Course Syllabus

History of Copenhagen: structure, Plan, Design

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prospekt.jpg  Prospect of Copenhagen by Franz Sedivy, 1897 (City Archive of Copenhagen) 

Semester & Location:

Spring 2022 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

History, Urban Design, Urban Studies



Faculty Member:

Anders Larsen, 

Program Coordinator:

Sanne Rasmussen, 

Time & Place:

Tuesdays & Fridays 10:05-11:25 in N7-B12

A study of the city in Europe over time, using Copenhagen as a case – and a resource

The question underlying this course is a simple one: Why does Copenhagen, or any other city, look the way it does? The answer is less simple, though. Cities are human artifacts. Their structure, plan and design are the cumulative results of countless human acts rooted in reason, ideology, aesthetics, ostentation, and concerns for economy, efficiency, security, mobility, or quality of life. Hence the relatively simple study of the physical history of Copenhagen – the development of the urban plan, the design of its built environment, and the changing use of space – involves an exciting journey into European intellectual, artistic, religious, political, economic, social, technological and military history. Expect an unusual, but inspiring course!

Instructor: Anders Larsen

Cand.Mag., History and English Literature and Language, University of Copenhagen (2008). His research has focused on cultural history and visual culture. Anders has most recently published 111 Places in Copenhagen that you shouldn't miss (2020) and The History of Gay Men in Denmark (2021). He also teaches Meaning of Style, Anthropology of Food, And Tasting Culture, and has previously taught the courses London: Reading the City, and Visual Culture of Cities. 

Office and Office Hours

You are welcome to see me after class or set up an appointment at DIS. You may also communicate by e-mail: or through the course site on Canvas. I will normally respond within 24 hours.


Please be aware that this course is a full-fledged urban history course, not an extended tourist introduction to Copenhagen. This comes as a surprise (and regret) to some students. At the end of the course, you will

  • Be able to intelligently ‘read’ a European city, i.e. decode and make judgments about its history through map analysis and informed observations of the urban fabric. This includes the ability to distinguish and reference the main styles of European architecture over time;
  • Know the main stages of the evolution of the city in Europe in general and of Copenhagen in particular, with a focus on its physical aspect, or morphology (see ‘Content’ below);
  • Understand major causes and determinants of the development of cities in general and Copenhagen in particular, as well as the impact of general European urban history trends on Copenhagen;
  • Know the main morphological elements and historic design features of cities (e.g. fortifications, street patterns, ports, railways, building styles, and suburbs) and understand their rationale, main functional features, and design;
  • Understand the most recent discourse concerning urban development in the medium-term future;
  • Know the urban geography of contemporary Copenhagen, including relevant place-names;
  • Possess a general sense of the chronology of the topic, both absolute and relative.


The focal point of the course is the city’s evolving morphology, i.e. the historical development of town plan, land use patterns, and building fabric – or, to put it differently, the history of the city itself, seen as physical reality. The approach is not ‘What happened in Copenhagen?’ but ‘What happened to Copenhagen?’ However, to understand how Copenhagen changed over time, we need to also focus on the agents of change, be they larger historical trends (‘industrialization’), foreign models (‘Dutch urban planning’), technological change (‘development of siege artillery’), building styles (‘Neoclassicism’), concrete Danish historical events (‘the Swedish siege of 1658-59’), social and political forces (‘the labor movement’), state and municipal government (‘traffic planning’), and individual kings, merchants, politicians, planners, and other actors. Political, social and economic aspects of the history of Copenhagen will be treated in this sense, i.e. as agents of change, but not as independent topics within the city’s history.

The approach is chronological and interdisciplinary. We will employ historical disciplines such as political and economic history, military, naval and fortifications history, architectural and urban planning history, and social history, and fuse them into a coherent urban morphological history. The impact of European models on Copenhagen developments will be emphasized throughout.

In addition, the approach is highly visual, with a focus on analytical interpretation of historical maps, city prospects, existing buildings and urban spaces. These should be perceived as ‘texts’ in their own right on a par with the ‘real’ course texts. Observation, analysis and interpretationare key to this course.


Except for the final, contemporary section of the course, quality literature on Copenhagen in English is scarce. Therefore, readings often deal with general European urban developments, while lectures, field studies and some English-language texts will present specific Copenhagen features and developments. Some materials are written, edited or adapted by the professor.

Readings are listed as the appear in the course:

Kostof, Spiros: The City Shaped, Thames and Hudson, 1991 ch. 1: Introduction: the City as Artifact - Preliminaries

Blomquist, Nils, The Concept of the Town and the Dawn of Urban Life, Lübeck Style? Novogrod Style?, Riga Nordik, 2001

Pounds, Norman, Origins, The Medieval City, Grenwood Press, 2005

Dahlström, Hanna, Poulsen, Bjørn & Olsen, Jesper, From a port for traders to a town of merchants: exploring the topography, activities and dynamics of early medieval Copenhagen, Danish Journal of Archeology, 7:1, 2018, pp. 69-116

Fabricius, Hanne, Development of the town and harbor in midieval Copenhagen, Maritime Topography and the Medieval Town, Nationalmuseet 1999

