This Copenhagen Rooftop Renovation Embodies the Future of Urban Design

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By Kelly Dawson
Residents of a building confined within a dense Copenhagen neighborhood finally get the outdoor space they desire—in an unlikely place.

A building situated in the trendy Copenhagen neighborhood of Nørrebro had the ideal location but one problematic detail: lack of green space. 

However, thanks to the innovative design by architect Julien De Smedt, that is no longer the case. By replacing the building's confined attic area with three new penthouse apartments, and building a common "backyard" on the roof, residents can now enjoy an airy outdoor space without having to venture very far.

Because the open space is owned by everyone in the building, De Smedt wanted it to feel that way. "The new penthouses open to it naturally, and the existing common stairs open to it equally naturally," he says. "We wanted that space to be very accessible so that anyone would just pop up there without hesitation."

Because the open space is owned by everyone in the building, De Smedt wanted it to feel that way. "The new penthouses open to it naturally, and the existing common stairs open to it equally naturally," he says. "We wanted that space to be very accessible so that anyone would just pop up there without hesitation."

"The project is the outcome of a common condition in Denmark that's not so common in the United States," De Smedt says. "Every family who lives in those apartments owns part of the entire building in proportion to their apartment. That means that when they decided to expand the property with three more penthouses, replacing their attic, they decided that together."   

The construction was done to make sure the four areas of the roof—the sundeck, grass hill, play space and outdoor terrace—all felt like distinct but united areas. 

The construction was done to make sure the four areas of the roof—the sundeck, grass hill, play space and outdoor terrace—all felt like distinct but united areas. 

Everyone had to agree on the proposed project and all costs had to be shared. But here's the bright side: The results would be shared, too. 

De Smedt admits the process to get everyone on the same page was a challenge. But once he received approval, he got to work on a rather unique design. 

He envisioned the spacious alfresco area as four "rooms" that would act as clever continuations of the interiors: a sunny terrace, a grassy hill, an outdoor kitchen, and a playground with a soft floor. Thanks to varying angles and degrees which provide privacy and shade, the spaces feel separate but all are interconnected. 

The unique curve of the entrance's structure makes the garden stand out amid the surrounding flat roofs, and also acts as a shield from wind for the terrace and kitchen. 

The unique curve of the entrance's structure makes the garden stand out amid the surrounding flat roofs, and also acts as a shield from wind for the terrace and kitchen. 

"The idea is that the roof is the extension of the building," De Smedt notes. We created intimacy within the space by using the various levels to make soft and visual boundaries, while also giving people the ability to mingle from one space to the next." 

De Smedt knew the ultra-modern look of the rooftop garden's design would draw attention from the surrounding neighbors, so he and his team worked with the municipality to agree on a form that received everyone's approval. "The process was a bit longer but still smooth," he says. "We ended up with Copenhagen's mayor coming to cut the red ribbon and open the project!"

De Smedt knew the ultra-modern look of the rooftop garden's design would draw attention from the surrounding neighbors, so he and his team worked with the municipality to agree on a form that received everyone's approval. "The process was a bit longer but still smooth," he says. "We ended up with Copenhagen's mayor coming to cut the red ribbon and open the project!"

De Smedt says that the overall intention of this project was to give these neighbors a place to act as a community. But from a larger standpoint, it's also a chance to see new avenues of urban design. 

"This project is about discussing the future of our cities, [and] the expansion and densification of our urban fabric," he says. "It's a perfect example of how to benefit from the amazing conditions our cities offer. The roof is always where the view is best, where the sun and light is best."  

The new penthouses underneath the garden feature teak wood, which match the natural aspects upstairs. 

The new penthouses underneath the garden feature teak wood, which match the natural aspects upstairs. 

Project Credits:

Architect: Julien De Smedt Architects 

Builder: Logik & Co.

Structural/Civil Engineer: EKJ

Interior Design: Julien De Smedt Architects and Makers With Agendas