Rethinking the Institution: Transition dwellings for homeless

Amy Roberts
Education degree
School of Architecture
Study programme
Spatial Design
1:20 (dwelling and common space) and 1:200 (urban block)

The project proposes transforming part of the former Sankt Joseph hospital in Inner Nørrebro into a new kind of dwelling for the city's homeless citizens. The architectural qualities found at Sankt Joseph creates an atmosphere of domesticity, that the homeless rarely find in shelters or on the street. The proposed dwellings  - transition dwellings - function as the mediation between coming from the insecurities of the street into more permanent housing, as many homeless tend to struggle with transitioning from street to home. The idea of the dwellings provides the homeless with a semi-permanent physical framework - privacy, warmth, community and safety - which the homeless lack in their everyday. 

For Copenhagen's Municipality, housing its homeless citizens today presents both a political and financial challenge, due to increasing property value in the city. Over 50% of the registered homeless in Denmark base themselves in the Copenhagen area (SFI, 2017). The proposal thus explores the potential in transforming relevant municipal-owned buildings into housing units for homeless citizens.   



Sankt Josephs placement in Copenhagen 1:5000

Sankt Joseph - as found   

Sankt Joseph is today owned by Copenhagen's Municipality. Initially built as a hospital, the building has undergone various extensions and additions over the years since the first part of the institution were built in 1875. It is today home to the social services department, with The Homeless Units (Hjemløseenhedenoffice part of the buildings program. The basement is a neglected and unused area at present. 

I found the old Historicist Hospital an example of very generous architecture. With its incredible richness of detail and tectonic expression in the solid brick facades, Sankt Joseph holds a strong presence between the surrounding 1980s social housing blocks. The architectural and material robustness of the building expresses a sense of care and appreciation and is in stark contrast to the cheap and temporary feel found in most homeless dwellings and shelters. Inside the building, the high ceilings and large beautiful windows hold the potential of extraordinary dwelling spaces.  

1:200 urban block model: courtyard with proposal

The proposal

12 transition dwellings + communal spaces + public laundry

The project is a rethinking of the existing institutional layout, to create small clusters of private homes with communal spaces in-between. The proposed transformation takes place between the lower ground floor (basement) unused today and the ground floor space above. The individual dwellings are placed on the ground floor and the connecting communal spaces are placed on the lower ground floor, leading out to the courtyard. 

The proposal is based around the existing courtyard as the place of social interaction and spontaneous encounters between staff, visitors and residents. Part of the courtyard is lowered to open up the basement as a new lowered ground floor. This new lowered courtyard allows for the establishment of new openings in the façade.

Introducing shared stairwells to connect the private dwellings and the communal spaces help to break the institutional layout. The spatial complexity provided by the staircases and the different openings is important as it would allow the resident to freely choose between different spatial situations - a choice the homeless are normally deprived of in their everyday.

The intention of the public laundry is to open up the institution to the city, as a way to engage with the community and non-resident homeless. 

bed niche in private individual dwelling
shared living space in former basement
new openings, as seen from the courtyard
shared living space with the stairs creating a sense of domesticity + intimacy
existing facade facing courtyard + proposed openings 1:50
longitudinal section through common space + dwellings 1:50
Proposed Lower Ground Floor Plan - Communal Spaces + Courtyard 1:50
Proposed Ground Floor Plan - 12 private dwellings + Public Laundry 1:50
Overview of proposal extent at Sankt Josephs 1:200
window bench
inbuilt storage space with access to bathoom
material transition into private dwellings
main door up to private dwellings, shared between two inhabitants
former basement corridor to domestic space
staircase, as architectural furniture


In 2017-2019, KADK is working with the UN sustainable development goals
This is reflected in our research, teaching and the students’ projects. This project relates to the following UN goal(-s):
Good health and well-being (3)
Reduced inequalities (10)
Sustainable cities and communities (11)