Cameron, Euan (ed.), Early Modern Europe, Oxford Univeristy Press 2001 pp. 139-156

Heiberg, Steffen, Christian IV and Europe, Foundation for Christian IV 1988

Kostof, Spiro, The Grand Manner, The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and meaning Through History, Thames and Hudson, 1991 

E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art 16th Edition, Phaidon Press 1995

Christensen, Peter Thorning, Copenhagen's Fortifications 1600-1870, The Fortifications of Copenhagen: A Guide to 900 Years of Fortifications History, Ministry of Energy, 1998 

Andersen, Vivi Lena & Moltsen, Annine, The dyer and the cook: finds from 8 Pilestræde, Copenhagen, Denmark, Post-Medieval Archeology 41/2, 2007, pp. 242-263

Laursen, Bodil Busk, John; et al., Absolute Monarchy and Residence 1660-1770, Gud-Konge-By/ King and City: Frederiksstaden 250 år, Det Danske Kunstindustrimuseum 1999

Hollen, Lynn; Lees, Paul M. Hohnenberg, The Making of Urban Europe 1000-1994, Harvard University Press 1995

Benevolo, Leonardo, The Industrial City, The European City, Blackwell 1993

Polino, M.; Poth, R, Introduction, The city and the railway in Europe, Aldershot 2003

Hallstrøm, Jonas, Constructing a Pipe-Bound City: A History of Watersupply, Sewerage and Excreta Removal in Nörrköping, Intet 2002

Roth, Ralpf; Polino, Marie-Nöelle, Introduction, The city and the railway in Europe, Aldershot 2003

Jaffe, Eric, A brief history of suburbia's rise and fall, Citylab, March 14, 2013

Clapson, Mark, Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban growth in England and the United States, Berg Publishers 2003

Haase, Annegret, Emergent Spaces of Reurbanization, Population, Space and Place, Wiley, vol. 16 issue 3, 2010

Riza, Müge et. al., City Branding and Identity, Asia Pacific International Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies 2011

Gehl, Jan: Life Between Buildings, Arkitektens Forlag, Copenhagen 1996

Anne Whiston Spirn, The Granite Garden. Urban Nature and Human Design, New York 1984

Pagh, Christian, Williams, Jamiee, McDonald, Georgina Kerr, Imagine, Exploring the brave new world of shared living, Space 10, Copenhagen 2018

Field Studies

The course includes a number of site visits that contextualize the topics covered in class.

The Ruins under Christiansborg

We will visit the remains of the fortress that marks the official founding of the city of Copenhagen. Here we will connect archaeological findings with the written sources we have studied in class. 

The Copenhagen of Christian IV

We will visit some of the major projects completed during the reign of Copenhagen and discuss how the buildings reflect the aspirations of Christian IV and the period in which they were completed. 

The Copenhagen of Absolutism

On this guided walking tour we will study important features of early-modern Copenhagen discussed in class. These include the Citadel from the 1660s, the naval and commercial port from the 1700s, today’s royal palace, Amalienborg, and the surrounding district Frederiksstaden from the 1750s. 

Early Modern Copenhagen

This session combines a brief class session with a walk around the Latin Quarter. The session aims at preparing students for an upcoming test by illustrating how theories studied in the classroom can be applied in the real world. 

The Workers Museum

At the museum we will learn about the conditions in the slums of industrialized Copenhagen. The visit illustrates the interplay between urban processes and the humans who live in the city. 

The Museum of Copenhagen

The museum serves as a case of how the history of a city can be displayed. You will get a chance to explore artifacts from the Ice Age to the present.


Our visit to Nordhavn is a study of how Copenhagen is currently developing, and how the decisions of politicians and urban planners are shaping the Copenhagen of the future.   

Course Requirements and Evaluation



Assignment 1


Assignment 2


Assignment 3






Class Participation



Assignment 1: Architectural styles of Early Modern Europe

Assignment 2: Designing a city walk 

Assignment 3: Designing the City of the Future

Class Participation

  • Level of preparation and willingness to answer questions in class.
  • Involvement in class and group discussions.

Participation Grade Policy

Active class participation throughout the semester: A=96 / Occasional participation: B=86 / Little or no participation: C=76. Fine-tuning of percentage points may occur, reflecting student performance.

Note that attendance at all classes and field studies is required and expected and is not credited as participation. Failure to attend will have a negative influence on the participation grade, however.

How to Get a Good Grade

  • Involve yourself! Allow yourself the luxury of taking a genuine interest in the course, i.e. in ‘cities’. It may not be your core field or interest, but why not join the many students who have been surprised at how interesting it actually is to suddenly understand the urban and historic environment you live in.
  • Get organized! Enter all due dates in a semester calendar and set aside time to work on assignments and prepare for tests. 
  • Prepare for class! Every class! 
  • Take good notes! You will graded on your analytical thinking. 
  • Participate! Sharing your thoughts and ideas in class is not just important for the participation grade, it is one of the best tools for developing your analytical skills.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic RegulationsLinks to an external site. on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia - www.DISabroad.orgLinks to an external site.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due