Before I had even stepped foot in Europe, I knew Copenhagen was the one city I needed to visit before my time abroad ended. My university’s exchange program in Barcelona has given me the opportunity to travel to Paris, Berlin, Milan, and many more cities and towns within the past few months. Even with all the irreplaceable experiences I’ve had so far, I’d be hard-pressed to name a place I enjoyed as much as Copenhagen.

As a kid, my parents always brought me along to visit the faraway land of Ikea. Though I dreaded spending my Saturdays looking at what I considered boring chairs and tables, I started to look forward to seeing what kind of new couches I could sit on or how comfy the beds were after a few visits. After a while, I didn’t think Ikea was such a bad weekend getaway after all.

Looking back at those weekend trips now, the Swedish furniture store opened my eyes to the biggest influence for my future studies – Scandinavian design. I spent my architecture study abroad program’s independent travel period in the forefront of Scandinavian innovation and modernity in Denmark’s capital city: Copenhagen.

I spent three days in Copenhagen reveling in Danish cuisine, style, and, most importantly, architecture. I turned my short-trip into an extensive exploration of design, visiting buildings that had only existed on my Instagram feed before and discovering even more architectural gems along the way.

Day 1

The first image that comes to mind at the mention of Copenhagen is a row of colorful houses along a bustling, boat-filled canal. Coincidentally, my hostel was located directly across this hallmark scene in Nyhavn. My friends and I wasted no time before indulging in the local food and shopping districts. While most of the relaxing first day was spent on everything but architecture, we did visit the Kalvebod Waves waterfront at night because this travel break technically did count as a grade for our architecture course!

Day 2

Our early morning the next day took us to the National Aquarium of Denmark, or the Den Blå Planet. While the exorbitant entrance fee deterred us from actually entering, we couldn’t leave without documenting the whirlpool-shaped façade through sketches and photographs in the cold. For the record, it’s quite hard to sketch with 25 mph winds and below freezing temperatures.

After a quick stop at a café to warm ourselves up, we departed for Daniel Libeskind’s Danish Jewish Museum, a testament to the Jewish cultural and societal impact on the history of Denmark. Though these two site visits only took a few hours combined, by the time we prepared to take on our last destination at around 4pm, the sun was already setting and people were already home from work.

Directly across the street from the Jewish Museum was the Black Diamond, perhaps the Royal Library’s most well-known branch. The building sits on prime real-estate facing the Port of Copenhagen and has an exterior made completely of glass. Inside, the Black Diamond houses an immense collection of historical and modern print media, exhibition and gallery spaces, and a concert hall centered around a massive atrium space. Because of its historical significance as the first large-scale arts building along Copenhagen’s waterfront, this was a spot I couldn’t miss experiencing firsthand. As both an architecture student and a photography enthusiast, I was more than glad to spend the end of my day sketching, shooting pictures, and taking in the sights of contemporary design.


Day 3

Long before visiting Copenhagen, I had seen the Gemini Residence by MVRDV and the 8 House by Bjarke Ingels while browsing through the “Explore” tab on Instagram. For whatever reason, I never realized that these two buildings were in the same city. Once I realized they were right in Copenhagen, I couldn’t resist paying both a visit.

Our first stop, the limited access Gemini Residence, was nothing short of spectacular. Though our stealthy group of six students holding sketchbooks and cameras were spotted and told to leave by the landlady just 15 minutes after our breach, I was able to capture images of the apartment complex’s pristine interiors and strikingly grand circular atrium from above. Following our short visit, our post-break-in walk along the Bryggebroen Bridge allowed me to capture a perspective touting the residence as a standout from its neighboring buildings. Let’s hope they have Airbnb vacancies the next time I’m in Copenhagen.

If you’ve been looking for the guy who defines contemporary Danish architecture, Bjarke Ingels is your guy. Internationally acclaimed for his highly inventive designs, Bjarke and his 8 House certainly exceeded any and all expectations I had. The residence itself was designed in the shape of an 8 and provided plenty of opportunities for great photo ops from the ground but, as you might have guessed, my cohort and I decided to skip over the “residents only” signs and climb to the top of the massive apartment complex. From there, we were treated with an unreal view overlooking a vast stretch of quiet fields and a beautiful post-rain sky.