Handmade houses in Christiania

christiania, glass house, august 2007

Maybe it’s because these houses are reminiscent of the tradition of handmade houses here on the West Coast, but there’s something pleasingly familiar about the eccentric wooden buildings of Christiana, the surreal, semi-autonomous, rebel neighbourhood of Copenhagen. It would take too long to fully cover the strange history of  Christiania here, but you can click the link to read the Wikipedia entry if you’re not familiar with the story. In short, Christiania began in 1971 as an occupation of disused army barracks in the south of the city and has continued for over 30 years as a sort of utopian social experiment. Some interesting articles on Christiania’s present so-called demise are here and here and here. It’s the houses themselves I’m interested in. In British Columbia, this form of wild, freeform architecture is commonly called the handmade or hippie house, but we’ve also heard the term Westcoast Vernacular used to describe this style, and in California it’s sometimes called Big Sur Vernacular. You can actually find houses like these still nestled in parts of Vancouver, though they’re increasingly rare now in this town which is paralysed by Byzantine, creativity-destroying planning rules. But buildings like this are common throughout BC, especially on the islands off the southern coast where the climate is mild. Why are these so popular here? Maybe it’s that their use of wood and large expanses of glass feel correct in a cloudy environment where warm materials and natural light become imperative. It’s probably also that compared to the often stodgy transplanted architectural styles and decor that are much more common here (Victorian, Edwardian, fake Tudor, etc.), handbuilt houses represent boldness, innovation, creativity, pleasure and freedom. They’re closer to modern design, but it’s a much more freestyle version of modern architecture, not the austere, almost protestant modernism we’re used to, and the materials are in many cases more rustic. These houses aren’t machines for living, as modernists dictated; they’re theatrical stages and/or sanctuaries. They represent a kind of third modern design option, something that’s neither traditional nor modernist. Having grown up around this type of architecture I tend to assume this brand of  hippie utopianism is a distinctly New World thing, but obviously I’m wrong. You could see any of these in British Columbia and not feel surprised.

Glashus Christiania

Each glashus, or glasshouse, is made from salvaged wooden windows.

Christiania riverside house

This fantastic riverside house has a sod roof; closer view below. This is more an expensive piece of classic modern architecture, and less a handmade hippie house.  Christiania has grown a little more gentrified, but on the other hand this is a great sustainable house, and probably warmer than the beautiful but chilly early Christiana houses in the Danish winter. As an article in the Independent pointed out, Christiania has to a large extent just traded flower power for solar power.

copenhagen, christiania, grass roof


The house above is weirdly reminiscent of John Lautner’s Chemosphere house. Below, something slightly more traditional. Without a planning code, inventive building styles proliferate.


Christiania "banana" house built by German bridge builders

This “banana” shaped house was built by a group of Germans who came as volunteers to erect bridges in the colony and were subsequently allowed to build their own structure.

Thanks to photographers on Flickr for these excellent photos: Line Lyng, Christian Svanes Kolding, Dave Gorman and Henrik.

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5 Responses to “Handmade houses in Christiania”

  1. Tilda B. Hervé Says:

    wow, great visual impact!

  2. Christian Curbo Says:

    These are beautiful. I enjoy this work myself and hope to share it with others in the future. love

  3. Attack the System » Blog Archive » Anarchic Urbanism Says:

    […] in Copenhagen.  While this is often attributed to the drug vending in the neighborhood, the remarkable architecture and emergent urbanism of the area are clearly major draws as […]

  4. rickey jenkins Says:

    houses are amazing!!!! would live in any of them!!! i live in a totally recycled old cabin. carbon footprints!! thank you!! rick

  5. Dianna Perry Says:

    Well my if only I had a body that worked like it used to. My gosh your homes are beautiful and I would be proud to live in one any time. Good luck to you in your endeavors. I can only dream of having such a pretty home.

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