“It’s a shame, we don’t want any more of these ugly high-rises,” says Laura, 45, pointing at the nearby Radisson SAS hotel and the newly-constructed Axel Towers.
We are standing in front of Palads cinema near Vesterport station, which may face demolition if a proposed redevelopment is approved. Originally built in 1911, it was given a colourful makeover in 1989 by artist Poul Gernes, transforming it into one of the city’s most iconic buildings.
I talk to Laura and her three friends about how the proposed redevelopment promises a new neighbourhood with fewer vehicles and more restaurants, shops, and businesses. Laura says the idea is appealing, but she doesn’t see the need to demolish Palads.
A fifth friend shows up, and joins the conversation.
“Great! Get rid of it,” he says of the demolition plans.
A better use of space
Palads certainly divides opinions – it’s both an iconic eyesore and a treasured landmark. It’s not its aesthetic qualities that have brought its future into question, however, but its location alongside the recessed S-Train railway line – one of the few stretches through the city centre that remains exposed.
Covering the tracks has now been proposed by a consortium of developers who want to transform the area around Vesterport train station into a modern district with shopping, offices and housing. Their proposal was taken up by Copenhagen City Council’s Technical and Environmental Committee in February, which decided that it would not prevent the landowners from demolishing Palads if a sufficiently attractive redevelopment plan came along.
“If we want to cover some of these holes in the city, we know we have to build with a high density,” Morten Kabell, Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs, told Politiken newspaper.
“This is a realistic picture of how to cover the recessed railway. It will undoubtedly be expensive and difficult, but this is actually the best attempt I have seen so far.”
Gertrud Jørgensen, professor of landscape architecture and city planning at the University of Copenhagen, also likes the proposed redevelopment.
“All things considered, it is a splendid idea to fill in the Vesterport railway cutting. It’s a way to get some use out of an area that is at the moment a waste of great space,” she said, adding that the consortium’s decision not to include Palads in its proposed vision would appear to be a deliberate strategy.
“I imagine they’re putting pressure on the administration: if we don’t get Palads, we will scrap the project.”
According to the City Council, the proposed redevelopment was presented by a private developer, DSB Ejendomme (the property division of the state-owned rail operator), with the cooperation of Nordisk Film.
The ambitious vision consists of 80,000 square meters of new development distributed between three towers, which will be linked by a number of shorter buildings surrounding a central pedestrian district. A fourth, separate tower is planned on the northern end of the lot.
While Kabell welcomed the proposal, the meeting of the Technical and Environmental Committee on February 6 resulted in demands for substantial revisions. For a start, they accepted only the tower on the northern edge of the lot, while requiring the rest of the development to be kept below 30 metres. This is to preserve Copenhagen’s characteristic profile, in which just a few tall buildings rise above the skyline.
The administration is also not convinced that Palads needs to be demolished in order to successfully redevelop the area. They pointed out that it is worthy of preservation, and should be kept as a listed building – at least until an appealing enough plan comes along.
Even if it is preserved, however, it is unlikely to remain a cinema. Its owner, Nordisk Film, has stated that it plans to move out of the building within the next ten years, as it is will no longer be suited to the requirements of a modern cinema.
“The cinema industry is developing faster than ever,” says John Tønnes, general manager of Nordisk Film’s cinemas. “Building standards are changing, which presents technological challenges. This is a huge effort especially for old cinemas, not to mention a 100 year old veteran like Palads.”
Tønnes adds that it is difficult to imagine how Palads could be repurposed as a building, or who would be interested in undertaking the project.
But while Nordisk Film is not opposed to demolishing Palads after establishing a new cinema very close to the existing cinema, they have not yet given up on the iconic building and recently committed a significant financial investment in maintaining and upgrading the building.
“Palads is a very special structure that is not easy to reconstruct. It is old and has thick walls and fundaments that lie on top of what is essentially a bog, here by the old city ramparts. Furthermore, the building itself is cut through small hallways, staircases, lines, pipes and ventilation systems so it is extremely difficult to renovate and make changes.”
Not everyone prizes redevelopment over nostalgia and history, however. Architect and construction economist Grethe Pontoppidan, an expert on renovation and restoration projects, feels the administration is moving too quickly.
“They should do research on the urban environment and take into account cultural heritage before deciding on a project like this. At least look into other options first, hold a competition for the proposal, or call a public hearing,” adding that Palads could still have a future.
“It has served different purposes in the past, and so it can always gain a new function in the future as long as you are open to the possibility and research the situation before deciding on the matter.”
There is also popular support for preserving Palads, with around six thousand Facebook users stating their intention to attend protests against the redevelopment in March.
“It’s fantastic to see this kind of support,” says Pontoppidan. “It is clear that people care about the building and its place in the urban landscape.”
Outside Palads, I get talking to Anders, who seems to agree.
“I can barely remember what it used to be like – it was white, I think,” he says.
“I thought it was hideous at first, but it’s grown on me, I guess. I couldn’t imagine Copenhagen without it. I still think it’s ugly, but it has become a landmark.” M