Hinges of correlation: Spatial devices of social coexistence


Invisible Stairway


From time to time, from a position on the sofa (one of the apartment’s most favoured), vague sounds of footsteps can be heard; slowly approaching before disappearing vertically down the invisible back stairs belonging to the adjacent building.


Neighbour Projection


A steep wall of living rooms rises toward the street. Through the large windows, one can follow the life of the people on the other side of the street, like a mirror image of our own building: the apartment on the third floor where a man and his wife each have their own television set (thus bypassing having to fight over the remote control); the young students having a get-together around an oval table, drinking beers; the elderly woman drinking coffee in front of a backdrop of family photographs and faded wall coverings; the light turning on in the stairway and glimpses of feet rising …



Again, this is not a one-way mirror: the potential gaze of the others on the south side of the road penetrates a substantial part of the bedroom. One hides in the blind angle behind the clothing rack when getting dressed or rolls down the blinds when returning from the shower.


Thin Floors


The traversals and steps of the occupants upstairs go directly into the floorboards, coming muffled into our space underneath together with the squeaking sound of the intermediate floorboards. It seems that the floors are as thin as cardboard – making conversations, sudden expulsions, and exclamations resound underneath, while almost no sound travels in the other direction. When the national team plays, we cheer along with the occupants of the apartment above us. But since they live underneath the mutest inhabitant in the building (fourth floor, left), they seem unaware of the easy transmission of sound; loud arguments and erotic activities reverberate downstairs.





ground floor, left


Living just a few steps from the entrance of the building behind a door with carved pink wooden letters reading ‘SARA’ lives a woman. She is in her late thirties, with long, dyed red hair. Because of her location on the ground floor (and because she is currently unemployed), she takes up the role of an unofficial concierge; everyone who enters the building passes by her door, and their footsteps roar inside her walls. If too much activity goes on, you hear her moving toward the door to look out of the peephole, before ultimately opening the door with an outburst, asking ‘Is this a train station, or what?’ (Which once led me to take off my shoes in order to climb the stairs unnoticed.) To her great frustration, even the sound of the laundry room’s door slamming and the vibrations of the tumble dryer enter her domestic world. 


After Mr Noer on the top floor, she is the one who has been living here the longest – and one of the few who currently owns her apartment, although ‘for sale’ signs have been up on the outside window for years (apparently, she cannot escape to take up the job in Hvidovre as a care assistant that she was offered long ago).



Because her windows are so close to street level, the interior of the apartment is fully visible to all the other inhabitants (as well as passers-by). We can see her glossy pink acrylic chandelier and family photographs on the wall – while everything above her landing remains a mystery to her.

Espen Lunde Nielsen


Door and Peephole


This is where the line is drawn between my apartment and the semi-public space of the stairway; if I open the door, these two worlds become one for a brief moment and the city enters filters in. At most times, the door remains closed and locked, yet the outside is constantly projected to the inside through the peephole situated at eye level in the door. The exterior becomes superimposed on the interior.



From this vantage point one can safely monitor what goes on in the stairway without revealing oneself (except if the fatal moment occurs when one activates the squeaking floorboard or scrapes the door with a button): people passing, conversations, rubbish bags being carried down, furniture being moved, the monthly cleaning of the stairway, people returning from the laundry room with clean clothes or ascending with arms full of groceries, and all the other innumerable non-events playing out in this space …


Message Board


This is the official medium for posting messages to everyone living in the building. It features a list of when to perform the mandatory cleaning of the stairway and guidelines for garbage handling, alongside spontaneous messages, such as ‘Please pick up your own cigarette stubs!’ or ‘Tonight I am having a party starting at 21.00’.


Mr. Worm


second floor, right




He is our closest neighbour, yet we know almost nothing about him. His (assumed) lady friend sneaks in and out when no one else can be heard on the stairway. Yet from the bathroom, we can confirm his existence and we know he lives a life parallel to ours in his apartment mirrored along our parting wall. 


Many of the other inhabitants of the building remain unknown to us. They glide through the stairway and by our door as vague shadows, unable to materialise as clear images. And to them, so do we.


Our Predecessor


third floor, left


It is a bit unclear exactly who lives here and who are merely transient inhabitants. At first, two young women lived together, but, later, it seemed that her boyfriend moved in and her girlfriend moved out. The woman is in her twenties with dyed blonde hair. 


At one point her mother and father also lived here; a grey car (of an older model) stopped quickly outside, before the woman opened the door to help her (supposed) mother out. She was using crutches, wore a headband, and had a black eye and swollen nose. Behind her followed the father with a bag of duvets or clean clothes, and then the (supposed) boyfriend, who for some bizarre reason was carrying a large box of strawberries, as if prescribed by a doctor. What this was all about remains a mystery – maybe a car accident or plastic surgery. The fact is, that weekend there was heavy traffic up and down from the third floor. 



