The process of developing cities for people can flourish in various ways. In Lublin, Poland, they have nominated 2014 to be “Year of Jan Gehl”, and we are curious to follow the initiatives and the outcome. Follow the blog “2014 Rok Jana Gehla w Lublinie” to keep up with initiatives.

In November 2013, Jan Gehl sat down with Jakub Zasina from the University of Lodz for a conversation on what determines a ‘Livable City’. Have a look right here.

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

A great update on the Lille Saint-Sauveur project…

The project is off to a great start after the public presentation on Thursday, November 28th, where David Sim, Creative Director and Partner at Gehl Architects was present.

Here is a chance to see some reactions from the public – children and adults – and further glimpses of the idea. (Click the photo to see the video).


On November 28th, Mayor Martine Aubry publicly announced a team led by Gehl Architects as the winners of an international competition for the ‘Saint-So’ neighbourhood of Lille, France. The team will have responsibility for the urban design of this new district, formerly a train yard. The 23hectare site will become a new neighbourhood of 2000 residences and will include shops, cultural and sports facilities. Our team was one of four shortlisted teams from 70 applicants, and we are honored to be chosen to stitch a new piece of fabric in this city that so critically connects Europe.

The team is comprised of our representative in France, urbaniste Claire Schorter, and in Lille architects Béal et Blankaert, Mageo, Artelia and tribu; and landscape architects Signes-Ouest.



Helle Søholt, CEO & Founding Partner of Gehl Architects, reflects on winning the international competition for the ‘Saint-So’ neighbourhood of Lille, France.


A piece of city

In September, when we were finishing our entry for the Lille – Saint Sauveur masterplan competition in France, I had a dream …

In this dream, I did not see shiny tall buildings and stand-alone architecture. I saw the new district from the air, quiet and at night. All the streets and spaces were beautifully illuminated illustrating a network of lively streets and spaces that continued into the city center and surrounding neighborhoods.

When you see our proposed development framework for the Lille – Saint-Sauveur site, you will note that it has small urban blocks that enable development at a human scale, combining big urban infrastructure and legible spaces with a fine grain urban form. So where is the big idea, some might ask …

What I have described above, is our “big idea”:
To build a piece of the city that connects to Lille – to build a piece of future Lille.

Our team is passionate about what we do.
Gehl Architects does not take a traditional building approach to urban development.
We believe in a knowledge driven process, shared intelligence and great team work.

We are grateful to win this competition. We believe the qualities and goals described in the project – a sustainable, livable and people oriented place, are a perfect match with what we can deliver as an organization.

The types of cities that work with us show great leadership and have a remarkably simple focus in common: They want their cities to be especially kind to people. They have come to realize that people are the key to success in cities today!

And they are ready to work in new ways through a new process.

I started Gehl Architects together with Professor Jan Gehl in 2000, and today we represent a new generation of urbanists and a great team with the ambition to change the traditional planning paradigm and build ‘Cities for People’.

We are already advisors to some of the greatest and most innovative municipalities around the world. Winning this project in Lille enables us to take a next step as an organization. We will now also manage the design development and implementation of these ideas in a lead position with Lille. A city which offers a unique location in central Europe and a great tradition of courageous leaders and great decision makers. Thank you for this opportunity and congratulations to the team!

The Idea

David Sim, Creative Director and Partner talks about the winning proposal.

“First of all just working in Lille was a very enjoyable experience in itself. Lille is a beautiful city with a fascinating historic core  – very much at the human scale – as well as being a dynamic city which has been at been at the forefront of urban innovation for the last couple of decades. Everyone has heard of Euralille and the infrastructural investments which have put Lille at the very heart of Europe – an hour from Paris, an hour from London and half an hour from Brussels.

The Saint Sauveur site is an exciting challenge. As so often with big pieces of railway infrastructure, the site divided the city and there was an opportunity to connect four very different parts of Lille to each other – we just had to work from the outside in and from the inside out, talking to each part of the surroundings in their own urban language and then bring each of these places and identities together into a great public space at the heart of the site for everyone to share.”  - David Sim.

These days we are burning the midnight oil in order to finalise an analytical report about the capital of Norway: Oslo. This particular report has been on its way for about a year, but the Oslo/Gehl relationship was established 26 years ago when Jan Gehl, in collaboration with Karin Bergdahl, made the first Gehl’ish-survey of Oslo for the Norwegian Institute of City Development (IN’BY). In the true spirit of the office, the 2013 report builds upon the same clear principles of observation, as were applied in 1987; there are pedestrian counts and well-documented observational studies of stationary activities from both a weekday (Tuesday) and a weekend (Saturday). The data-collection and comparative ability of the data is crucial. Yet, as the footman that has to type-in, organise and keep track of these numbers, I would like to register a personal note of observation: It seems that the complexity of city-analysis has increased more than six-fold from 1987 to 2013.


