 1950s
Nyhavn, 1956

Amalienborg palace 1950s
Amalienborg Palace

Gefion Fountain 1950s
Gefion Fountain,


  1. Wow... This post brought back many memories for me too Trish! I particularly loved the photographs and your Dad's impressions of the architecture at the time! I love that he got to visit one of my favourite places - Louisiana - too, did you get there on your recent trip? I can't remember... xx

    1. We didn't get to Louisiana but I remembered it was a favourite of yours. Another reason for me to return!

  2. Lovely to read more about your Dad's adventures. xx

  3. What a brilliant idea and how wonderful to be able to read and relive the experiences. It's also fascinating to see the B&W photos.

  4. So lovely to read about your dad's adventures. It's such a wonderful idea. The photos themselves are amazing - your dad had a really good eye