The Danes don’t have all the answers but they do believe that good design can contribute to solving both local and global challenges. It’s no wonder that Copenhagen trumps other cities when it comes to quality of life.
Denmark residents rank themselves as happiest and there’s no doubt that seamless urban planning plays into that satisfaction. Of note is Copenhagen’s well functioning transport system and infrastructure, focus on environmental issues, and the overall scale of the city – large enough to have a vibrant cultural scene and embrace the benefits of diversity, yet you can get anywhere on bicycle. (It’s near impossible to take a photo here without a bike getting into the shot.)
Copenhagen Design Week just wrapped up its second year’s show, the programme of which was stacked with exhibits, conferences, lectures, and tours themed “Think Human.” The human condition has been the basis for Danish product design for decades (eminent architects’ furniture of the ’50s comes to mind) but the same focus carries into the context of the larger scale – how cities can frame urban life in the 21st century – and Copenhagen is a thriving model. The design capital, coined a ‘living lab of sustainable urban development,’ has undergone extensive economic, cultural and architectural changes during the past decade. Peppered with towering cranes, the landscape has been vastly transformed: ambitious growth in Ørestad (once a windswept field) and the old grounds of the Carlsberg brewery; new housing areas like Sluseholmen and Havneholmen; new cultural landmarks; new transportation connections; and, green spaces in the old working-class areas. Each of these provides ideas for how the urban challenges of cities can be met with architectural answers.
On display at the Danish Architecture Center is ’What makes a liveable city,’ the last in a series of exhibitions by Copenhagen X, which disseminates information on architectural innovation and invites the public to engage in dialogue about urban planning. An elaborate presentation in various media – models, master plans, interactive digital galleries and animation – is used to exemplify recently completed projects and long-term ones in the works. In particular, the development of Nordhavnen is featured in great detail. This former industrial port will be transformed over the next 50 years into a dense waterfront district that can accommodate up to 80,000 residents. Short distances are planned for the area, as are islets and canals, and priority will be given to green mobility. Nordhavnen spearheads efforts to improve environmental conditions and show how cities can help reverse climate change while still ensuring health, welfare, and quality of life.
‘Copenhagen X – the movie’ shows the recent transformation of the city in rapidly changing image sequences, while ’From Finger Plan to Loop City (1947-2047)’, a sweeping 3D visualization by firms BIG and Kollision, illustrates the story of how the capital developed in modern times and a futuristic vision of how it could be linked with the Øresund Region with a single metropolitan loop.
Visitors could take guided architectural tours, as ‘podwalks’ or by bicycle to see iconic buildings and districts to get a better sense of the massive scope. Highlights included the newly inaugurated Krystallen by Schmidt Hammer and the SEB Bank & Pension HQ by Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter, as well landmarks such as the ‘Black Diamond’, the impressive Royal Library extension; Gemini Residence; Opera House; Concert Hall, and the student residence Tietgenkollegiet. It was interesting to see how new urban spaces surrounding the buildings invite a broader audience to use the spaces. With panoramic views of the historic skyline as a backdrop, the oak-clad public promenade on the harbour at Kvæsthusmolen, the Royal Danish Playhouse, became the site for weekly summer Tango dancing by moonlight.
The Danish Design Center‘s (DDC) ongoing exhibition ‘Challenge Society’ explores how to design systems and services to improve the country’s ailing welfare state. Prisons and nursing homes, for instance, have teamed up with designers to re-imagine their operations and find creative and ‘simple’ strategies to increase efficiency and solve complex problems. Per international experts, the key to business in the future is ‘design thinking,’ and it’s required at all levels: nations, global communities, individuals and private enterprises. “It’s not about inventing new things but designing the world in a new way,” says Merete Brunander, acting CEO at the DDC.