The upstairs neighbours used to rent what later became our apartment, before moving on and buying the one they live in now. This reminds us that space and the city are ours only on loan – that before us there were others and after us other people will inhabit what we used to think of as ours: the space that facilitated our most intimate thoughts and moments. The building block as well as the city is a collective project unfolding through time.


Stairway Shaft and Steps


The communal stairway: a ‘neutral place belonging to all and to none’; one through which everything that enters the building arrives. The stairway is what binds us together, yet separates us – the spatial facilitator of our coexistence as familiar strangers. It is here that we encounter one another face to face, politely nodding or exchanging a brief phrase before continuing our endeavours or closing the door behind us.



The partly hollow construction of the sweeping staircase makes the vibrations and sounds of footsteps reverberate through the party walls and into the apartments; the stairway becomes an auditory device for monitoring the comings and goings in the building. One listens to the constant rhythmic sound of footsteps moving closer to one’s landing, or fading away from it; one starts to count the number of floors that a person rises, estimating who entered or exited. In the end, one feels one can almost recognise people from their styles of climbing, their rhythms, and the break intervals they take at each landing. Sometimes conversations – someone talking on a mobile phone or a last-minute message yelled through several floors  echoes in the stairway.




Adjacent to the bathroom shaft is another vertical tunnel, which hosts the ventilation upcast, electronic conduits, pipes, and so on. Chiefly, it consists of air, sounds, and voices moving up and down.


Boulevard Caféen


On the corner right across the street is a typical Danish bodega, with its brown interior, regulars, and cheap bottles of Tuborg and Ceres Top (twenty kroner each). From the position in bed, one can hear the comings and goings, the conversations and arguments, making their way in through the window open ajar. Like the constant flow of a river, this makes one aware that the city is always in motion and alive, even if the interior of one’s apartment seems stable and one is caught in an internal mental world. Sometimes it wakes you up at night: a loud argument, a fight, a glass bottle breaking as it hits the asphalt or pavement. One rises from the bed, rolls up the blinds and looks at the spectacle from the window frame – alongside the other spectators popping their heads out of their windows.


At other times, I find myself on the other side of the window. I am the one sitting outside the bodega in the evening sun or chill, having conversations that roar down the canyon of the street, entering people’s living rooms, bedrooms, and, eventually, auditory canals.



Note: Because we sleep in what was supposed to be the living room and live in the supposed bedroom, the direct connection to the street and Boulevard Caféen is enhanced. 


Door Phone


This bypasses the buffer of the stairway and connects the public and the domestic spheres directly. Sometimes you get calls intended for your neighbours. At other times there is no one at the other end, just a silent hiss from the street. You open the locks to let people in; yet you can still decide not to open the door to the apartment, capturing them in a no-man’s-land.   


As all the door phones are part of one system, I wonder why it is not possible to call the others – to ask them to turn down the music, ask for a cup of sugar, or invite them in for coffee. 



Below the door phone inside the apartment is a switch for controlling the light on the stairway: this is particularly useful if someone climbs the stairway in the dark (and therefore is not able to be seen through the peephole), or it acts as an indicator that someone will leave the apartment in a matter of seconds …


Mr Noer


fourth floor, left


Living on the top floor, Mr Noer is the longest-serving resident of the building. Next to his door is a sign made using a bead plate depicting his name on a rainbow-coloured background. He lisps slightly when he talks owing to his cleft lip.


Mr Noer is proud of his apartment – except for his next-door neighbour, he is the only one elevated high enough to have a glimpse of the ARoS modern art museum and its extraordinary, colourful aura. A view for him alone, since his apartment is always ‘too untidy to invite anyone inside’.


Because of his status as the longest-serving resident, combined with his nature, he takes great pride in keeping the building in order: he puts up laminated notes everywhere from the stairway to the laundry room in the basement with messages such as ‘Please remember to lock the door’, ‘Close door quietly!’, ‘Turn off light -->’, ‘The washing machine is not for your sports club’s dirty laundry!’, ‘No washing after 10pm!’, and so on. If you leave anything on the stairs, such as your shoes or a rubbish bag, he will be there pointing at it. If your party is too loud or too late, he will come down in his pyjamas and close it down. If you forget that it’s your turn to clean the staircase, he will kindly remind you.



He himself can be heard entering and leaving the stairway at the oddest times: he works on the information desk at the hospital just outside town and often works night shifts. He tries to move as silently as possible and knows which floorboards to avoid in the kitchen, so as not to wake the neighbours downstairs. Nevertheless, if you hear anyone on the stairway at four or five in the morning, chances are that it’s him on his way out or heading back to his bed.


