Our very own, CEO and Founding Partner, Helle Søholt recently appeared at a TED talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In her presentation Helle stressed the potential of thinking about cities as solution engines for leading a healthier lifestyle instead of thinking about them as generators of health problems. Helle stated that the city can act as an arena for a healthier life – both physically and mentally – by building exercise routines into people’s daily lives, be it through walking, cycling or through the provision of meeting spaces. We invite you to listen to the full talk…
If you find yourself in Copenhagen these days, you might have noticed that people are behaving a little bit differently. It seems as if more people are smiling, holding their heads up a little higher, walking a little slower and just standing around – at corners, up against walls, coming up from the metro etc., all because they want to enjoy the first rays of spring sun. This of course raises numerous questions… Where are they standing? Do more women than men stop to rest? Are they walking more slowly? What factors in the built environment can make us stop and enjoy the sun and the city life?
At the end of May, the Danish publisher Bogværket will publish the book Bylivsstudier by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre. The book is filled with inspiration on how to go out in the city and study city life. In the fall, the book will be out in the US, published by Island Press and titled How to study public life. The book both presents tools on how to study the relationship between the built form and life, as well as a historic perspective on the field of city life studies.
This is what Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, Peter Newman writes about the book:
“For decades the Public Space Public Life Studies developed by Jan Gehl and his team in Copenhagen have been a great inspiration for professionals, academics and city planners in all parts of the world. I have experienced their work in several cities but have never known how they do it. Now all is revealed and their secret tools are available to everyone in “How to Study Public Life”. It’s just a matter now of getting out there and putting them to use.”
While we wait for the book to be released, we invite you to comment on how you have studied city life. Have you made any interesting observations; do you have references of interesting studies or reflections on different types of methods? For instance manual versus automatic; qualitative versus quantitative studies; Observations or interviews. We would love to know more about your experiences of studying public life!
Many Danish cities are currently redeveloping their libraries or building new ones. The library is no longer a house of books, but a framework for learning, for new as well as old knowledge – both in digital and traditional book formats. We have seen many examples recently of new, library building formats in Seattle, USA, in Haag in Holland as well as the Idea Stores in London to mention a few.
In Denmark, there are also discussions about the role of the library in the neighborhood, in the city and in society in general. How can the library work as a meeting place and enrich public life? How can libraries be more integrated into the city both in daily life as well as in the overall strategies? These were some of the questions that were debated at The Danish Library Association’s big cultural conference in Odense, Denmark’s third largest city with app. 170.000 inhabitants, on the 23rd April. Librarians, politicians and planners gathered and debated themes such as library design – interior as well as exterior, as well as how library related activities can take place in the city, and how new partnerships can bring about renewed synergies.
The library can be seen as a public space. It is one of the few non-commercial spaces in the city and also one of the few places with silence zones and no ringing mobile phones (more might come…). Then there is the democratic dimension, the libraries are where a mix of ages, income groups, young and old share the same place. The potential seems to exist for the libraries to play an even more vital and active role as public spaces. This was the conclusion at the conference in Odense, where one of the key strategies of the city, is to select a new location for a central library that would help Odense to transform from industrial city to a city that has a broader profile and that is rooted in knowledge, culture and education.
The libraries will definitely play a role as one of the few non-commercial public spaces in the future, but the role might vary from city to city, from neighborhood to neighborhood etc.
The Danish Library Association is an organisation which lobbies for libraries, in particular public libraries: Read more here: http://db.dk/
As part of our knowledge sharing we are always invited to bring new ideas or pop-up thoughts to the table at our ‘Thursday Lunch Meetings’. Recently Louise motivated reflections on reverse questions and how they could kick-start new projects. By coincidence I stumbled across an article on the collaboration between Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard and Snøhetta who challenged or maybe expanded the ways of how when building a house we aim to create a house that is good to live in. Instead they started a project of building B. Melgaard’s home by asking:” what about a house to die in?” This made me curious about asking:” how about an urban space to die in?”… Well, I’ll leave it at that and find my way back to knowledge sharing…
With a background in architectural engineering I feel the need to give the blog an injection in the form of engineered urban methodology – not to worry it will be a diet version…. for now. So why this urge? It has become more and more common to think of sustainability in different aspects. Certification systems underline the importance of this by weighting and giving points for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable actions. Last year the Danish Green Building Council decided to work with the German certification system DGNB – Urban Districts which through 45 criteria (and many more sub-criteria) tries to reach every corner of these 3 sustainability aspects. So an urban space to die in would be a hodgepodge of best practice innovative architectural engineered elements.
Some of the points are already widely implemented in urban design and others are pop-up thoughts:
1. Neighbourhood Technical Core
A local technical core which displays the current incoming amount of wind power. This display will raise the awareness of renewable energy sources and will have low energy consuming LEDs which will glow more intensely the more the wind blows and thereby will have an embedded educational effect. By having a local technical core the adjustment to transition to a new power system are easy to handle.
