Tag Archives: COPENHAGEN

-Most links in this post link to websites in Swedish-

In recent years, almost every medium- to large-scale urban project in Stockholm has been subject to such massive public and professional resistance that in the end, the projects have been abandoned. Naturally, this situation is not unique to Sweden or Stockholm, but it has reached a paralyzing level,  veritably hindering the city from development. Projects become bats in the upcoming elections. Most recently, the shadow government promised a more popularized version of the most prominent project at the moment, Slussen – the Lock – which connects the Gamla Stan and Södermalm.

The project’s background is basically this: Gamla Stan, located on a central island in Stockholm, is the oldest remaining part of medieval Stockholm. In the 1930’s, the old lock connecting Gamla Stan and Södermalm was replaced by a traffic solution primarily designed for cars. In many ways it was an ingenious solution, integrating underground, pedestrian, automobiles and buses in a complex shamrock-shaped traffic system designed by Tage William-Olsson.

Today, the traffic node of Slussen is in a state of disrepair. The concrete is deteriorating and for the last two decades, a solution has been sought to replace the existing design. The existing structure is generally deemed unsafe and beyond repair, and decreasing levels of traffic make the original design ineffective.

Design competitions were held, and when the dust cleared in 2004, Swedish architects Nyréns came out with the winning proposal. However, this was not without controversy, and in 2008, the urban planning department informed the architects that their vision was too boring, and the very next day they invited some of the world’s more famous architects – including Jean Nouvel, Sir Norman Foster and Bjarke Ingels – to come up with inspired designs for replacing the traffic node, using Nyrén’s traffic planning.

The city chose Foster and Partners’ proposal. However, the proposal was not very developed, and in subsequent design stages most of the more spectacular features, such as the meandering pedestrian bridges, were erased one by one until finally, the city ended up with a design that was pretty low-key and streamlined, but which included a large amount of commercial space meant to finance part of the development.

At this point, the chaos erupted. Suddenly, alternative solutions were being presented left and right. One such solution, independently presented by a number of architects, vows to make the traffic apparatus more or less invisible and buries the underground line. Invisible solutions are always a hit with the public, so the solution got a lot of media attention for a while. Yet another privately presented solution was entailed the conversion of the bridge to a kind of Ponte Vecchio, complete with replicas of traditional Stockholm buildings. Then Bengt Lindroos, one of the last grand old Swedish Modernist masters, surprised the city with his version – a less commercial development with more public spaces; perhaps the only professional alternative proposal I have seen so far.

Then the public demonstrations, petitions and marches started. Last week the shadow cabinet presented their version in an attempt to gain a few votes it being election year, after all. It was a slimmed down populist version with a very odd pyramid as the centerpiece. Now, yet another group demands that the possibility of constructing a replica of the original 1930’s design be investigated, or repairs to the original structure if possible. The debate rages on, and we will see what the results are when the smoke clears.

It is a large-scale public project, and as such, public debate is essential, but this has turned into a farce. Politicians have turned the project into a battlefield for the upcoming election, which, however irresponsible, is an effective way of winning votes. Some unfortunate developments in central Stockholm in the 1960’s still haunt every project proposed in the city’s central areas, and politicians have been extremely wary of public opinion ever since. This creates populism and compromises that are sometimes good and prudent in retrospect, and sometimes very unfortunate. As a result, the city has become extremely polarized socially – poor satellite suburbs surround a rich and exclusive urban center, fostering segregation of which Stockholm has only seen the beginning, one that will most likely haunt the city for many decades to come.

This is not the first time a project has been deadlocked by tumultuous dispute. A couple of years ago the city held an architectural competition for an addition to the Public Library, one of Sweden’s more famous buildings. A winner was chosen from the around 1200 proposals the city received from across the world, and then the public bashing started. The Swedish public seems to view architects as malefactors out to destroy the city that the inhabitants love and cherish. Here, as in the case of Slussen, individual architects emerged promoting their own designs, determined to sway public opinion, and thereby force the publicly sensitive politicians to consider their project. A number of cheap appeals to public opinion were launched.

Again, demonstrations, marches, petitions appeared overnight, all focusing on Heike Hanada, the German architect who had done nothing more than submit a proposal for a competition. She was ridiculed by the media, the architectural press, and a number of self-righteous and self-proclaimed experts screaming bloody murder. In the end, the politicians caved in to public opinion and scrapped the project on the pretext that it would have been more expensive than first estimated. The politicians neglected to notify Heike Hanada directly. It was an inappropriate project, but the fault was not Hanada’s but the organizers of the competition.

This current situation is unsustainable. The combination of opportunist politicians, opportunist architects,  lobby groups and an intoxicated public resistance to any change whatsoever has resulted in a polarized debate where projects are slowly killed step by step and development becomes next to impossible. The question is what can be done about it.

Sweden lacks an independent advisory board of architects, a common institution in most European countries. The UK has two separate independent advisory boards: English Heritage and CABE. English Heritage is mostly concerned with preserving the cultural heritage, while CABE focuses on quality in design. Both are more or less funded by the Department of Culture. These two bodies often disagree, but the main objective is always to find a solution that will make everybody as happy as possible, both now and in the future. The key is that these advisory boards are independent. Although they have a certain political agenda, they are not affiliated with any particular party and thus can make professional opinions based on their (sometimes) objective analysis. This system is not perfect, but it involves two independent professional bodies, which is as close as you come to an expert opinion.

