Ørestad is one of the largest, if not the largest, urban project in Scandinavia at the moment. It is located on the outskirts of Copenhagen, near the bridgehead of the Øresund bridge, connecting Denmark to Sweden. The project is meant to develop over the next twenty years and will provide work for 80,000 people, residences for 20,000 people and education for another 20,000 people. Ørestad is furthermore located next to the sea, and very well connected, to Copenhagen, the airport and Sweden through all kinds of public transportation.
Architecturally, the place has invited internationally renown architects, such as Jean Nouvel, B.I.G. and Daniel Libeskind to design buildings in the area. Perhaps the most famous one to date is “the Mountain”, which has won a number of prizes all over the world. Basically, it is constructed as a number of flats on top of a parking garage. The structure of the building is a result of the ambition to provide each flat with the highest amount of daylight and a large roof terrace.
There is no question the area has a lot of interesting buildings with character and original solutions, the nearby VM-houses by PLOT, are another example, or the new concert hall by Nouvel. What is interesting however is the urban planning of the area. This is one of the largest attempts at creating instant urbanity in Scandinavia in recent years. Ørestad, as the name implies is not only a part of the existing city, but will also function as an urban counterweight, a town in its own right, modelled on successful precedents in the Netherlands such as Almere or Borneo Spoerenburg from the late 1990’s or early 2000’s.
The Ørestad planning appears however to build a linear city along the newly constructed raised Metro. All the activities that would be constructed in the centre of an urban area are located along the metro line. The concert hall has its own station, where there at least at the moment is little else to be seen. The central shopping centre, which we’ll get back to in a minute, is located at another stop, the university at the next and so on. This can be compared to for example, Almere, which is basically creating a rather traditional centre of town in the void that was left over in the geographical centre of the town.
The idea of a linear city is not new. It was perhaps most popularised as an urban model for the Soviet Union in Milyutin’s Sotsgorod and is presented as the socialist anti-urban alternative to the city, with strict separation of functions into linear strips, one residential strip, one industrial, and one for railroads. This was never implemented on any larger scale as the urban planning in the Soviet Union was soon forced to deal with more immediate problems. What is interesting in the comparison, if one should be made is the notion of dissolving the city. In Milyutin’s view, the linear city was an anti-pole to the capitalist city, and it was an anti-urban model, whereas the linear city of Ørestad is seen as an urban model, as a way to build a city. This is an unjust comparison, but the question is what does it show of our society’s idea of urbanism?
The centre of town is, as I’ve already mentioned, spread out along the Metro-line, with nodes around the different stations. The public spaces here feel odd and more like leftover space rather than urban space planned for leading a public life. The largest centre-piece in the composition is the Field’s shopping centre, one of the largest shopping malls in Scandinavia. It sits on a giant podium above a narrow pavement. It’s interior is spacious and this is perhaps the heart of Ørestad. This organisation is symptomatic of the area. Basically all the public or semi-public functions are created inside out, monoliths that only make sense when you’re inside. It is all a bit like Koolhaas’ old text about how Atlanta functions, where the walls of the atria become the facades of the buildings.
The residential parts of Ørestad are separated and at least at the moment feel partially uninhabited. This will change with time of course, but almost all of the buildings are set back with either some dull function on street level, such as the parking garage in the Mountain, or just empty underneath with the house raised on pillars. The buildings are spread out, they all appear as their own monolith, separate from the rest of the city. Some with more character than others, but the end result is that the space in between the buildings becomes a dull experience, the monoliths are hostile mountains and the distinction between different grades of public in the spaces hard to make out.
All in all, the urban planning in Ørestad is aimed at a lifestyle where the shared experiences consist of consumer experiences. As an inside out urbanism, it reduces the common spaces to transition spaces, just like some of the clumsiest attempts at urban planning during the sixties. By creating all public functions with primarily an inside and all residences as somewhat hostile monoliths, there is no space left for any public life, which at least to me would be one of the first prerequisites of an urban area. It is a more dense version of the suburbia we all know and detest, where the buildings are scaled up but the principle is the same. As an urban ideal it is naïve at best, sinister at worst. The resulting Ørestad is not an urban space, it is just a denser suburbia.
It may not be fair to judge the area so harshly since it is still developing, and the architecture of the individual buildings is sometimes exciting. There are great opportunities to create interesting public spaces out there, I just don’t see it happening at the moment.