On Friday the 30th of August ‘the Wave’ opened in Copenhagen harbour designed by Klar and JDS Architects in colaboration. Critically for us, it has begun to enliven the Western side of the harbour in a way many never thought possible. Enough so, that anyone there around 8am on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday last week may have found a small group of Gehl staff swimming (incuding on one occasion John Bela of Park(ing) Day fame). We were also there on Saturday for a few shots in the sun. Even in Copenhagen, we can swim in the harbour in September if the invitation is right. Enjoy!



If you are in London this summer, take the chance to experience beautiful Regent Street without traffic! A Summer Streets event will take place every Sunday in July 2013 (7th, 14th, 21st, 28th) the street will be closed to traffic between 11am and 6pm on each of the pre-arranged dates.


Regent Street, north of Picadilly Circus.


Visualization of  a 'Summer Streets' event.

Visualization of a ‘Summer Streets’ event.

Seeing the city in a new light

There is a lot of interest surrounding the competitiveness of global cites, firstly there are few truly global cities and London is in among the top five.  Altering the way people use, or can use city streets, invites new experiences and interpretation of spaces. Our experience in other major international cities has shown that temporary interventions introduce people to architecture they never knew existed; they can look up without fear of being hit by a moving vehicle. Visitors to these spaces are often struck by the silence created when cars are not present, as well as by how the air immediately feels cleaner. The ability to walk between landmarks and neighborhoods opens up as wandering and getting lost become more pleasant and people are invited to linger on the streets. The power of place has been documented in a number of recent studies and is a contributing factor to economic performance. For example, a recent New York City Department of Transportation study found that retail sales increased by 172% after a parking triangle on Pearl Street in Brooklyn was converted into a pedestrian plaza (2012).

Regent Street – Popular but crowded

Regent Street in London is one of the most popular shopping destinations.  The Architecture of Regent Street and Waterloo Place – Built in the early 1800s, Regent Street is an example of early British town planning, and while the original buildings no longer exist, the street layout does. At certain times and due to its popularity Regent Street can be overcrowded, with more than 200,000 pedestrians walking there daily.  The recognised standard is that more than 33 persons/minute/metre on a pavement area is considered overcrowding that leads to restricted movement and poses a challenge to walking and crossing the street. Regent Street grossly exceeds this number. Monthly counts from New West End Company show numbers ranging up to just above 30,000 per hour. In addition, pavement width is often reduced by 50% due to interspersed pedestrian barriers, such as advertisements and bus shelters.

picture-3Reducing harmful emissions

The volume and nature of vehicular movements on Regent Street is detrimental to health and contributes to an environment with up to five times more Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions than current EU limits, most of which come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis. Yet this does not have to be the case, as traffic free days have demonstrated how quickly the air quality can improve.  Researchers at King’s College London have carried out two studies into the impact of traffic free days on air quality along Oxford Street and Regent Street. Pollution levels were recorded for periods prior to, during and following the traffic free days in fixed locations and carried out by pedestrians using mobile monitors. A range of analysis methods were used to quantify changes in concentrations resulting from the traffic ban, independent of other influences such as the weather and unrelated vehicle emissions.

Most of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions on Regent Street come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis.

Most of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions on Regent Street come from diesel powered vehicles, such as buses and taxis.

Summer Streets – a catalyst for change

Creating a pedestrian priority event on the street would help visitors and Londoners alike to enjoy and experience the fantastic opportunities on Regent Street. Gehl Architects have been involved with the process of facilitating. The Summer Streets 2013 initiative which consists of a series of temporary pilot projects. If used carefully, pilot projects are excellent catalysts for permanent change; both in the physical layout and perhaps more importantly, in peoples’ perception and experience of the city. We believe that one of the critical drivers is the need to create an environment which will invite people to come into the West End to explore the adjoining districts; areas such as Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Soho, Carnaby Street, Heddon Street, Market Place, Cavendish Square, Fitzrovia and St. James´and Regent’s Park. One of the aspirations of the Summer Streets project should be to provide more space for visitors and by doing so bring the Fruin* levels down to more acceptable levels and to reduce the harmful emissions levels.