2. Wind Adjusting Screens
To increase to the perfect breeze in (too) hot summer days.
To calm the wind in the midseason, to extend the outdoor season.
3. Waste Management
Instead of individual waste containers, the trash is separated in each home and at almost un-noticeable neighbourhood waste bins, the trash is thrown into a waste system where the waste is shredded and compressed and transported by suction to a local waste centre.
4. Local Rainwater Management
Instead of overloading with rainwater it can be detained in basins for evaporation or seepage. It can be obtained by vegetation or after a natural filtration system is used in a recreational function such as a paddling pool.
5. Stormwater Management
To prevent overflowing streets and severe damage to buildings the public space will be lowered and serve as an emergency stormwater basin from where the water slowly seeps into the ground or evaporates.
6. Pontoon Bridge
When the public space is overflowing with storm water the pontoon will adjust with the water level and ensure safe crossing and dry feet.
7. Bioreactor Installations
Algae growing when exposed to sunlight – from this process heat can be harvested and the biomass can be extracted and transported to a biofuel production site.
8. Heated Pavement
Surplus heating from the surrounding buildings is lead into the pavement to prevent it from becoming dangerously icy during winter. It will remove the need to salt the streets which speeds up the deterioration of the streets and messes up ecology, your footwear, your dog’s paws and last but certainly not least, for a Copenhagen resident it completely ruins your bike!
9. Noise Reducing Pavement
To prevent the many adverse effects on human health by traffic noise in the city.
10. Wave Energy / Stepping Stones / Kayaking Docks
To harvest energy from the movement of waves and making these generators directly usable for citizens.
11. Tempered Street Furniture
By using thermal mass in street furniture they could be perfectly tempered.
12. Playground / Street Fitness/ Piezo-electric Pavement
By walking on the street or interacting with instruments on the playground (trampolines, swings) piezo-electric systems are activated and provide power to the street light.
13. Green Surfaces
The lung of the city, filtrating the air. Casts shadow during hot summer days. Local food production; community vegetable gardens/ beekeeping on rooftops – bees more easily process pollution than pesticides.
14. Light Reflective Elements
For narrow streets where sun and daylight haven’t been prioritised, highly reflective materials and/ or shapes will cast light down to the street.
15. Non-toxic materials
Keep away from materials which cause acidification of the ground.
The documentary, The Human Scale, has been selected for the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto and will be screened several times in May. If you happen to find yourself in Toronto, we invite you to go and see the film. Our own Culture & Communication Manager, Vannesa Ahuactzin, will be attending the screening on May 5th at 9 p.m. For tickets, locations and further information click on the link:
Project manager at Gehl Architects, Louise Vogel Kielgast, has spent the past 3 and a-half months in Buenos Aires. Aside from appreciating the very unique urban character that characterizes Buenos Aires one theme was recurrent in most conversations: seguridad – from discussions over the choice of neighborhood to live in (“Why have you chosen to live in this neighborhood (Palermo Soho) and not Recoleta or Puerto Madero?”) to choice of holiday destination (“Punta del Este is great because it’s safe”) to general discussions of the development of Buenos Aires (“the city is just not so safe anymore..”) to urban planning discussions (“before addressing anything else we need to think about security”). The issue of safety or security is not unique to Buenos Aires – rather it seems to be one of the most pressing issues to tackle in many cities around the world (and definitely in Latin America) and thus one to be addressed. But the many comments kept me puzzled. Is Buenos Aires really that unsafe or is it also people’s perceptions of insecurity that are on the rise? And what is the most appropriate response to this inseguridad?
Whether there’s a discrepancy between statistics on safety and people’s perceptions of security is debatable, but the important thing is that statistics as well as perceptions influence the way that the city evolves and the ways that people generally perceive and use the city. In recent years the number of street police has increased tremendously in Buenos Aires, but the issue of security also manifests itself in other ways. Many of the new apartment buildings that are being built these years are small gated communities with a fence around, or if that is not possible, they will at least have security personnel who oversee people leaving and entering. This type of development is taking place both when renewing older neighborhoods and when building new city areas on the outskirts of the city. Apparently people are not only one of people’s greatest joys but also one of people’s fears.
When fighting security in cities like Buenos Aires, these fears must be taken seriously, but there seems to be a risk of escalating fear and crime if this gated community trend continues. Could we perhaps not fight back these trends by stressing and reinforcing the joy side of being with other people? Areas like Palermo Viejo that are quiet and walkable yet extremely lively and full of people who enjoy the many attractive public spaces with cafés, shops, restaurants, markets, children playing etc. demonstrate that people do like meeting other people in the public space. But it seems like these types of urban environments are taken somewhat for granted, and perhaps this is a place to start? Perhaps we need to create more awareness of and nurture the urban qualities that these types of neighborhoods offer. This is a task that politicians and planners can’t handle alone; the awareness has to reach a broader public – reach all those people who spend time in the city every day, and who eventually have to use and take care of the public spaces.
