outdoors in the city
Looking back over the last year or so, one theme seems to stand out for me from looking at new architecture and recent planning in Copenhagen and that is the importance of public urban space … how it is used and how it can be improved and how new developments have to enhance or have to add to the public spaces of the city.
Last year there was a major exhibition here addressing how we use or could use public space - Reprogramming the City at The Danish Architecture Centre - and their exhibition through this summer was Lets Play, on outdoor leisure in the city. The current exhibition at the Centre, Our Urban Living Room looks at the work of the Copenhagen architects COBE and is primarily about the interaction between buildings and public space and looks at how that relationship either has to reflect and respect recent change in society or the provision of public spaces can be proactive and can change how people appreciate and use open space.
Of course the citizens of Copenhagen have been making use of the public space in the city for decades … in fact for centuries.
In the historic centre of Copenhagen, until the late 19th century, buildings were relatively tightly packed on relatively narrow streets apart from the district around the royal palace where, as a planned development of the 18th century, the plots were wider, the houses more generous in size and the streets broader. Generally, however, the main open spaces within the old city were a number of public squares, many used as open markets, and the areas around the city churches although the pressure on space meant that graveyards were one of the first things to be relocated out beyond the city fortifications.
As the city grew rapidly in the late 19th century new public space was laid out with large squares but also a new botanical garden and the king's private garden around the palace of Rosenborg was opened to the public. There was park around a new national gallery close to the King's Garden and the area around the citadel became a popular place, along with the area around the lakes to the west of the city, where people could walk and exercise or, probably, better described as strolling and chatting.
Pleasure gardens at Tivoli, just outside the west gate of the city, survived the expansion of the city in the late 19th century, despite a new railway station built along one side, and Tivoli is now open for much of the year as a popular place for people to go to relax and have fun and of course the park at Dyrehavsbakken (Bakken) some 10 kilometres north of the city has been a popular summer destination for people from the city since the late 16th century.
But certainly since the 1960s, when Strøget - the strolling street - the first pedestrianised shopping street in Copenhagen - was created, the public spaces of the city have become more and more important and not just in the summer with longer evenings but for much of the year. Perhaps one of the most amazing events outside, or mostly outside, is the Night of Culture, in late October when museums and public buildings open late but equally important are the demonstrations and food stalls outdoors as people explore their city and of course, at the end of the year, there are the Christmas markets that are increasingly popular.
I've put together a collection of photographs - most taken through this last year - of public events outside, so the outdoor exhibitions and displays of art and sculpture, the popularity of eating outside, the gardens - not just parks but also private gardens planted in public space and the amazing courtyards to apartment buildings that are part private and part public space and of course the water in the city … the harbour, the canals, the inner city swimming areas and the beaches along the Sound are all important. Public areas are used for running, taking exercise and skating - on a number of evenings during the summer roads are closed so thousands of skaters can complete a circuit of the city - and there is actually an organised run where people cut through buildings and gardens on the designated route to show people as much of the city as possible (presumably as quickly as possible).
At every opportunity citizens move out of their apartments to sit and talk, to picnic, to play boules on the edge of a city square. Space for exercise and play for children and also adults is important but large areas of open space are not always available at ground level so there is now a roof-top playground above a car park that has amazing views over the harbour and there are gardens and restaurants on roofs. Much of the planning and the design of new buildings is focused on encouraging and enabling even more life to be lived outside.
The seminal study of urban spaces of the city is New City Life by Jan Gehl that was published in 2006. In that book he explains that “Copenhagen is one of the cities that has made the most targeted efforts to mould its space to match developments in society” and he comes to the crucial conclusion that “In the 21st century, designing good city space where people want to be has become an independent and demanding discipline in terms of planning, design and detailing. The time when useable city space arose between buildings by coincidence or as a post-construction afterthought is definitively over.”
New City Life, Jan Gehl, Lars Gemzøe, Sia Kirknæs and Britt Sternhagen Søndergaard, The Danish Architectural Press (2006)
Copenhagen Green, 100 green things to see and do in Copenhagen, Susanne Sayers and Poul Årnedal, Foreningen By&Natur (2014)