Mayor Boris Johnson supports the initiative and describes Regent Street as the perfect destination to launch this type of project. Follow the link to read more:

*Fruin levels refer to the judging of crowding; 23-33 ppl/metre/min on a pavement is Fruin Level B, as seen in the diagram above. Numbers above that amount is considered overcrowded.


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Ministry of Housing and Urban Development 2012 China Habitat Environment Prize winner

“Chongqing Municipal City political commissar is given the award to…continue to do great results in the human living environment” (Google translate)

The Pilot project in Chongqing is a collaboration between Chongqing Municipal City, Chongqing Planning Institute, Energy Foundation and Gehl Architects.

The project aimed to preserve and improve the great pedestrian streets in China in order to strengthen the walkability and quality of life of the Chinese cities.

One of the greatest challenges the Chinese cities are faced with today, is the fact that roads, which are lacking the environmental, economic and social sustainable qualities of the fine grain street network, replaces the streets in the existing and new cities.


How do we invite people to spend time along city streets?  In what ways can design facilitate new forms of social interaction?  How can innovation provide clearly defined public benefits? How can design respond to the needs identified by the adjacent community? Can public space programming demonstrate emerging technologies that enhance or enable a rich visitor experience?

These are some of the questions the Exploratorium and Gehl Architects posed to Stanford d. school students in the design for science multidisciplinary course.  Given the limited time frame, the outcome was inspiring and fun.  Research work that the student engaged in onsite revealed the public’s interest and curiosity as many passersby engaged with props and art pieces planted on site by the students.  Two student projects can be seen here:

The Stanford students used prototypes and catalytic props to engage Market Street users to evaluate how willing people are to play, socialize and interact with other citizens and their city in new ways.

The Stanford students used prototypes and catalytic props to engage Market Street users to evaluate how willing people are to play, socialize and interact with other citizens and their city in new ways.

As with many meaningful processes, the ideas generated by these dedicated students, led us to more questions. Can the IDEO inspired methodology of ‘make it good for one specific type of user and you will make it good for many’ that is so brilliant to products, also be applied to urban design? What is at stake for designers when providing a public good like small public spaces`?

As part of our ongoing work as Design Lead for the Better Market Street project, Gehl developed a concept for activating street life, showcasing innovation, and catalyzing civic society. In collaboration with the Exploratorium, the Mayors Office of Civic Innovation and SF Planning department, this concept has evolved into Living Innovation Zones (LIZ). Living Innovation Zones designate parts of the city for the demonstration of innovative solutions that improve the physical realm of the city and promote quality of life.  As part of the idea generation process, we asked Stanford d. school students to define concepts and prototypes for the space.

Living Innovation Zones are an evolution of the many parklets (shown here along Valencia) that have popped up all over the city and have transformed parking spaces to meeting places.

Living Innovation Zones are an evolution of the many parklets (shown here along Valencia) that have popped up all over the city and have transformed parking spaces to meeting places.

The Exploratorium, a world renowned learning laboratory and prized San Francisco Institution brings unprecedented knowledge and experience with prototyping.  For more than forty years, The Exploratorium built creative, thought-provoking exhibits, tools, programs, and experiences that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning.  Always focused on solving problems through city and citizen collaboration, The SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) is working to create community-sourced solutions that improve the efficiency and accessibility of government. Gehl is thrilled to be collaborating with these partners.  Our role has been to establish the overall concept, as well as the spatial framework for community sourced solutions.  The City is working to make a policy framework to make it easier for citizens to engage in the design and programming of city streets and spaces.  Over the course of the summer and early fall the team will be working with prototypes that close gaps in the city

• Physical Gap – spatial, scale, underutilized space
• Social Gap – social distance between people, neighborhood, lingering, inclusivity
• Civic Gap – between citizen and decision maker – open ideas, crowd-funding, streamlined     permission process

Keep an eye out for ways to get involved – both from San Francisco and from around the world!