Graphics showing how the study area has expanded since 1987.

In 1987 when Jan Gehl and Karin Bergdahl collected data, they had – quite ingeniously – chosen 8 primary locations for their survey. We chose 55. They also limited themselves to span 1½ seasons. We chose 3. They registered pedestrians and stationary activities. We added age/gender registrations on top of that. You might be thinking that this is a great improvement of the survey. I think that it is an insane amount of numbers to collect; 9.425 rows of figures in excel to be exact. I counted them…thrice.

The reasons for this expansion of the survey area lies partly in the expansion of the city itself, but also largely in the changing attitudes towards city boundaries. Today, the old city centre of Oslo only has 900 inhabitants, compared to 8400 in Copenhagen and 3100 in Stockholm (source: Gehl internal data).  Therefore, the city centre is dependent on the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, from where it draws its life. Figuratively, the city centre can be seen as the heart of Oslo, and in order to figure out the well-being of this ‘organ’ it is necessary to check the flows through all the veins that feed into it – hence the expanded survey.

At Gehl Architects, we still rely largely on being in the field. The Oslo report has had almost 100 helpers on the streets to collect data from the 55 locations, on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout 3 seasons. Could we have digitalised the process? Yes and no. Because, although some counts could be digitalised, a computer is still not able to give us clues as to why the daily rhythms appear in the way that they do, on our data charts. When a count drops from 3000 pedestrians per hour at 3pm, to 100 pedestrians per hour at 4pm, the note from the observer stating that “A crazy rainfall left the streets bare” is essential to understanding the numbers. A digitised count would have left us to wonder about the dramatic change. A computer does not have the ability to register street-artists, kids playing, adults chatting, dogs being walked, gardens being tended, jugglers being cheered  by the shopping crowds or crows being fed by elderly ladies. Or any other wonderful, crazy and energetic activity that makes a city lively and lovely!

Once the data has been collected and organised it does create an amazing insight into the life of the city – throughout the days, the weeks and the seasons. The extensive survey is an endless goldmine to understanding the city’s rhythms. We need this understanding in order to deliver qualified recommendations for improving livability. Even if I have to go cross-eyed over 9.425 numbers for a couple of weeks.

Last week I attended the conference Think Space in Malmö. A very inspiriting day on the theme of “urban development in the inbetween” discussing participatory urban development, urban interventions, art-culture-social innovation as an agent for change. I heard some inspiring presentations and met with some interesting people.

Team Better Block

A Better Block project in Kansas City from 2012

A Better Block project in Kansas City from 2012

It started off with an energetic presentation by Jason Roberts who has a background in IT, music and arts and is the founder of team Better Block (based in Texas, US) and who works with artists and local communities on re-imagining and activating underused blocks and spaces. They work with instant actions framed as art projects, showing the potential of a place and that physical and cultural change is possible for the community and authorities. As an example they work with the locals to bring life into an abandoned block by making up a variety of new ground floor businesses, a café, flowershop etc. paint bicycle lanes, bring in or build street furniture, lend trees, etc. over a weekend leaving lasting impressions of possibilities. He’s been inspired by our work in NY amongst other things and has also learnt from our practice the power of data. The better block recipe as well as the data is shared openly and the concept is spreading around the globe. Likewise Betterblock is now also being hired by cities around the globe to do their thing. More info and TED talk – Betterblock


Another keynote was given on “Direct urbanism – the powers of ephemeral acts in public” by  Markus Bader from Raumlabor_Berlin. He shared some reflections on the city, planning and time and presented a few of Raumlabors projects.

The Kitchen Monument is a mobile sculpture which has two states of being.

The Kitchen Monument by Raumlabor is a mobile sculpture which has two states of being.

Amongst them the Kitchen Monument, an inflatable structure touring the world, in which they arrange dinner parties and other gatherings. Physically and socially interfering with a Community creating “social moments between people where things can happen”. He also introduced me to “the strategy of the Venetian bridge”, an idea of Jeroen Saris that states that when redeveloping an area one should leave a time gap of 5 years where you work to stimulate ideas, promote openness, find programmers and actors, test and act temporary before consolidating and determining on more long-term concepts.

