In early February, Jan Gehl and I went to Washington DC and New York City to present How to Study Public Life and engage in a conversation and debate about how to create cities for people. It was evident from our varying types of public engagements that there is a sense of urgency to create cities for people in the US. There is also the need to acquire simple tools that enable politicians, planners and others engaged in making livable cities a reality – not only a reality for the few or those living downtown – but for all in the city centers as well as in the boroughs and suburbs.

In How to Study Public Life, we outline the field of ‘public life studies’– with many representatives from the US, such as Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte, Peter Bosselmann. This story has not been written before, and we have often been puzzled by how few people work within this field. The weeklong visit underlined many engaging conversations,  the need to address climate issues, questions of equity, health issues, livability, an aging population and many other challenges where the urban – the cities – are key to finding solutions.

It is not only ‘cities’ which see that they have to work with the issues, foundations, developers, NGO’s and many others are also engaged in solving these complex issues which are in  desperate need of intelligent solutions. A part of the answers could be found by asking more qualified questions and learning more about what it is that actually works and doesn’t work in cities – not only in terms of function and intention, but on a daily basis, to bring quality into people’s lives and address the big challenges in society.

From complex to simple

In the 1960’s, Jane Jacobs raised fundamental questions about what kind of cities we want, there seems to be an urge to go from the complex to the simpler. The field of public life studies started with epicenters in Berkeley, California, New York City and Copenhagen, to systematize knowledge on the interaction between form and life and ask basic questions about who, when, where, etc. The tools are more complex today, with more possibilities/techniques, but there is at the same time a demand for the simpler tool to gather what can be really complex: life in cities.

How to Study Public Life is a book that presents tools and stories which are meant to inspire people to look at and experience the city themselves, not only in quantitative ways, but to really understand the essence of the living city. What works, what does not? What kind of city do we want? If the answer is a livable city for everybody, we should go out and document if ‘everybody’ is already there, or who is missing? Children? The elderly? How about activities on a Tuesday morning, a Sunday afternoon, a dark night? And then use the knowledge we already have as well as new knowledge on these topics so it does not just become a series of hollow visions, words on paper, ideal plans with renderings of a varied life in new neighborhoods and then a deserted reality when realized.

We need to pose the right questions

Today, we are gathering more and more data and will only get even more in the future. But then the big question becomes: And then what? What do we do with the data? And in order to pose the right questions to know what data to look for and to know what answers to look for, we need an understanding of how life works.

Cities strive to be attractive, competitive, to do-good for the climate, to be safer, more sustainable, accommodate an aging population and many more challenges, but it is quite rare that we actually learn from what we build and what has already been built. It is not a matter of doing it perfectly, but to make cities better for people based on knowledge in the cross disciplinary field of public life studies which  deals with people’s behavior, the built environment and how we can make cities better for people to supplement other more technical evaluations and input.

Winter City - Open Air Neightborhood

Winter City – Open Air Neighborhood

Can the darkness and cold be a potential to create activities in the city during winter time? Often these conditions have been viewed as obstacles for activities, but a new open competition and development project focus on the winter city’s potential for activities in the public space.

Gehl Architects is a part of the jury in the Winter City competition, which is running for the next 29 days on Innosite – a platform for open innovation projects supported by Realdania and managed by the Danish Architecture Centre.

Copenhagen based Open Air Neighborhood are heading the project which also counts producers of urban inventory, a lighting firm, the Copenhagen winter festival FROST, as well as the Danish Technical University. The aim is to gain new knowledge on the conditions for activities in winter time and develop new prototypes of urban furniture to enable new forms of events and other activities.

If you have ideas for winter activities, visit Winter City at Innosite, where you can also comment on other’s ideas for the Winter City.

The Human Scale DVD

The release of the box-set of ‘The Human Scale’ will be celebrated this Thursday December 12th at DAC (Danish Architecture Center) in Copenhagen, starting from 16.00.

Everybody is welcome to the event, where Andreas Dalsgaard, film director, and Gehl Architects team members – Helle Søholt, Camilla van Deurs and Kristian Villadsen – will participate in a ‘conversation session’ on the challenges that Scandinavia is currently facing.

We hope to see you there!

For details about the event, go here


Last week Gehl Architects once again visited China to follow up on new and old projects together with our local partner the China Sustainable Cities Program at The Energy Foundation.

The visit offered great discussions on how to develop a guideline for the harbor in Shanghai, as well as workshops on our non-motorized mobility project in Changning and the opportunity to further develop the pedestrian network in Chongqing with a new Public Space Plan covering 3 km2 in the hearth of the city.

Capacity was built on both sides of the table and hopefully it will result in more people oriented projects in the Chinese cities.


This is a celebratory year for Gehl Architects!

On June 29th we launched our ‘Life Between Buildings’ exhibit as part of Louisiana’s ‘New Nordic Architecture’ exhibition. On August 27th we will launch ‘Life Between Buildings’ at the Venice Biennale.

A documentary film, ‘The Human Scale’, inspired by the work of Gehl Architects will premiere as part of ‘Life Between Buildings’ at the Biennale.

Join us for screenings of ‘The Human Scale’ on August 27th at 13.00 and August 28th
at 14.00 in Venice.

Looking forward to celebrating with you!

