Monday, November 17, 2008


Update: above is a picture of the "opgang" I lived in, in 2001 in Copenhagen.

In Danish, a set of apartments connected to the same stairwell is called an "opgang". But what's the English (or American) word for it?

OK, you have a street with many apartments. No space between the houses. And each door leads into a stairwell with, say, six apartments. "Opgang" is used both for the stairwell itself (the word means "walk-up") and the whole set of apartments connected to it.

Maybe this arrangement of apartments, so exceedingly common in Copenhagen, is not very common on a global scale.

I don't think there's a word for it. But it would be very useful for city dwellers. A guy today called it a "unit". Like:

"I spoke to somebody from your unit yesterday, they said you got a new back door."

"When we moved in, we held a housewarming party for everybody in the unit, to get to know them."

"I've lived here for two months, and I still haven't met everybody in the unit."

I've also heard it called a "block". Though that's also used for all the houses between four streets.


Lee Smith said...

opgang = "wing"; possibly also "rise" but that's a stretch. "Partition" is military in feel; "causeway" is possible, but is usually used for a wide open road over water or unusable land. If opgang is a stand-alone edifice and is obviously not a "wing" of anything at all, not even a bird, I might still call it a wing but not very loudly. "Breezeway" comes to mind but applies only to the space where the staircase is, where the breeze has an open way. I have to get on to the doctor, but later I will look this up.

Valkyrie said...

If opgang refers to the apartments as well as the stairwell, I would have to suggest "condominiums" or perhaps a duplex, but duplexes don't necessarily have stairwells. So I think the term "condo" or "condominium" is what you are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting description of something similar

Alex said...

In the UK the term "flat" used to be used more than apartment.

A flat is typically a single story accomodation, and a block of flats would be akin to what you are talking about.

There is another term, I've only ever heard it, never read it. Masonette (possibly maisonette). This is like a group of houses jumbled into one building with common access.

As for US (CA), I'd go with Condo or Apartment block. Condo is usually reserved for owned properties, and apartments for rented.

Duplex I thought was the American for semi-detatched house, a duplex is two houses with a common wall. A fourplex may show the up/down arrangement too, but all seem to have unique entrances.

Good old wiki-pedia

eolake said...

See update.

Alex said...

Do they really use "block" in the American context? Wow, we always used to say "street" to identify the houses we were associated with, even if we had a back alley.

Unit, in the 80's, seemed only to refer to business parks and light industry.

eolake said...

"a block of flats would be akin to what you are talking about."

I suspect so. But would this refer to only a block using the same door, or could it also be a whole house with several front doors?

Alex said...

A whole house, broken into flats, typically keeps one front door.

A house built as flats, with separate doors may be a tenement, but didn't they have common external passages, and individual doors.

A block of flats is not regarded as a house, but a large residential building.

Some blocks of flats would have a lobby door, others just have an open entry on the ground level and balconies with doors to each flat.

If we were in Liverpool, Chester or Salford I could take you to examples of each type, and you could decide which meets your word.

eolake said...

"Do they really use "block" in the American context?"

Maybe not, I can't keep my American and my English separated.

Alex said...

"Maybe not, I can't keep my American and my English separated."

I can't either, and English English is changing, and regional, so I don't even feel confident I know it anymore...

Lee Smith said...

I looked up "opgang" exact match=no and got "solopgang"=sunrise, so I would like to go back toward "rise" which I said earlier was too much of a stretch. A block of apartments subdivided into "units", each unit accessed by its own staircase; I say let's call the individual unit with its staircase a "riser".

"Which riser do you live in?"

Actually, I like "unit" better. "Which unit do you live in?" Then again, "Which breezeway do you live in?" sounds Carribean, fun, and somehow more descriptive. Maybe it should be closer to what it is in Danish, "Which staircase do you live off?"

I've seen buildings like that all over, and what I remember hearing most often was, "What's your address?"

Alex said...

What is a bordelindustrien? Google gave it me as a translation for bordello.

Tarppeopgang = staircase?

Maybe you were looking for "brownstone", projects or stoops.

eolake said...

"Bordelindustrien" means the prostitution (bordello) industry.

I wonder if you keep finding the same damn article I've been finding the last ten minutes, trying to find photos of a typical Copenhagen street.

eolake said...

Trappeopgang: stairwell.

eolake said...

... OK, after googling around like nuts for ten minutes, I looked at my own server and found one of my old photos which is very descriptive, and I've added it to the post.

Alex said...

Why didn't you say "like on the Led Zepplin album"


eolake said...

Only I suspect a tenement can have more than one stairwell.

Also the apartments are as often owned these days as rented.

tc said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and call them a *multi-family home* with *corridors* in them...because this is what a similar picture to what Eo has shown us happens to say: :-)

I have heard some call them apartments, in New York, in "my apartment". And...there is, of course, also an *apartment complex*.

I'm liking the *corridor* definition. It seems to be pretty much in line with this translation from the Danish *gang*:

This better be a durn good story brewing, Eo, my friend! ;-)

ttl said...

Why didn't you say "like on the Led Zepplin album"

Physical Graffiti you mean? Yeah, that's a cool looking opgang. I hear that building in New York is a tourist attraction. Maybe Eo's opgang in Copenhagen will now become a site seeing stop as well. :-)

Monsieur Beep said...

We Krauts would call this (ie the whole building including all the flats, staircase, front door and common roof, hehe) a "Mehrfamilienhaus".
Which would be a "Multi family house/home".
We love massive heaps of letters, lol.

This is not what you've been looking for, but anyway.

As a non-English speaker,
I'd go for a *block of flats*, instinctively.

eolake said...

Yes, I suspect "block" may be the closest there is.

Some of the suggestions here are terms defining the ownership qualities of the building. Which is not implied in the Danish word. It's merely a unit designation, like apartment, block, street, city...

Lee Smith said...

Ok, now that we have a picture of an opgang building I can say simply that New York, Queens especially and Brooklyn, have many buildings just like that. Each opgang has a different street address. The opgang was always called "entry" or "entrance." We all lived in "that building" but my entrance was 221-17 77th Street. Had we emigrated from Denmark I bet we would have called it our "uprise."