Architecture

Housing Estate of the Copenhagen Medical Association

Michael G. Bindesbøll (1800-1856) and Vilhelm Klein (1835-1913)
1854-56 Se tidslinje
Brumleby, Copenhagen East Se kort

By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006

Light, air and cleanliness

In order to fully understand the pioneering nature of the housing estate of the Copenhagen Medical Association housing estate - or “Brumleby” as it is popularly called - you have to go back to the period when it was built. For centuries, the density of Copenhagen within the walls had grown. People lived very close together in dark, unhealthy backyards and stinking alleys. In the summer of 1853, the city was ravaged by a violent cholera epidemic which cost the lives of 5,000 Copenhageners in just a few months. It was obvious that new, airy urban planning was needed. 

Healthy row houses 

Already before the epidemic had subsided, a group of doctors had taken the initiative to build a new housing estate on the then isolated common of Oestre Faelled. They wanted to create healthy, inexpensive housing for the working class.

In the spring of 1854 the first blocks were ready to be inhabited: yellow and white row houses in two storeys with small front gardens and green areas. The inspiration was to be found in the houses of Italian rural workers. 

Kindergarten and library 

Brumleby is one of the earliest examples of a housing development that opens the urban space and sends light and air into the houses. Furthermore, in the following years the houses were equipped with a range of common facilities: kindergarten, public bath, assembly hall, library and the first co-operative shop of Copenhagen. 

Model for posterity 

In this way, Brumleby marks a shift in the way of perceiving housing in Denmark. Brumleby represents architecture based on the well-being of human beings. And it was conducive to the ideas of social sustainability which are the core of the Danish welfare state and which have developed into a model for the world. 

The housing estates on a winther day. Photo: Ulla Munch-Petersen.
Architecture

Did you know?

Berlingske Tidende wrote on April 1, 1998, a poignant story that the world-famous writer Peter Høeg had bought the entire Brumleby for a three-digit million amount. Peter Høeg has himself lived in the Medical Association's housing and wanted to design the entire Brumleby into a "refuge for the Third World persecuted women and children". The article turned out to be an April fool.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Architecture, 2006

The Medical Association’s buildings are one of the earliest examples of opening a city block, which allows fresh air and light into the buildings. Facades, plans, cross-sections and technical sanitary solutions focus on natural light, cleaning and ventilation. The height and spacing of the buildings optimise the natural light in the areas between the houses. The trees and small front gardens create variation and the basis for living and social contact between the residents.
The buildings mark a shift in the perception of dwellings in Denmark. The beautiful, well-proportioned houses make up the convincing basis for the first social housing constructions in Denmark, where the occupant’s well-being determines the design of the building.

This applies to both the building itself and the social life between the houses. The buildings thus mark the beginning of socially sustainable thinking, which has since developed into a worldwide model with a tradition of over 100 years of constructing social/charitable housing.
The fact that the buildings’ design is based on human well-being has since become a hallmark of architectural quality and the world-famous mantra in Danish architectural tradition – that a democratic society shall recognise its responsibility for the well-being of all citizens.
The social housing aspect and political thinking were of major importance to the development of the welfare state, and is the characteristic of a solidarity project related to other major Danish public projects, such as the housing cooperative movement and public high schools.

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