Another Latin American city, Bogota, has successfully up-graded many of its public spaces, thus demonstrating the potential of public space to act as a social equalizer in the city. Improving streets for people to walk and public spaces for people to spend time in is not a luxury, but a prerequisite for people (of different social and cultural backgrounds) to meet and through these meetings possibly minimizing the growing fear between people.
The City of Buenos Aires is currently taking the first steps of implementing a comprehensive plan for Micro Centro, which aims at making this part of the city more pedestrian friendly. Along with a number of other initiatives that strive to improve the public spaces in the area this seems like a step in the right direction of avoiding both safety and sense of security to escalate.
Moving between places, a question emerges: what is unique to a place?
Light is cast by the sun onto a round, orbiting planet. Changes in latitude and atmosphere grossly determine local light conditions. The hazy golden afternoon light in Los Angeles is different than the grey blue morning light of Copenhagen. Light inspires mood, atmosphere (and pollution) reflects local patterns of inhabitation. It is continuous, cyclical, and easy to overlook. Comparing photographs, we can study how the light changes over the year or over the globe.
This short video samples the color and palette of light from a series of photos taken in March and April in Copenhagen. Photos are taken out of a west-facing window, of the whitewashed apartments across the street, which reflect eastern light. The dominant colors move from beige to blue as spring approaches.
The following video samples screen shots of several skype conversations peering into a living room in Los Angeles. The colors are much more rosy and warm.
Comparing the qualities of light in different locations and at different times of year is a way to distill the idea of a place into something we can talk about, or even experience remotely. What if a dark room in Copenhagen were filled with the light spectrums of late summer in Los Angeles? Would it help us to remember or imagine what it is like to physically be there? These short videos are a part of a test to approach how qualities of light affect our experience of place, and how we might codify these qualities to inform spatial decisions.
Gehl Architects went to Skellefteå in North Sweden and did a workshop with representatives from the municipality, politicians and local businesses. With this entusiastic group it was an exciting time, and we were also lucky to be met by beautiful winter weather. This combined with the people we met made us feel very welcome.
Impressively, Skellefteå is also a city of quite many cyclists, proving again that cycling definitely can be an all year round activity. Thank you Skellefteå for a beautiful time, looking forward to an exciting collaboration!
(Follow link to article regarding the open for all Gehl-lecture which was held by David Sim the evening before the workshop in Skellefteå. We were very excited it was so well-attended and it finished with an interesting round of questions/discussion.)
This week I have been a trainee student at Gehl Architects where I learned to work in Photoshop, I have been to lectures and worked with different assignments. Working with cities is interesting because I spent a lot of time in the city, without thinking about that people have decided how the city is build. Monday I learned how to find a solution based on different type of people´s point of view, where I had to “go inside their head” and answer questions for them.
This Tuesday I have been observing the traffic and the prioritization of pedestrians,c yclists and drivers at different locations in Copenhagen. For each location, I found and discussed the benefits and the cons. Wednesday I learned how to use Photoshop, and experimented with the different tools. Thursday I went to Blågårds Plads to count people crossing the square and to took a picture that indicated how people where crossing it.
I think that this week has been very interesting and it has been very fun to experience, the whole atmosphere at the office.
Gehl Architects has just recently started up a new project in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Working for both the Inter-American Development Bank and the City of Mar del Plata, the project will use observational analysis (Public Space Public Life Studies) as a basis for developing a series of temporary projects to be tested later this year. Moving into a new context accentuates the question of local uniqueness versus universal models. Partner, David Sim, was interviewed by the local newspaper in Mar del Plata about the challenge of working in new contexts. (read the full article here – in Spanish)
Mar del Plata wants to create a more livable city, but what this more specifically implies requires a local diagnosis. “When entering a new city we do not have fixed answers, but we have an idea of what questions to ask”, says David Sim. This idea of relevant questions to ask derives from our international experience having worked in many different contexts.
At the same time we often see a need for reminding people that we’re all humans. Traditions of using the street and the public spaces are sometimes lost, but they can be found again and given renewed meaning. This time Gehl Architects will be present for an extensive period studying and developing ideas for what a more livable Mar del Plata could be in the future. Project manager Ola Gustafsson will be spending 2,5 months in Mar del Plata carrying out surveys and preparing pilot projects in close cooperation with a local team of engaged city planners, architects and engineers, and in dialogue with local merchants, property owners and other stakeholders.