Gehl Architects hosted their very first, in-house, ‘Tools for Change’ masterclass on June 13th and 14th in their home-base of Copenhagen. Twenty-three international participants, from Bogota, Cape Town, Lausanne, Torino, Perth, Horsens, Edinburg, Glasgow, Barcelona, Brussels and Moscow joined the two-day, action packed course. Experiences included varied presentations, focused on capacity building, the human scale, quality criteria, round the world case studies, along with cycle tours, ‘The Human Scale’ film screening , dinner and many good discussions. Participants also got a sneak peek into the new Gehl book entitled ‘How to study public life?’ Thanks to the enthusiasm, intelligence and curiosity of the participants, the two days were a great inspiring success!

Gehl Architects is extremely passionate about the process of learning and sharing knowledge with like-minded, multi-disciplinary people from around the world. Exchanging experiences, tips, stories and solutions is crucial in these complex times.

Dialogue is key, as is growing the connectivity between people around the world. That is why we will be hosting the Gehl Masterclass every year in our home-base of Copenhagen! If you or someone you know is interested in attending our summer 2014 Gehl Masterclass, please send an email to with the tagline – Gehl Masterclass 2014. We will sign you up and send you further information over the coming months.

Masterclass participants on 'Urban Safari'

Walking along the harbour, sitting down with friends to eat pizza and drink beer, stealing kisses with your loved one as the breeze tickles your cheek, swimming and splashing in the salty water, aah, those activities which make summer harbor life in Copenhagen almost dreamy. But have you ever wondered how the harbor got to be this way? What it used to look like and what it will be in the future? And how the harbor connects to the city? Danish Architecture Center’s (DAC) current exhibition ‘ Havnen er Din’ or ‘Your Harbour’ reveals many of these curiosities. The most exciting part is that Gehl Architects collaborated closely with DAC to produce a short film which summarizes the ‘Bryghus Project – Connecting the waterfront to the city’ report which we produced. The exhibition is in its last days (closes on June 16) so get out, see it, and have a gelato along the way. Meanwhile, have a peek at our short film…

My niece is named Zooey. She is 4, and she loves to play.

Her name happens to derive from the Greek word for “life.” Actually, in Greek, there are two separate words for life, bios and zoë. The first indicates life in the sense of a single organism, which will eventually die. Zoë names the life that continues through the generations: the life force, the gene pool. This sort of life is associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry[i].

As illustrated in the film The Human Scale, many of us suffer from the conditions of modern urban life. Our actions are regulated by shame, passiveness, and loneliness. Our access to resources is more abundant than ever, and our yet our time is more parcelized and scarce than ever before. Deprived and stagnated, the ranks of living dead are growing. But there is hope…

The Copenhagen Play Festival occurred on the 25 and 26 of May in Frederiksberg, and presented a world of games in urban space. The format combined opportunities to try new board games, aleatory games, and even word games with lectures by professionals and intellectuals specializing in interactive design and game design.

Why should we play? The lecturers at the festival offered many possible answers:

+ Play is neurologically linked to innovation through the random poetry available from the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated ideas.[ii]

+ Play is often a shame-attacking exercise. Within the alternate reality of the game, it is safe to play the fool.

+ Play, especially in urban space, offers an invitation to transgress: to work productively between the rules of the game and the rules of society.

+ In summary, opportunities for ludic intervention (“playfulness”) disrupt and juxtapose layers of perception to facilitate (social) innovation. For example, many of the games in urban space considered at the festival used smart tech (smartphones or tablets) to cast a fictional layer over the built environment. Players interface with the screen, wherein an alternate, video game reality is portrayed, to (in one case) shoot at other players with smartphones within range. In this case, the “soft architecture” figured by wifi, radio, satellite, and cellular service disrupts or is at least juxtaposed with the “hard architecture” or the physical built environment. Stretching the metaphor, Isabel Fróes, a scholar of interaction design and a lecturer at ITU in Copenhagen, proposes that each time we participate in online social networking from a device while circulating in the city, we are, in a sense, joining a game.

Johan Huizinga in his book, Homo Ludens (1938), calls the playground a sort of sacred space of play. On a playground, we have every expectation that play will occur. In this way, it is less rich for social innovation because there are fewer opportunities for the disruption of our expectations of public space or of our layers of perception. In contrast, spontaneous games are a way of reminding people of their own agency.