Tempelhof and Fernsehturm in distance (photo: Andrew T Jones)

Tempelhof and Fernsehturm in distance (photo: Andrew T Jones)

He illustrated this by talking about their dynamic master plan for Tempelhof, old airport area, centrally located in Berlin, where Raumlabor has been working to make the space accessible and activating it in the time gap between airport use and master plan implementation. 
More info – Raumlabor_Berlin

Yes we camp! Marseille 2013

Another fun project presented was YES WE CAMP! Marseille 2013 presented by Eric Pringles from Belgium. As part of Marseille being the cultural capital this year, he initiated a burning man inspired artistic and ecological camping site situated on the outskirts of town by the sea. With volunteers, artists, visitors and locals he has created and managed an organic and experimental place to stay, build and exchange ideas lasting for 6 months (still evolving). Constructions and spaces include scaffold/pallet (0 waste) dormitories, platform tents, bars, kitchens, bbqs, shower Towers, Caravan village, sunbathing, sport and farming areas…. a very rich mixture of people, content and physical spaces. The camping has seen 15000 visitors and 10000 nights have been used. The project was largely funded by crowd funding. More info – Yes we camp!

Prototype festive Yes We Camp

Prototype festive Yes We Camp

Recht auf stadt, Hamburg

Right to the city is a Hamburg network of 50+ cultural and social initiatives and movements opposed to branding the city as a ‘Company’ and to gentrification. The network and projects are very diverse dealing with the development of the city, participation, gentrification, social and ecologic sustainability, speculation and public space but share some common goals on fx. promoting user driven projects, transparency, the right to be different, fight against exploding rents, reclaiming public space etc. More info – Recht auf Stadt

Gängeviertel is one Project within that context illustrating a participatory redevelopment of a block, from squatting to formal redevelopment in collaboration with the city.


Exciting initiatives are emerging in Russia. Last week, Henriette Vamberg was in Saint Petersburg in connection with the project ‘The City SAGA. Public Spaces in Transformation’ which aims to contribute to the development of smarter, accessible, greener and more attractive public spaces in the city.

The aim of the project is to provide the Municipal Council and the City’s Administration with knowledge about best-practice planning principles from the Nordic countries. Approximately 50 civil and municipal servants, along with relevant specialists from Saint Petersburg are participating in lectures and site visits of  various Nordic cities throughout 2013 and 2014.

The core Nordic and Russian partners include, Council of the Municipalities of Saint Petersburg, Information Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers, ICSER Leontif Center and Gehl Architects.

Gehl Architects will act as the key strategic partner for ‘The City SAGA. Public Spaces in Transformation’ project. The Gehl methodology and people-focused approach will serve as the basis for knowledge exchange among the network.

Henriette will be in Saint Petersburg on October 22 & 23 in connection with the “XI All-Russian Forum on Strategic Planning in the Regions and Cities of Russia”. Watch for her there!

To learn more read this interview with Henriette and see this video

To learn more about ‘The City SAGA. Public Spaces in Transformation’ project go here

Kultorvet, Copenhagen, Denmark

Kultorvet, Copenhagen, Denmark

Is the human future timeless? A compelling essay by our very own David Sim for the The Huffington Post in association with TEDxKalamata’s conference.

“If we want to invite people to live a better everyday life, it has to be attractive and comfortable to walk and safe to cross the street. We have to make the best of the climate we have, protecting from the prevailing winds and capturing the sunshine when it’s there. The spaces between the buildings, large or small have to invite for conviviality, appeal to all the senses and respect the human scale.”

To read more click here.

For the past two years Gehl Architects has led an exciting design and engagement process to re-design San Francisco’s most prominent and iconic street – Market Street.  The Better Market Street project aspires to create a new synergy between transportation and placemaking. The vision for the street is one that is both timeless and timely to ensure a flexible and dynamic framework that support a rapidly evolving urban culture and quality of life for all citizens.  By expanding the scope of the Better Market Street project to include Mission Street, the City’s more holistically conceived treatment of a new downtown district is emerging between the Market and Mission Street Corridors.  The approach is to consider both corridors simultaneously and to conceive of them working in sync as two complementary arteries of transport, city life, urban culture and civic society.

In the coming months, near-term projects such as Living Innovation Zones will stretch the definition of street and place as well as work and leisure to re-imagine what a 21st century street can be. If you are in the Bay Area you can contribute to this discussion by attending one of the public workshops on July 17th and 20th, or by submitting input and suggestions on the project website.



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