In 2009, the architectural practice Gottlieb Paludan and the architectural cooperative COBE won a competition for a major project at Nørreport, to upgrade the railway station and the metro station and to remodel the area around the station. Construction work started in 2012 and the new station was inaugurated on 10 January 2015.
Main structural work and the main elements of the hard landscape - paving for large new pedestrian areas, with places for leaving bikes and large new canopies covering parts of the street - are all in place although some work is still to be finished on some of the ventilation columns and the paving around the secondary stairs to get down to the platforms.
It has taken a long time to get this far but the project has been incredibly complicated, not least because the traffic hub here is the busiest in Denmark with around 250,000 passengers passing through each day and the stations had to remain open through all the works.
Suburban lines stop here with trains every few minutes and the Öresundståg - the inter-city trains that run between Helsingør and Helsingborg in Sweden by way of Copenhagen central station, Copenhagen airport, across the Øresund Bridge to Malmö and on to Lund and Helsingborg - run at least every twenty minutes and at peak times there are six trains an hour in each direction. All those trains follow the line of the main street but are just below the surface in a cut so all the platforms are below ground.
Then below the railway station, is a metro station with the tracks and the platforms running across the line of the street with the metro trains every few minutes and, to add to the daunting job of planning the construction work, Nørreport is also a busy bus interchange.
Curiously, when you are standing in the middle of the station, it is quite difficult to judge just how large an area the station covers, partly because of the press of people, but from the air photograph you can see that at ground level it runs for three blocks - over 400 metres - between the corner of Ørstedsparken - the park and lake are at the bottom left corner of the photo - and the south corner of the Botanical Gardens.
There were three main parts to the scheme: first to reorganise completely the urban space at ground level; second to renovate the platforms which were grim, to put it politely, and, third, to overhaul the bridge construction carrying the square and street over the rail tracks which involved major engineering works.
Only the position of steps down to the train platforms and then on down to the metro platforms have been kept in the same position but virtually everything else has changed.
A detailed study of the flow of pedestrians into, out of and through the station area was completed and this determined the location of canopies and the main structures to keep these main pedestrian pathways as free as possible.
To make building work even more difficult the area is crossed by major bike routes in and out of the city centre and is an important and increasingly important tourist hub with visitors heading to or moving on from the National Gallery, Rosenborg Castle, the Botanic Gardens and the Worker’s Museum. Add to this the growing popularity of the food halls at Torvehallerne and possible events at the recently remodelled Israels Plads, both a block west of the station, along with the recent announcement that the Geology Museum at the far corner of the Botanic Gardens is to be part of a major development to create a new National Museum of Natural History and you can see that the figure of 250,000 people a day coming through the station can only increase and probably pretty quickly. Oh yes, and add that Fredrikborggade, the main street running down from the station, is the start of Købmagergade, a major shopping street running down to Strøget, the Walking Street, and it is no exaggeration to say that on Saturdays here I have seen more people pressed together than at major football matches - and for a year I lived within sight and sound of the Manchester United ground.
In the original arrangement of the area, the wide main street, Nørre Voldgade, had heavy road traffic passing through on both sides of a central island with the main station entrances on the island so nearly everyone, on emerging from the station, had to then cross a busy road. There is now less use of private cars in the inner-city and journeys by car will probably reduce even more when a major extension of the metro opens so road traffic along Nørre Voldgade has now been pulled back to just one side of the space, the outer side of the road on the side away from the city centre. The majority of travellers, particularly commuters heading into the city, will come out of the station on the pedestrian side and from there head down pedestrianised streets.
Clearly the plan for the area also had to focus on the needs of cyclists - many journeys in Copenhagen combine train and bike with people either travelling with a bike on the train or leaving a bike at the station to complete the last part of the journey. Racks have been created for 2,500 bikes to be left here in areas set down in hollows 30 cm or 40 cm below the level of the pavement. These clearly mark out the bike areas and segregates bikes and pedestrians … the idea is that it should help stop bikes being left against any and every post or bin available but equally should discourage people from pushing through these areas and damaging bikes.
The canopies over certain areas give some protection from the weather but they are set up high and the pavilions for shops and food stalls below the canopies are primarily glass and with curved walls so there are plenty of views through and across the space. This is partly for safety - with so many people here at all times of the day and into the evening and night any dark areas or corners would not have been a good idea - but also it will help people orientate themselves quickly. Commuters coming through every day know exactly where they are going and go there fast but as a visitor it is impossible, even if you try, to keep yourself orientated as you change through several directions underground and then emerge into light and the bustle of crowds. So people tend to stand in the middle of pathways looking around or looking at maps. It will be interesting to see how signs and so on will be organised but the space, the light and the careful study of the busiest patterns of movement, to keep those free of structures and street furniture, should mean that people will head for where they are going quite quickly and clear the area.
Although, having said that, paving over a larger area of what was roadway and keeping through traffic to one side will almost certainly encourage street cafes and other attractions to establish themselves here.
When the bastions and earthworks were still in place, the road immediately inside the defences was wide and kept free so that soldiers could move around quickly if the city was under attack. When the earthworks came down in the 1870s and streets, squares and apartment buildings were laid out in the area over and beyond the earthworks, that inner road was left as a wide boulevard - Nørre Voldgade - so it has always been seen as a sort of ring road. Certainly with the increase in private cars in the 1950s and 1960s it became an extremely busy inner ring road.
For me, as a historian, what is interesting is that Nørreport is not the only major transport interchange that is being drastically and extensively rebuilt. Major work is currently in hand at both Kongens Nytorv, to extend the metro station there, and at the north end of the square in front of the city hall for a new metro station there. These will be the three most important points of access to the inner city … which is really quite appropriate as these correspond exactly with the three major medieval city gates. Nørreport, as the name implies, was the north gate, Kongens Nytorv is immediately outside the east gate and Radhuspladsen, the city hall square, is immediately next to the site of the old west gate. Presumably medieval ghosts do not need to travel by metro but once they get to any of the three old gates then finding their way into the city would not be that difficult: the buildings may have changed but not the basic layout of the streets.