Radiator Conversations


The radiator is underestimated as a device for communication. Like telephones or door phones, it transmits sounds; it absorbs and transmits throughout the building the noise of objects hitting the pipes or grill and the vibrations of music and loud conversations. However, one is not able to hang up or decide what messages one sends or receives; it constantly whispers in your ears.


Glass Box Panorama


The glass-clad annex was added to the building, along with the toilets, during a major restoration in the nineties, at the expense of the back stairs. From this point, one has a full view of the inside(s) of the block, which surrounds the shared courtyards with their plastic chairs, grills, bike parking, and playgrounds. 


A panorama of suspended existences and their domestic realms can be observed: stairways, living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms; pot plants and cats in the windows; people preparing dinner or walking around in their underwear; a couple refurbishing their apartment; hands opening bathroom windows to let out steam; birds occupying the ventilation shafts.



This works even more strongly the other way around. While dining in the glass box, one has a sense of always being monitored – this part of the apartment is an annex into the public sphere. From time to time, the eyes looking out and the eyes looking in meet in an odd moment; the observer realises that he or she is being observed. A web of sightlines inhabits the panorama of the backyard.


Bathroom Wall and Shaft


The bathroom is the newest appendix to the apartment, situated halfway into the adjacent apartment. It is the only place where one interacts with the next-door neighbour. Through the wall, one hears the metal hinge of a toilet-paper holder whining, teeth being brushed, or a shower running.



Also, vertically, this space seems closer to that of the neighbours: flushing toilets upstairs, water lingering through the drains, or vague sounds that travel through the pipes and conduits speak of other people’s presence.


Creaking Floorboards


At the threshold between the hallway and the kitchen, two floorboards give a loud squeak that penetrates the intermediate floors, revealing the presence of a person’s weight. When the inhabitants of the building cook or clean, or for some other reason traverse this area, the whole building creaks.



The creaking is a construction fault, caused by tension building up in the floorboards because of the kink in the wall; nevertheless, it leads to a vertical communication, speaking of activity and the presence of other people: someone awake at night, cooking late, or pulling on shoes before leaving for the early morning train …


Listening in Bed / Walls Speaking


Sometimes sounds from a running television or stereo enter through the walls while we lie in bed. As the floors of the next-door building are staggered in relation to ours we have two direct neighbours behind this wall. The upper one leaves the vibrating alarm of his mobile phone on the floor next to the wall (and supposedly his bed), approximately a metre above our bed pillows; often we wake up simultaneously. The one below occasionally listens to jazz and classical music, lulling us into sleep or softly waking us up on a Sunday morning (if not already awake because of the other neighbour’s vibrating alarm clock).


The Young Couple


third floor, right


They are students in their twenties. She is small with dark hair and skin. He is blond and a bit taller. This is the only apartment apart from ours of which I know the inside – at one of the yearly communal workdays they invited us all in (meaning the people who showed up: Mr Noer, Sara, and us) for coffee, soda, and sandwiches. Their apartment is exactly the same as ours, except that it is mirrored (causing a bit of nausea).


Sometimes I meet him in the basement. We have almost exactly the same red Peugeot Course racing bikes from the late seventies. We share knowledge on the subject, and once he told me of a place just outside Grenaa where an old bike mechanic still stocks reused original parts as a last bastion.


Cigarette Stubs


Scattered on and around around the exterior doorsteps leading to the entrance are discarded cigarette stubs. They act as indicators of the daily non-events that have unfolded at this given spot countless times: primarily the woman from the third floor, left, sitting on the concrete steps smoking cigarettes while chatting on the phone. Her favourite position is the top step, just in front of the door – which fosters a constant negotiation between her and the comings and goings of the building. At times, you can hear snippets from her conversation with some other person in the city, who might also be smoking on his or her doorstep.



It is as if the liminal space of the stairway at this point bleeds onto the street pavement. The private gradually becomes first semi-private then semi-public (because, for some reason, one does not smoke cigarettes on someone else’s doorstep) through a set of spatial demarcations, before finally one finds oneself at the street, heading into the city.




The mailboxes are a miniature version of the building itself. Letters from various places enter each compartment. A full mailbox means someone is not home, is travelling, or is too busy to take care of their usual business. A mailbox with no name means someone has moved out, and the empty space (and mailbox) awaits a new inhabitant. Over the years, the names will change, be replaced, disappear – until eventually, none of the names remain. Someone will take over our place, our apartment, and our stairway. It will be theirs, and they will fill it with their desires and thoughts: listening to Boulevard Caféen, smoking cigarettes on the doorsteps, putting up notes in the laundry room, and keeping an eye on the comings and goings of number thirty-eight.