Prize winners receiving awards

Prize winners receiving awards

On Thursday, May 30th, Gehl Architects received Scandinavia’s largest architecture prize, ‘Nykredit Architecture Prize’, at an awards ceremony by the Copenhagen harbor. In conjunction, Effekt received the motivation prize. Both prizes were presented by the Danish Minister of Culture, Marianne Jelved. The ceremony consisted of a series of musical numbers, complimented by moving speeches which centered on the theme of people first design. Helle Søholt, Founding Partner and CEO of Gehl Architects, told the story of planning for people from a Gehl perspective. The prize marked the recognition that a paradigm shift is occurring within planning: we are moving from an aesthetic, structural focus to a more people oriented focus. It is no longer just about the plan, but also about the way the plan will affect people’s everyday life. It is about processes, about a shift in the way we debate architecture – also in the general public – where architecture is much more than about architectural objects. In his speech, Boris Brorman Jensen, chairman of the prize committee, talked about the reintroduction of civic pride. The prize ceremony marked a day where you couldn’t help feeling proud of the work that everybody at the Gehl office does on a daily basis, and of the work of many other collaborators and partners who are working to make cities more livable for people all over the world. Thank you to Nykredit, our clients and collaborators, family, friends, and the many others who inspire us to constantly push the boundaries of attaining a better quality of life for people.

A few weeks ago, David and I traveled to Canada to give two masterclasses with focus on ‘walkability’ to a group of professionals first from Quebec City and second from Montreal. We were invited by the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre, a fabulous collaborative partner. In both cities, we found participants hungry for knowledge, eager to learn and on a quest to increase the quality of life in their cities.

After completing a whirlwind week, we asked Devon Willis from the Urban Ecology Centre to write a blog post about our collaboration. We were curious to know how the group could take the week-long knowledge forward…

Montreal participants testing quality criteria

Montreal participants testing quality criteria

Vannesa Ahuactzin and David Sim from Gehl Architects joined the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre in the Canadian province of Québec for one week to teach, inspire and exchange with a group of local professionals. Participants left refreshed and asking when David and Vannesa would return.  Here are a few ideas and experiences that resonated with the Québécois participants:

Back to basics

David reminded participants to look at the city as people first and planners later. Emphasizing that we are first and foremost hunter-gatherers and that we seek comfort, protection, pleasure and social interactions from our surroundings, he proposed using 12 quality criteria based in the senses to analyse the public realm.

Copenhagen has not always been a walker’s paradise

Copenhagen did not always have an extensive network of pedestrian streets, or bicycle paths. This happened over time. The same is true for Melbourne where the number of curbside cafés increased exponentially between 1993 and 2004. Given the right leadership, cities across Québec can be transformed as well.

But, change can happen (virtually) overnight

Who said Rome wasn’t built in a day? David made it clear that while change does take time; transformative change can happen over short periods of time and can be temporary and reversed if the public so desires (usually, he said, they don’t). The inexpensive, quick and dramatic changes made to Time Square powerfully illustrate this point.

Climate doesn’t have to be a barrier

While the general feeling is that Copenhagen winters are not quite as cold or snowy as Québec winters, it was inspiring to see the public realm used year-round in Copenhagen. Montréal and Québec have already started to move towards an active public realm in the colder months with winter festivals such as Montréal en lumière, Carnaval de Québec and Igloofest.

Economic arguments

Cars are not made in Australia, nor are they made in Québec. Would it not be better that residents spend their income in local stores, cafés and restaurants rather than on a second (or even a primary) car? This concept of micro-capitalism resonated with the Québec audience.

Count what you care about

David reminded the engineers and planners in the room that if we want urban design to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians we need to know how many there are and where they are walking and cycling. A plus: these numbers are taken seriously by politicians who see them as potential voters.

But, how?

A question many participants were left asking was how? How can we, in Montréal and Québec, and more generally province-wide and Canada-wide, convince our decisions-makers to move forward with urban design projects that prioritize active transportation and public spaces?

One example is that the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre has been working with local communities in Montréal at the neighbourhood level for years to create plans for green, active and healthy neighbourhoods. This project has recently grown and will expand to twelve neighbourhoods nationwide over the next 4 years (4 in Toronto, 4 in Calgary and 4 in Québec).

While the how? is an ongoing process, the professionals who participated in the week’s events left inspired and equipped with new examples and concepts as well as a new means of communicating these ideas to a larger public.

Merci et à bientôt,

Devon Paige Willis

Urban Planning Intern, Montréal Urban Ecology Center.

Montreal team in workshop mode

Montreal team in workshop mode

This week we go short and sweet for the Friday Fun.

Watch this amazing TED Talk by David Byrne, on the connection between architecture and how music has evolved through time.

And for those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of reading David Byrne’s book; Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it.

from sunny Copenhagen with smiles

Gehl Architects' UN Global Compact report

The Gehl Architects team has just completed their second Communication on Progress (COP) for the UN Global Compact initiative. Launched in July 2000, the United Nations (UN) Global Compact is both a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.

We continue to support this global network, and to strive for better and more comprehensive implementation of the UN Global Compact principles. These principles are relevant for all businesses, whether you are a small local company or a large, multi-national corporation. We can all do our bit for promoting actions that propel our cities forward in a sustainable fashion, rather than depleting our resources at the expense of others. Gehl Architects believes that a broad dialogue and open communication about the issues is paramount and we hope to continue to engage with others that have a keen interest in building cities for people.

Read our COP here:

UN Global Compact 2013

In this radio interview for Calgary Radio, Jeff Risom stresses the importance of providing people with freedom of choices when it comes to mobility. His focus is on Red Deer, Alberta in Canada, a city with an abundance of space and the possibility for everyone’s mobility needs to be considered equally. Mobility is not a question of us versus them – motorists versus cyclists or pedestrians – but of offering everyone the option of a comfortable and safe journey. Listen to the full radio interview hereScroll to the bottom of the linked page to play the broadcast.

COLLAGE_Trails v2 after

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…

Pallet Pavillion

Since we first met Coralie and Ryan from Gapfiller in Christchurch in May 2011 we’ve watched them go from strength to strength. They were prominently featured in our film, and we are thoroughly impressed with the way in which they have gone about transforming many empty sites left by the earthquake into unique, creative, lively, community places. They are now in need of some help maintaining their biggest project to date – The Pallet Pavillion. See the message from Coralie below. We’ll be supporting them, and we hope you can too.


Gap Filler’s Pallet Pavilion was built in late 2012 by 250+ volunteers using 3000 wooden pallets. It was conceived to respond to the loss of venues for live music and community events in post-quake Christchurch.  An extremely ambitious project, it has been an incredible success.  It has had amazing media coverage, too with features in Australian Geographic, Cuisine, the Daily Mail, the Weekend Australian and more.

More than 25 000 people have visited in just 5 months and it has hosted more than 100 events from live music to markets to children’s parties to lectures. 45 volunteers have contributed to it running across the Summer.

The Pavilion is a temporary project and its deconstruction was due to take place in May this year. So NOW in other words.  But across March and April many people have asked if we can keep the Pavilion in the space for another year.

But we can’t afford to keep it. So we’re putting it to you, our friends, fans, supporters and community to help us raise the money needed and also spread the word.

If you would like to support the Pavilion please go to  and watch a beautiful little video about it.

- Coralie Winn, Gapfiller.




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:



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:

What could an urban space to die in look like?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.


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