Stockholm has a “Beauty Council” which is the local version of CABE. This is however financed by the council, and twelve of its thirteen members are appointed by the City Council, although only four are directly politically appointed. The members are artists, politicians and a mere two architects, which strikes me as odd, but probably resonates the Swedish lack of confidence in architects. Riksantikvarieämbetet (RAA) is the corresponding Swedish version of EH, but most of the practical responsibility rests on the (politically appointed) County Council.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with democracy and transparency in architecture. However, when every instance intended to provide professional and objective advice is politically appointed, we end up with the subjective and opportunist advice to subjective and opportunist politicians – an undesirable situation. The time perspective of politics is very different from the time perspective of architecture and urban design. Politics usually focus on shorter terms while architecture and urban design has to work for decades or centuries – and for that reason, an independent architectural and urban advisory board would be a good idea in Sweden. The nearest equivalent to this is the Swedish Architects’ Association. But they can hardly be said to be objective as they are the architects’ union, like the ARB in the UK.

The Swedish Architects’ Association did however recently bring forth a political program, proposing a coordinated architectural political policy. This is in many ways a great idea. An architectural policy has been accepted in many cities – Copenhagen is a nearby example. Copenhagen city council recently published “Arkitekturby København”, which is a set of architectural strategies and priorities explaining how the council wants Copenhagen to grow. One of the essential points of this document was that the council adopted it unanimously. This means that the document can lay out long-term architectural strategies that last longer than one four-year-term, and this is essential. Denmark also has the DAC, the Danish Architecture Centre, an organization funded primarily by the Ministry of Culture, which serves as a presumably objective body of professionals who comment on developments and inform the public through Copenhagen X, a public information project aimed at informing the public about new architecture.

In Sweden, the parties bicker and argue using architecture as bats; this is not very encouraging for developers who feel that the future of their project is insecure and dependent on the outcome of the next election. A unanimously adopted program however will provide the longevity that is needed for all parties, architects, developers, council and inhabitants. An political strategy for architecture which takes a long-term perspective and adopted independently of party lines would create a much more stable platform for the discussion of architecture, for architects, for politicians and for everybody else.

Neither the British nor the Danish systems is perfect, but at least there are organizations and strategies to deal with these situations, whereas Sweden is dominated by anarchy and rampant opportunism. One way or another: to get out of the current conundrum, Stockholm needs to develop a long-term architectural perspective.

This can be achieved by implementing a political strategy for architecture, which needs to be adopted by a broad majority in City Hall so that it remains valid after the next election. In addition to this, I think it would be an excellent idea to create a politically independent body of professionals that can review or comment on projects from a reasonably objective perspective with a long-term focus. In the proud Swedish traditions of self-proclaimed self-righteous know-it-alls, I guess I will just have to go ahead and form it myself.


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.


This exhibition has been going on for a while, but I haven’t had a chance to visit it until this summer. In case somebody missed it, Louisiana is an art museum outside Copenhagen by the sea with a wonderful permanent collection of modern art, and great temporary exhibitions. Currently, the exhibition “Green architecture for the future” is part two in a series of four on “The frontiers of architecture”.

The exhibition is divided in three different parts, The City, Climate & Comfort and Metabolism. The first part, The City, deals, like the Venice Biennale, and the Future Cities exhibition in the Barbican in the same year, with the unsustainable way our cities grow. Cities are the largest and fastest growing organisms on the planet, and the same statistics as in the other exhibitions illustrate the enormous scale of the challenge. The projects displayed range from the realistic to the impossible, via the highly improbable that are actually in construction.

Perhaps the most mundane, yet realistic projects are Ken Yeang’s skyscrapers, based on “ecomimesis”, skyscrapers for tropical climate that regulate their own temperature and imitates nature as much as possible. Yeang is also perhaps one of the pioneers on the subject of green architecture and has been following the trail since the eighties at least.

Another interesting project is the urban acupuncture projects by Spanish architects, Ecosistema Urbano, The Eco-boulevard, in Madrid, a project that tries to address the sustainability of the city on a social level as well as on a green level, and creating symbiotic effects that result in very interesting upgraded public spaces.

Other projects in this section include Foster’s “Masdar City” project in Abu Dhabi, in a display that more or less looks and feels like a real estate agent’s promotional material, MVRDV’s “Paris Plus”, plans on the future of greater Paris on an Haussmannian scale, and an interesting project by COBE on the future of Nordhavnen in Copenhagen.

Personally I was very fond of Lacaton Vassal’s project of updating the Paris suburb, which is not only realistic, but could have a great impact without rebuilding the city from the ground up, some glazed walls will be enough. This is another project with a social agenda as well as a green one.

The second part, Climate and Comfort, explores the climate within the building and how architecture and energy production can work together and enhance each other, and the aesthetics produced from this union. Sun and wind power incorporated in an early stage of the project rather than as an add on afterwards. The projects displayed are typically prototypical in some way, but on a large scale. However, in my opinion a few more utopian projects on this level might have explored the ideas further.

The third section, Metabolism, is focussing on how the materials of architecture can be tuned to work with the environment rather than against it. One theoretical approach given great attention, and rightly so, is the “Cradle to Cradle” design philosophy, conceived by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. This approach is based on considering the entire life cycle of every component of any product, including architecture, it should all be possible to recycle or reuse every component in some way. This involves simplifying products by using fewer materials and chemicals in the production in order to simplify the eventual recycling of the product. One architectural project here is a skyscraper by McDonough, that should function as a tree with inputs of light and water and produce oxygen and energy while being a home to its residents.

I’d recommend this exhibition, making legible exhibitions on architecture is very difficult, but the result in this case is very clear and comprehensible. The exhibition is on until October 4.