Viktor Bedö presented the methodology of writing games that he and his colleagues use at their collective, Invisible Playground. This Berlin-based group makes site specific games at a variety of scales “from lightweight design workshops and playtesting events to elaborate transmedia productions.” To make site-specific games, the group conducts a site analysis of the spaces, forms, and flows on the site, and then derives a game from the existing conditions.

The explicit rules of the game must be boiled down to 3-4 rules, according to Bedö, if excited newcomers are expected to remember. The games range between fact and fiction: some games incorporate the built environment and the flows of people into the game (in one game, if your marker was kicked through the metro station by passing commuters, then you lose points. But it is within the rules of the game to ask passerbys to help you protect your marker from other players. In another case, the pedestrian signals for crosswalks were incorporated into the rules of the game.) Other games construct a parallel alternate reality that depends on the existence of the surrounding built environment but does not interact with it (such as the smartphone shooting game I described above, or in the most common cases of Live Action Role Play). In the games where the gap between game and reality is smallest, it becomes easier to read instances of affordance or empathetic design in the city, Bedö suggests. These could be a place, such as deep, hip height, south facing window sills that offers a seat in the sun, or a material choice, such as a wood finish on something anticipating human touch, like a handle, bench, or column. Where the world of the game coincides with the physical built environment, players notice these elements more than usual, Bedö argues.

How is it that people move from everyday life to play in an urban environment?

Sylvan Steenhuis, to whom I owe credit for the water gun video embedded above, has written a very clear, perceptive Master’s thesis on playfulness in public space. It is available to view online through the link below. The key diagram visualizes the transition from not participating to playing as a soft edge.

In the case of the water gun game, this edge was constructed socially, through the sudden availability of water guns, encouraging team members, and social energy on a hot day. On a playground, this edge is constructed physically with clear territorial edges for what does and does not pertain to the playground. In the case of public life spaces, it becomes possible to merge the built edge and the social edge through considering simple human dynamics, for example: people are attracted by people. A great restaurant not only serves great food but provides a bustling, interesting atmosphere. In creating places for people at GA, I find we use somewhat related or analogous techniques as is proposed by Steenhuis. Even the language overlaps: in both cases, as Helle Lis Søholt has said, “people respond to the invitations they receive.”

What possible benefit do spontaneous ludic interventions offer?

For the individual, a disruption of the public sphere can result in social innovation. One’s social network could increase, leading to a date, a new friend, childcare, or work. Revealing or superimposing layers of perception could result in new insights, or an expanded sense of the possible. Spontaneous interventions can become self-perpetuating, and transformative (like the Greek  zoë) . They can make our experience of urban space more lively.

For the city, increased liveliness and spontaneity in urban places stimulates exchange, which can invigorate local economic life. People attract more people, and a fun and lively city is likely to be a safer city, as Jane Jacobs proposes with the concept of “eyes on the street.” With more people on the street, more people are watching, and crime is less likely to occur unchecked.

Most of all, spontaneous games are a way of reminding people of their own agency. One can choose to accept an invitation to play, or reject it: one has choice. The opportunity to participate in urban games implicitly reminds people that they are participating in urban life, and that, in itself, is a choice. Engaging in play, or reflecting on why one has rejected play increases social capital, interconnectedness and interdependence. Improved social capital usually correlates with increased willingness to care for the commons, a caring which improves life for everyone. Care for the commons encourages nascent human tendencies, such as gratitude, generosity, empathy, compassion, responsibility, and self-respect. Engaging in spontaneous and purposeless play secures youthfulness and life.

A shooting game using wifi + smartphone.

A shooting game using wifi + smartphone.

 Future urban games festivals:
+ Metropolis Festival 2013 Copenhagen (August)

Here is a bibliography of urban play that you might enjoy reading:
+ Johan Huizinga Homo Ludens
+ Thomas S. Henricks Play reconsidered: sociological perspectives on human expression
+ Jacques Rancière The Emancipated Spectator
+ Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, Annika Waern, Pervasive Games Theory and Design: Experiences on the Boundary Between Life and Play

[i] Hyde, Lewis The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property quotes Carl Kerényi’s book on Dionysos [sic]

[ii]Kay Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist, author of Exuberance: The Passion for Life


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