In the 1800s, there was a high demand for affordable, safe living quarters to house Copenhagen’s ever-expanding roster of industrial workers. A vast number of available factory jobs prompted many workers to migrate from the Danish countryside to Denmark’s most bustling city. Denmark’s ancient housing stock was not keeping up with demand. Multiple families crowded into dilapidated turrets. Sewage, garbage, and all manner of revolting muck lined Copenhagen’s streets. After a raging cholera epidemic in 1853 killed over 5,000 people, the Danish government realized that Copenhagen desperately needed new houses.
Starting in 1873, the Worker’s Building Association began to build interconnected rows of three-story houses constructed of yellow brick. The new houses were referred to as Kartoffelraekkerne, or “Potato Row.” The name Potato Row references the former farming district on which the new houses were built, where a potato field once sprouted. Each Potato House was home to 3 separate families. Every family had their own floor.
The 480 Potato Row houses still stand today. In the 1970s, many of Copenhagen’s Potato Houses had fallen into disrepair. There was a push to raze the houses of Potato Row to build a road through Copenhagen. Potato Row’s residents ardently opposed a Copenhagen council initiative that called for every house on Potato Row to be demolished. Residents agreed to renovate Potato Row and convert each house into a single-family dwelling. Today, Potato Row is a ritzy neighbor. Potato Row’s compact design is all the rage among modern architects. Don’t expect to pay a Worker’s Building Association price for a dwelling inspired by Potato Row. Nouveau Potato Houses—with closely-packed kitchens and small rooms—are selling for big bucks. Too bad the Worker’s Housing Association ceased to exist in 1974. Denmark‘s housing market has certainly evolved. Thankfully the muck-lined streets have remained a thing of the past.