Hall McKnight win RIBA European National Award

The opportunity to design Vartov (or Alms-House) Square in Copenhagen was won by Hall McKnight in an international design competition held in 2009.

This wedge of space at the heart of the city has persisted for many centuries but had become almost forgotten by the 21st century. The architects took inspiration from the Alms House, the oldest building on the site, and a Hans Christian Anderson story of a woman looking out of a window of a house at children playing. 

This story is inscribed on granite blocks on the edge of the square in Danish and English, evoking the past use of the site as a graveyard. It inspired Hall McKnight to use the window pattern of the Alms House to delineate the square, a reflection of the city’s past while creating a durable and elegant future.

This carefully considered hard-landscaped public space comprises a mix of reclaimed granite cobbles, with soft rounded profiles, smooth new granite block paving and granite blocks with concealed LED lighting that act as seats. This palette of materials continues the hard landscaping of the neighbouring Alms House courtyard in a new form. The design is subtlety varied. With the first three rows of ‘windows’ there is a direct reflection in the smooth coursed reclaimed granite; from row four onwards this relationship switches over and the ‘windows’ continue until the square tapers out. Streets crossing the square are a common surface but are discreetly articulated.

The architect-designed lampposts are painted a warm grey except in the Cherry Grove, set in compressed hogging, where they are stainless steel. The light in this area is also whiter to illuminate the trees at night.

As can be expected in Copenhagen bicycle provision is excellent with a granite paved cycle lane that continues through the site and down to the harbour side, and ample bicycle stands.

The architects hope that this this cost-effective extension of the public realm of Copenhagen will age gracefully and just become part of the fabric of the city.