Sustainable Cities™

Copenhagen: Life at the harbour

If all goes according to plan, Copenhagen's future district of Nordholmene at Nordhavn will extend the limits of the city and fill its old harbour market town with life. On an intense Sunday in May 2009, Sustainable Cities™ spoke to Dan Stubbergaard, the co-founder of the architecture firm COBE, and architect Mads Birgens about the development plans for the area.

Den kommende bydel Nordholmene, venligst udlånt af COBE

A rare chance to develop a city district

It is not every day a relatively young architect gets the opportunity to develop an entire new district covering an area of two to three hundred hectares in a capital city. But the city of Copenhagen has spoken and COBE is the winner of the 2008 design competition held for the development of the City and Harbour area. The competition guidelines called for all of the best and most obvious: access to the ocean and the city, the right to live as you please in one of many mixed housing types, a variety of facilities to accommodate the young, the old, singles and families, ... and, of course, a design that takes responsibility for the climate.

Harbour and ocean a cultural heritage

The location of Nordhavn is unique in that the area has traditionally acted as a mediator between the historic city center and the city border of the ocean. This concept of the mediator is one of the defining factors evident in the winning design of COBE architects, who worked in collaboration with SLETH and Ramboll to produce their winning submission. The architects have organised the development area into small islets and town entities, creating a hierarchy of wide channels and separating the town islets with slim channels. In this sense, there is a gradual transition from dense city to the vast open sea and the concept of the mediator is preserved.  Of course, it is imperative that these channels do not create an area that resembles Amsterdam or Venice, but one that is uniquely Copenhagen!

"If you study a map of Copenhagen, it is obvious that the Sound is the city's heritage, and trade and prosperity occurred in the heart of the city around Slotsholmen, which we all love", says Dan Stubbergaard, who himself grew up near the ocean in Dragoer.

Founder Dan Stubbergaard and Mads Birgens of COBE, Photo by Kim Wendt

Nordhavn - raw, cool and angular

Unlike many areas of the world at this time and age, Nordhavn is characterized by very wide harbour-basins. When the harbour is not filled with ships, the landscape and the ocean are sucked into your view and you get a spatial experience of that often includes colossal shipping warehouses and cranes as well as a the vastness of the great open sea.

Of course, the harbour is also experienced on a smaller level and this often results in a contrast of scale. For example, you find a tiny shed next to your gigantic shipping crane. Because of the wonder that this contrast of scale generates, COBE has decided to preserve the open views as well as many of the fascinating gargantuan building structures.  COBE has stated that they might keep a building because it can be worked with (as in it can be easily renovated or built on top of) but it will mainly be selected to preserve history and life in the area. "It must not become too polished. It must still be raw, cool and angular."

"Islands Brygge harbour park is a great city space. They [COBE] have preserved the rawness and the history of the harbour by turning a ship upside down and creating useful space under it. My grandchildren's generation will, in 50 years from now, probably not be familiar with an industrial harbour. Building structures provides us with important stories. We need to select them, preserve them and use them in future city development", says Dan Stubbergaard enthusiastically.

To ensure that many of the unique traits of Nordhavn are preserved, COBE has developed a series of minor restrictions and dogmas. The idea is to ensure that experiences of the flourishing old tub harbour, the cranes, the silo, the industrial buildings and the railway tracks can still be felt 20 years from now.

In addition to the preservation of a historic feeling and a contrast of scale, keeping old building structures can have other advantages: "Old buildings push the structural grid and make it less rigid. And a lot of things are given to us completely free. We gain another organization of space and a surprising set of city spaces, which we do not have to design from scratch or reinvent. Our designs become far less predictable than if we were working with a blank slate", says Mads Birgens and, with a smile, he adds, "Buildings create atmosphere, urban life and social value: clear advantages that this development will have over other new areas like Tuborg Nord, Havnestaden and Sluseholmen."

Three phases of development, Courtesy of COBE

Diversity like Christianshavn

For Dan Stubbergaard the small district of Christianshavn is the "essence" of Copenhagen, and the yardstick by which Nordholmene should be assessed: "This is where we meet the celebrities, the Greenlanders at the square, the students, the hippies of Christiania, the old core citizens of Christianshavn, and the elderly in the town housing toward the moat. This is where you are confronted with your neighbour.
People come to Christianshavn for a very specific kind of atmosphere. They don't want to live in isolation and they want to contribute to one of the most diverse areas of Copenhagen. We must understand what the life style of Copenhagen is and brand it.  Understand the way we live and the way we live together - it is our culture."

Mixed functions and living accommodation

The core function and program of the development consists of mixed-use residential buildings, business areas and cultural buildings. The idea is to create an environment that is as varied as possible with space for singles, families of four, families of different marriages, young adults, the elderly and children. Furthermore, there should be mixed accommodations, varied forms of communal living, rented houses, housing cooperatives, private housing, home-office buildings and large open lofts. There will also be available space for those who wish to purchase a piece of land and build their own house. "And just imagine if we could include non-detached town houses into the district as well. It would be fantastic to have all these types of living accommodations represented in the district," Mads Birgens says and glows.

And, will these two architectural masterminds move to Nordholmene once it is complete?
"Absolutely! I would really like to live out there", replies Dan Stubbergaard.
"Yes, ...if it turns out well", says a timid Mads Birgens, "especially on the first or the last islet."

Sustainability at Nordholmene

COBE has presented a number of interesting methods of incorporating sustainability into Copenhagen's new city district. For one, COBE had originally intended for Nordholmene to be completely self-sufficient in terms of energy. However, as the partnership with Ramboll progressed, it became apparent that Copenhagen did not need a development that just takes care of its own energy use. Accordingly, Nordholmene will be linked up to the city's existing and efficient district heating and electrical systems and, through these systems, it will supply the rest of capital with alternative energy from wind and geothermal sources. The latter is a particularly abundant resource that is easy accessible under the islets and, in this sense, the city district will not be C02 neutral but C02 negative. It seems that this is a truly brilliant decision that will hopefully enable the entirety of Copenhagen to become C02 neutral over time.

In addition to the production of energy from renewable sources, Energy consumption cuts are crucial to the COBE's design.  All housing in the area will be built with the goal of low energy consumption and car transportation will be undermined by more sustainable means that ensure less fuel consumption. To accomplish this, there are plans to put in a new metro stop that will take residents to the city centre in 10 minutes and would require a maximum walking time of 5 minutes from any of the islets.

Traffic systems will give priority to "soft" road users and the road system is designed to be shared between many different means of transport.  High speed bike lanes will be everywhere in the neighbourhood and will make biking a more attractive option, which should also improve the health of the residents. The sea will be diffused throughout the development, which should help regulate the temperature and will provide the existing sailing and kayaking clubs with several channels by which to reach the ocean.  Additionally, for recreational purposes, a geothermal bath is planned at the very farthest islet.

To ensure that the area has a bit of the buzz of urban life, a pedestrian market street is also included, which will be located along a soon-to-be continuation of the street Århusgade in Østerbro on the first islet. In general, the district is laid out so that most of this urban buzz occurs close to the city center, and the degree of bucolic nature increases as one moves to islets that are further out from the main coast.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014