Pragmatism before romanticism in the transformation of the Mineral Water Factory

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At the former Carlsberg brewery site in Copenhagen, we are currently heading the transformation of a listed factory building into retail, offices, and housing. The old Mineral Water Factory is centrally located in the Carlsberg City District, and such a prominent location calls for a diverse program to ensure a lively and active urban environment throughout the day. However, the 20 housing units were not originally part of the plan. The possibility of adding apartments to the top floor of the old factory arose through our strategical preliminary work.

Holistic sustainability as design parameter

“We wanted to add the housing units for several reasons. First, we wanted to provide a lively and safe environment to the people living and working in the area. Shops and offices close at some point. Residents stay home at various times throughout the day, especially at night. Combining these functions ensures urban activity around the clock,” Founder and Creative Director, Dorte Mandrup, initiates.

Second, Dorte adds, housing strengthens the property’s business case, ensuring the building a consistent and long lifetime. Furthermore, homeowners are more likely to engage in their property, taking care of day-to-day issues and long-term maintenance. Third, to reuse an existing building instead of demolishing and building new, saves a lot of resources.

Adding another function to the building was not easy though. The Danish preservation authorities expressed their concern that the building would change its appearance too dramatically with the addition of the apartments. Our team needed to search for arguments to support our point of view.

Pragmatism before romanticism

Despite its protected status, the 100-year old factory building has undergone several transformations over the cause of time. Each amendment has been made as a response to the industrial development and new practical needs. Consequently, the building no longer exists in its original form.

“There is no doubt, that some parts of the building are bearing preservation values. The original load-bearing construction, including the characteristically grand columns, is one. The facades and windows another. But the most interesting interior spaces have evolved over years of transformations. Why shouldn’t we add a contemporary layer to the building representing our time and our needs?” Dorte Mandrup rhetorically asks.

Working with transformation projects, we always strive to separate the actual preservation values from romantic images of what has once been. A preservation analysis forms a basic understanding of what to preserve, and what to leave behind. But above this lies our goal to always treat the existing building with respect and care, aiming to fill it with new life and purpose. To us, architectural transformation is about reading and understanding a historical building or urban quarter for what it is; a timeline through centuries of cultural, societal and industrial development.

History as the foundation of future

To reestablish a building like the Mineral Water Factory, as it was once built, would work against its natural development and turn it into a museum. Instead, we plead to contribute to the story of the Mineral Water Factory by adding a modern layer of functions and materials to the structures and elements worth preserving. The overall aim is to ensure the building a long and active life for many years to come. This is what sustainable design is fundamentally about.

At the former factory building at Carlsberg, the lowest window-openings of the façade will now grow bigger, inviting people into the new shops at ground floor level. New, interior steel staircases will add a modern touch to the historical building and ease accessibility across the different floors. Finally, on top of it all, a cut in the roof will form a courtyard serving the new inhabitants in the housing units of the Mineral Water Factory.

“The architectural capacity of the Carlsberg City District is overwhelming. Here, we find the best foundation for shaping the city of tomorrow rooted in the present culture and history. However, the existing buildings are outdated in terms of functionality and size, and we need to increase the number of usable square meters in the area in order to meet today’s needs and standards and ensure a sustainable future. It’s that simple,” Dorte Mandrup sums up.

Read more about the Mineral Water Factory here and its younger sibling, the Mineral Water House, here

Renderings by TMRW