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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

Fanø Island and Sønderho

Fanø Island and Sønderho
Fanø Island and Sønderho

Fanø Island and Sønderho

In July this year, my wife and I drove to Goteborg in Sweden to visit our older daughter and our grandchildren. On the way back we took the ferry from Goteborg to Frederikshavn in Denmark and drove down the west coast to Fanø Island where we stayed with a friend.

Fanø Island is the northernmost of the Danish Wadden Sea Islands and is located off the coast from the city of Esbjerg to which it is connected by a short ferry ride. The island is only 16 kilometres long by about 3 kilometres wide and the whole of the western shore is one long beach with sand dunes behind. The vegetation on Fanø is mainly heath and small pine trees which never grow tall because of the strong westerly winds from the North Sea. The island relies heavily on tourism with many holiday homes and is visited by some 30,000 people each summer.

There is a small town, Nordby in the north of the island and a small village, Sønderho at the southern tip and they were once among the most wealthy and influential settlements in Denmark. Both have an interesting vernacular architecture that consists of long, narrow, thatched-roof houses and other buildings.

Our friend lives in Sønderho which now has a permanent population of around 300 and which dates back to the 16th century. It has about 300 well-preserved houses and other buildings that were mainly built in the 18th and 19th centuries when Sønderho was an important centre on the Jutland west coast. The houses are long and narrow with thatched roofs and most of them are orientated east-west because of the prevailing westerly winds from the North Sea. The houses are surrounded by small gardens and between them is a labyrinthine network of narrow lanes. The village is well protected from wind and water behind large sand dunes (see the photo above) and green dikes. There is also a large church, a few shops, art galleries and cafés and Sønderho Kro, one of the oldest guesthouses in Denmark which dates from 1722. See the first photo gallery below.

There are some new houses in the village but they are all built in the traditional style with thatched roofs. Our friend’s son, who is an architect, designed his mother’s house in the traditional style and it was completed in 2015 but it is now more or less impossible to recognise from the outside that is a modern house. It is long and narrow with the long axis running east to west.

The house has a very simple layout with the entrance off-centre on the southern side. You enter into a hall that runs the full width of the house and off which there is a steep staircase to the first floor. To the east of the entrance hall on the ground floor there is a guest bedroom and a bathroom and on the west side, a sitting/dining room, kitchen and utility area. On the first floor, in the roof space, is another double bedroom, a bathroom and a study space. The house is set in a beautiful garden with flowers, fruit trees, vegetable beds and a pond.

The house has very thick brick walls on the ground floor into which the windows are set with deep, sloping reveals internally. Although the windows are fairly small, the interior of the house is bright and well lit. The windows are divided into small panes as in the older houses but they are double-glazed using an ingenious system which is not noticeable from the outside (or from the inside for that matter). The first floor is supported on timber beams that span from the front wall to the back wall and these set up a simple grid with the windows between them. The very thick (and beautiful) thatched roof slopes down to just above the heads of the ground floor windows. The house is very well built, simply painted with white walls and green doors and architraves and it is beautifully finished. It has stone floors with underfloor heating, heated by an air-source heat pump. It is altogether a lovely house. See the second photo gallery below.


Architecture in Developing Countries: A Resource

The design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health in rural areas of the developing world.

Nigel Wakeham is an architect who lived for 23 years in Southern and West Africa and the SW Pacific working on education, health and other projects. He has since worked for over 20 years as a consultant for national governments and agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, ADB and AfDB on the implementation of the construction components of education and health projects in many countries in the developing world.​

​The objective of this website will be to provide the benefit of more than 45 years of experience of working in developing countries to architects and other construction professionals involved in the design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health. It will provide reference material from the projects that Nigel has worked on and technical information on the design, construction and maintenance of educational and health facilities and other relevant topics and these will be added to from time to time.

I am happy to be contacted by anyone requiring further information on any of the projects or resources referred to in this website or by anyone wishing to discuss work possibilities.



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