Download invite

Life Between Buildings’ at Louisiana from 29.06.12 to 21.10.12
’Life Between Buildings’ at Venice Biennale from 29.08.12 to 25.11.12

Nearly 500 San Franciscans engaged in town hall style workshops and webinars (online presentations and question/answer sessions) for the Better Market Street Project in San Francisco.  Gehl Architects lead a multi-disciplinary team that is working together with four different SF City agencies to re-envision San Francisco’s most important and iconic street.  Jeff Risom and Louise Grassov from Gehl Architects led a series of presentations and dialogue sessions with a diverse and engaged group of local citizens, gathering their input and feedback to the early thematic design concepts for the street.

Learn more about the project and see the material presented here

Read about the project on SF Streets Blog

Thirty people from the office went to the opening and saw the exhibit for the first time together

My first book Life Between Buildings was published 41 years ago.  Yet today in 2012 the book, and people oriented planning principles embodied in it continues to be much in demand.  I’m delighted and humbled by the staying power of these planning principles which is most recently exemplified by the great international interest in my latest book Cities for People. Already by 2012 this book will be published in 10 languages and a number of new versions are lined up for 2013.

Yet despite this praise and continued interest in the people oriented planning principles, places, districts and entire cities continue to be developed without any reference to principles along these lines.  This is not an issue of negligence, but of neglect. For over the past 50 years, none of those entrusted with building cities – neither architects, planners nor engineers – have been trained to focus  on looking after the needs of people.  The growing interest in my work from numerous professions and disciplines attests to the fact that this is thankfully changing.  There appears to be a genuine and powerful trend of politicians, technocrats and citizens alike beginning to demand that Cities become more liveable, safer,  healthier, and indeed more sustainable.

It is a great joy for me to see these timeless principles for caring for the life in the cities presented in a new format (animated film) and in a new context joining several Scandinavian colleagues at the New Nordic Architecture Exhibit at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, North of Copenhagen.  The principles illustrated at Louisiana are very much the same today as they were many years ago. People are still people.

The film is in-the-round and divided into three sections, life, mobility and scale

It is equally a joy for me to see Gehl Architects continue to evolve these guiding core values and principles to many different types of projects and scales of intervention.  Working with partners around the world, this young, energetic and stubbornly optimistic team work to tailor and contextualize design, planning and research that builds upon the foundation established during the many years of research and dialogues.  This team is actively engaging in dialogue around the world with colleagues, clients and collaborators to add layers of meaning and new possibilities for application of these core values.  In doing so, Gehl Architects, as the other design practices featured in the Loisianna exhibit, continue to build upon a wider Nordic tradition for architecture and design that is rooted in a fundamental care and appreciation for the human being.

As we progress through the 21st century, I’m confident that the continued dedication of a new generation of city makers – from economists to social scientists to architects to business owners and politicians – that care for the city from a human centered perspective of the Nordic tradition will ensure that the cities  of tomorrow will be much better for people than the cities of today.

Kropotkinskaya metro station, Moscow

We are very excited to have kicked off projects in Moscow this summer with the launch of Cities for People, New City Spaces and Life Between Buildings in Russian, published this spring by PSF Krost Ltd. The occasion was marked with a reception held by the Danish Ambassador attended by Minister of Environment Anton Kulbachevskiy  and Jan Gehl.  We have been appointed by the Mayor of Moscow to complete a Public Space Public Life study of the city centre and during the summer we will be working with local students to gather a wide net of data from across the city, the first of its kind in Moscow. The project is led by Ola Gustafsson, Solvejg Reigstad and Henriette Vamberg and they will be joined by Jan Gehl in mid-September who will be speaking at the University of Moscow in a series of events exact dates of which we will add here as they come through. The study commenced in May and will be concluded in December 2012. We look forward to a concentrated and meaningful engagement with the city and its citizens over the coming months and will be updating on news and thoughts on the city here soon. Moscow here we come!

Jeff Risom

Here at Gehl we’re very excited that Jeff, our head of Institute within the office has been recognised as a rising talent in the Berlingske Business talent 100 Denmark 2012. Of course we have known he is a rising star for a long time, but it’s wonderful that others are also excited by his talent. Modest by nature and with little information about Jeff’s work specifically out there (pointed out yesterday by Rasmus Brønnum) click here for english we wanted to mark the occasion with a very quick look at some of Jeff’s recent work.

Jeff has been a key innovator on many projects here in the office; advising the NYC Department Of Transport  on the Broadway project; visioning the future with Our Cities Ourselves and working on Market Street in San Francisco. A prolific speaker so far this year he has managed to squeeze in speaking at the Nordic Green buildings conference in Oslo and presented a provocative look at the processes of awarding environmental standards and green building credentials.  It encouraged all of us to go beyond ambitions of neutrality towards regenerative design. In March Jeff presented a paper in Dehli about integrating mobility and public life and the kind of urbanism that this requires. He brought lessons learned from New York to a study of Chennai, India and the paper will be published later in the year. Jeff is a guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, The Royal Academy of Fine Art in Copenhagen, and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad and is a Guest Practitioner in the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics.

As a positive thinker and innovator Jeff is always pushing forward people-first design principles across fields that deal with the subject of the city, changing minds and inspiring change. Congratulations on this recognition from your colleagues at Gehl!


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