Where past and future meet: New urban districts springing up in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a constantly evolving capital city characterised by a number of distinct and characterful urban districts and neighbourhoods. Here, we take a look at two new urban districts with roots in Denmark’s industrial past, and which are now being transformed and borne into the future. Come along to Carlsberg City District and Nordhavn.

Troldtekt - Vilhelm Lauritzen
Photo: Thomas Mølvig, architect MAA

By 2050, the population of Copenhagen is expected to have grown by a further 100,000 people to approx. 750,000. The growth will primarily be seen in the new districts and especially along the waterfront, according to forecasts from the City of Copenhagen.

Copenhagen comprises 12 districts, and the districts where large development projects are currently under way are expected to grow the most – i.e. Nordhavn, Amager Strandpark and Østhavnen. When fully developed, Nordhavn will have 40,000 inhabitants and support 40,000 jobs, while in another of the city’s new districts – Carlsberg City District – approx. 3,100 homes will be built for newcomers to the city.

Sound-absorbing cement-bonded wood wool panels from Troldtekt are often used as acoustic ceilings in restaurants
Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen, architect

Welcome to: Nordhavn

Nordhavn is situated between Hellerup and Langelinie on the coast of the Sound, and is the site of the biggest ever urban development project to date in Scandinavia. The project is being completed in stages, and will see the entire area transformed from industrial port to a modern district with neighbourhoods, islands, canals and green spaces.

The phased docklands development began in 2014 with Indre Nordhavn and Århusgadekvarteret, which are now being followed by the current developments at Sundmolen, Trælastholmen and Svanemølleholm. And soon the development of Levantkaj and the planned container terminal will start. In addition, the new park Naturpark Nordhavn, the Tunnel Factory and the new tunnel Nordhavnstunnelen will also be developed in the coming years.

The plan is that, in 40-50 years, Nordhavn will be home to 40,000 residents and support 40,000 jobs.


Close to the city, sea and nature

In 2015, the first residents moved into the newly established Århusgadekvarteret, which today is seen as a district in its own right. About 2,800 people now live there, and the first of many eateries, supermarkets and specialty shops have also opened. In 2020, the Copenhagen Metro opened two stations. 

“The vision for Nordhavn is that you can live, work and have an active and social life in a varied district, where proximity to the water and green areas, shopping, public transport and childcare institutions and education are central to the development,” says Kristian Wederkinck Olesen, Communications Manager at By & Havn, and adds:

“In Nordhavn, the water is right on your doorstep, and one of the recurring themes of the project as a whole is that Nordhavn will be preserved and developed as an island district intersected by canals to ensure that the water feels close by for both residents and people working in and visiting the area.

By & Havn is a development and operating company owned by the City of Copenhagen (95 per cent) and the Danish state (5 per cent).

Maritime past preserved

Nordhavn’s long history as an industrial port is evident throughout the new development. Old buildings and features have been preserved, and many of the new buildings and projects are inspired by the area’s historical past.

“Nordhavn exudes maritime industrial history. And this special atmosphere is being maintained and integrated into the district by preserving selected buildings and cultural-historical features. New materials and fixtures are chosen to tie in with the original character of the port. In other words, robust materials such as concrete surfaces, cast iron, cobblestones, COR-TEN weathering steel and hardwood that can all withstand the coastal climate, while patinating beautifully and meeting the functional requirements,” says Kristian Wederkinck Olesen.

A special sight is the two large iconic silos built by Aalborg Portland at Göteborg Plads in 1979 to store cement, which could be unloaded and loaded directly from ships at the quayside. Today, the silos have been enlarged and transformed into modern offices.

Just a stone’s throw away are The Silo and Frihavns Tårnet, which are both old grain and feedstuff silos. They have also been transformed into modern buildings with housing, a restaurant at the top of The Silo and retail outlets in Frihavns Tårnet. 

At Sundmolen, the development of the old warehouses where bananas, coffee and paper from overseas used to be unloaded is also in full swing. The warehouses are being renovated and transformed into contemporary, attractive and modern office environments. The architectural firm BIG is building its new head office at the tip of Sundmolen. 

Troldtekt in Nordhavn

Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen

Welcome to: Carlsberg City District

On the outskirts of Vesterbro in Copenhagen, bordering the district of Valby and the City of Frederiksberg, lies Carlsberg City District, which now has its own postcode – 1799 Copenhagen V.As the name suggests, the area is named after Carlsberg beer, which was produced on the site from 1847 until the breweries moved to Fredericia in Jutland in 2008.

After the move, comprehensive work started on transforming the brewery site into a new residential and urban district. By mid-2023,  the development of Carlsberg City District will be approx. 80 per cent complete, and the last stage is expected to be finished by the end of 2024.

“The vision for Carlsberg City District is to create a lively and thriving urban area. A good place to live, work and spend time. The area’s cultural history is an important and highly valued asset, which is being incorporated into every aspect of the development,” says Jens Nyhus, CEO of the development company behind Carlsberg City District, and adds:

“At the same time, we’re focusing a lot on life between the buildings, and we also have big ambitions for the commercial activities on the old brewery site.”

In 2009, the Danish architectural firm Entasis won the acclaimed international architecture award at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona for the world’s best master plan in connection with the development of Carlsberg City District.

Uniting new and old

Many shops and specialty stores have already moved in and embraced the neighbourhood, and more will be joining them in the next few years. In addition, the district also has 25 urban spaces and gardens for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.

Both the retail activities and recreational areas have been carefully planned to create the right mix which can work alongside the historical elements that make Carlsberg City District unique:

“The area stands out on account of its historical past, which pervades Carlsberg City District. Here, you will encounter new and existing architecture, small, out-of-the-way places and large verdant gardens. In a way, Carlsberg City District is a natural part of Vesterbro district, yet at the same time a completely separate entity,” says Jens Nyhus, and mentions some of the most remarkable buildings in Carlsberg City District:

“Taking a walk in Carlsberg City District, you will come across the iconic Elephant Gate from 1901, the fantastically transformed mineral water factory, which is a true architectural gem, and the 120-metre-high Pasteur’s Tower with the highest placed flats in Copenhagen. We’re immensely proud of these structures,” says Jens Nyhus.

Troldtekt in Carlsberg City District