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A re-statement of the tenement type, which has been the matrix of European cities since Roman times, brings new urbanity to the shores of the Sound.

Hesingborg is a small port in south-west Sweden which overlooks the Sound to Helsingor (Shakespeare's Elsinore) in Denmark over the narrow sea. Changes in maritime practice released a long site running north-south along the landward side of the Norra Hamn, the North Harbour, and gradually, over 14 years of change in policy and funding structures, a masterplan for housing was evolved. Officially opened last summer, the new housing is the permanent reminder of the H99 exhibition, which was meant to improve the climate of contemporary Swedish housing and reflect on the H55 exhibition, held 44 years previously to celebrate the successes of Swedish social policies and the successes of a country able to be prosperous and generous to its citizens by avoiding the Second World War.

Tegnestuen Vandkunsten, the distinguished Copenhagen practice, won the limited competition for the masterplan of H99. Unlike other proposals based on elaborations of traditional urban blocks, Vandkunsten's plan suggested breaking up accommodation into thin strips running east-west, roughly at right angles to the harbour front. The strategy, developed with Helsingborg's Town Planning Department under director Ole Reiter, allowed views from the town to the sea (and vice versa), prospects which had previously been blocked by messy industrial muck. Vandkunsten's housing strips are not regular or (usually) parallel to each other. Between them are car parks under raised greens, and in the middle of the complex is a new square which opens onto the harbour and links it to the old city behind. A thin park separates the east ends of the new blocks from the town, setting off the municipal theatre and concert hall (the latter by Sven Markelius) as urban monuments before you come to the long straggly form of the old town , dense, crouched under the ridge behind, and now much rebuilt and carved into by overscaled traffic engineers' roads.

Following the Vandkunsten proposals, a pattern for 13 new blocks was established, and eight other Swedish and Danish architectural firms were asked to contribute individual terraces. At their quayside ends, the strips are eight storeys high, with flats looking out over the harbour, the Sound and the castles of Denmark - one of the most poignant urban views in Europe. At the other end of each block is the park termination: lower, four storeys high, and overlooking the new green space. Between the two ends of terrace is a relatively plain middle which looks over the lawns above the car parks between the blocks or over the short streets on alternate sides. At ground level is a mix of shops, cafes, professional chambers, launderettes and similar communal services, and flats.

In general, flats are generous, and most have a view of the sea, even those furthest from the quay. Ingenious use of bays and canted windows allows slanting prospects down the length of the terraces: canting the terraces to each other and the quayside helps to achieve views from the inland part of the site. There is no attempt to hide the fact that the place is for prosperous people and, in many cases, space provision is liberal - though sometimes the internal planning is a bit weird, with bathrooms for instance almost as far as possible from bedrooms. All dwellings have generous terraces or balconies (sometimes enclosed in glass to form winter gardens). A large range of plan types was evolved by discussion with future inhabitants, as is now becoming usual in some of the best housing schemes in Nordic countries. Types range from studio flats (one room with a kitchen sideboard and only the bathroom separate) to grand apartments with major spaces arranged in enfilade.

Across the new greens over the car parks, each side of a pair of slabs is designed by a different firm of architects to try to foster variety. Without doubt, the strategy works. Each practice expresses itself differently. Perhaps am biased, but the Swedes seem generally to be a bit more fidgety than the rather more austere and dignified Danes: for instance, contrast the buildings by White with their strange almost PoMo abstracted cornices and fiddly balustrades with the assured calm of Vandkunsten's contributions.

Yet within the overall structure of white slabs, modified and manipulated to allow each dwelling to be quietly articulated, there is a sense of possible community, if a privileged one. Here, the tenement type has been modified to respond sensitively to today, topography, and historical context. Community may follow, but only time can tell.
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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUSW
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Next Article:IN TWO HALVES.

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