Cities are human artefacts. They are cumulative creations of the rooted acts of people who inhabit them. What defines a city are the reasoning, ideology, and workability behind it, which is thought through by the people who create it. Copenhagen is one such place that evolves through time to embrace modernization but lives and breathes its history. The quality of life that Copenhagen supports is so graceful that it makes it the capital of one of the happiest countries in the world, that is, Denmark.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet1
Copenhagen ©Andrey Kozachenko/

It lies in the oceanic climate zone bringing in low-pressure systems and unstable weather conditions resulting in warm summers and harsh winters. It has relatively flat and low terrain. It has three lakes namely Sortedams so, Peblinge so and Sankt Jergen so. All these geographic features directly impact the architecture of the city by enriching it to deal with extreme weather conditions while embracing and building a life around the water bodies.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet3
Canals of Copenhagen ©scanrail/

Half a million people that are nearly 1/10th of the total population of Denmark, inhabit Copenhagen. Wherein 24% of the total population was sought as immigrants to Denmark. This sequentially created a scope for a wider variety of influences within the city from other countries on the design front with people from Pakistan, Turkey, Poland, Germany, and India etc.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet2
Life in Copenhagen ©Jackie De Burca

Copenhagen works on the political framework of Denmark, which has a unitary parliament as well as a constitutional monarchy. However, on a micro-level, the city has governance comprising the Supreme body, the city council, and the seven different administrating committees. These committees have worked round the clock to not only maintain but to amplify urbanization and architecture.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet5
Royalty in Copenhagen ©Irina Korshunova/

The Five-Fingers Plan

An important aspect of evaluating the beautiful city of Copenhagen is its urban plan. With a rich past and multiple defining features, the city’s evolution can be categorized as a medieval city, a tram city followed by a city before WW2, and the suburbia post WW2. Though the impact of all the stages of evolution still exists, the most important is the suburban development scheme post WW2. This planning and evolution are known as the five fingers plan that focuses on making the city structurally green and accessible. It is an adaptation of Sir Ebenezer Howard’s garden city plan.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet4
The five fingers plan ©

This planning scheme was passed and started to develop in 1947. It worked on the principle of urbanization in the slender fingers with wedges of undeveloped Greenland in between the fingers. While the palm was the city’s core which developed as an overlapping medieval and the tram city’s plan. Thus we see a dense old town in the core of the city, full of historic architectural expression, surrounded by layers of overlapping modern urban zones. 

Over the years of shaping up the plan of this city, a character has formed for Copenhagen that is historic and modern at the same time. It also has a comparable scale of urban and green spaces and a high degree of land diversity.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet7
The city Plan ©

The Historical Architecture

We observe a vast variety of architectural styles in the city’s historic core of its rich and variable history. For instance, consider the Round Tower. This 400-year-old construction, also known as the Rundetaarn, was built under the reign of Christian IV of Denmark. It was designed by Hans Van Steenwinckel as an astronomical observatory in the 17th century. It is constructed of masonry with alternate red and yellow bricks and is a perfect example of Dutch classicism. With a giant equestrian staircase, wide enough to fit a horse, this tower is currently in use as an exhibition hall.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet6
The Rundetaarn ©

Another important example of heritage buildings in Copenhagen is the Marble Church or Fredrik’s church. Designed by Nicolai Eigtved in the 1740s, this church has a Rococo style of Architecture. It is Copenhagen’s adaptation of St. Peter’s Basilica from Rome. It has the largest Scandinavian dome sitting at a span of 31 meters. The church was abandoned mid-construction after Nicolai’s death in 1744 but was taken up for adoption and construction by the Finance Minister of Denmark, 150 years later. However, the church finished construction in limestone instead of marble due to financial constraints.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet9
Fredrik’s Church ©

Copenhagen at its heart oozes royalty and is the main residence of the Danish Royal family. They live at Amalienborg, which is a very important historic landmark in the capital. It was also the creation of Nicolai Eigtved. The complex consists of four identical palaces named after the various kings of Denmark. The royal palace is a very famous tourist spot and is built in the Rococo style of architecture. When at Amalienborg, one must make time to witness the change of guards’ ceremony.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet8
The Amalienborg Palace ©Rob Deutsche

Along with these Architectural marvels, there are a few other iconic buildings that adorn the streets of Copenhagen. These include the Frederiksberg palace, Kastellet, Rosenburg castle, the spired city hall etc.

The Contemporary Architecture 

The architecture of Copenhagen is to fall in love with. The city, with its meticulously detailed heritage monuments, is also the home of contemporary architecture of the most prestigious quality. It varied but focused on human scale and experience. The inclusion of new, ultra-modern, and highly advanced buildings adds more essence to the metropolitan character of the city. Copenhagen sees the works of architecture by many famous architects, including Bjarke Ingels, Zaha Hadid, Henning Larsen, etc.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet12
The cityscape ©

One such building in Copenhagen is the Opera House, which was designed by Henning Larsen and completed in 2004. It is the house of the Royal Danish Theatre and provides a wonderful audiovisual experience. The Opera house was designed with large glazing panels on the exterior to create a sense of homogeneity between interior and exterior spaces. But, the glass did not age well and had to be supported with a metal grid.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet10
The Opera House ©Julian Herzog

Another famous architectural marvel is Bjarke Ingels’ man-made mountain, the Copenhill. It’s a waste to energy plant, which converts the city’s waste to heat and electricity. It’s famous for its dry ski slope, which makes the waste treatment plant one of the most desirable places in the city.

Architecture of Cities: Copenhagen- The city of Tales - Sheet11
The Copenhill ©

The Axel towers are one more outstanding example of ultra-modern architecture. Lundgaard and Tranberg have recently completed it. This multipurpose building is like a breath of fresh air with a different and welcoming circular structure amidst a locality of rectangular buildings. It has a metallic brown façade, which easily blends in with the overall colour scheme of Copenhagen. 

A few other contemporary buildings that enhance the cityscape are Hall C, the 8house, the Black Diamond or the Royal Library, Copenhagen Harbor bath, etc.

The Axel Towers ©

The architecture of Copenhagen puts its people first as the immediate observers and experience holders. It focuses on stimulating the senses of the people by creating tactile and visual expressions in terms of materials and constructions through time. It has wonderfully retained and enhanced the city’s livability by creating vibrancy through colourful buildings, long walking streets and serene water canals.

Copenhagen is an enchanting capital, which serves an artistic purpose while meeting practical needs. It is full of innovations and sustainability. It anchors the importance of life beyond buildings by developing wonderful open spaces and picturesque cityscapes.


Ayushi is an architect with a sensitivity towards global architecture and its cultural importance. She is also an exemplary artist which in turn helps her in capturing the essence of creative and colourful endeavours across the world.A keen interest in writing, researching and curating has led her to venture into the field of Architectural Journalism.