Jan Gehl (born September 17, 1936) is a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen and whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist.
Gehl received a Masters of Architecture from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1960, and practiced architecture from 1960 to 1966. In 1966 he received a research grant from the institution for “studies of the form and use of public spaces,” and has since been a lecturer and professor there, and a Visiting Professor in Canada, the US, Mexico, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Norway. He is a founding partner of Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants.
As a “young architect working in the suburbs,” Gehl married a psychologist and “had many discussions about why the human side of architecture was not more carefully looked after by the architects, landscape architects, and planners… My wife and I set out to study the borderland between sociology, psychology, architecture, and planning.“
Gehl first published his influential Life Between Buildings in Danish in 1971, with the first English translation published in 1987. Gehl advocates a sensible, straightforward approach to improving urban form: systematically documenting urban spaces, making gradual incremental improvements, then documenting them again.
Gehl’s book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Copenhagen’s Strøget carfree zone, the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, is primarily the result of Gehl’s work. In fact, Gehl often uses the phrase “copenhagenize” to describe his vision of how urban centres can embrace bicycle culture and urban cycling.
Gehl participates in and advises many urban design and public projects around the world:
- In 2004 he carried out an important study in to the quality of the public realm in London, commissioned by Transport for London and supported City of Wakefield and the town of Castleford in developing and delivering better public spaces, as part of an initiative known as “The Castleford Project”.
- In 2007-08 he was hired by New York City‘s Department of Transportation to re-imagine New York City streets by introducing designs to improve life for pedestrians and cyclists. The DOT used Gehl’s work to “directly inform” the implementation of their new urban planning and design policies and projects.
- Gehl has been influential in Australasia as well, where he prepared Public Life studies for the city centres of Melbourne (1994 and 2004), Perth (1995 and 2009),Adelaide (2002), Sydney (2007)and Christchurch.
- In 2010 Gehl was hired by the Hobart City Council to prepare a design strategy for the city of Hobart, Tasmania.