Tag Archives: Helle Søholt

Helle Søholt participated at the London Assembly Committee Meeting (Planning coverage) January 15 and her contribution really got the attention of the members. Alex Csicsek, Planning Researcher at London Assembly Labour Group, commented to Helle that “the members really perked up” when she made her presentation.

Building Design’s coverage of the meeting focuses on Helle’s thoughts on densification, in terms of compactness. She pointed out to the assembly that architects and urban planners are in a paradigm shift at the moment, trying to figure out which type of physical form actually supports people and enhances livability. She called for more research into this topic and more focus from government and city agencies. Helle further stated that it is about “managing incremental change. That’s the model for change my company is advising cities on — not fixed masterplans”.

Helle Søholt said densification was the key — not necessarily height but compactness — and cited Barcelona as one of Europe’s densest and yet most popular cities. “It doesn’t mean the public spaces are cramped and dark: the spaces between the buildings are very nice and have a human scale,” she said and further commented, “Spain might not be a great economic model at the moment but Barcelona’s compactness and liveliness are absolutely admirable.”

Read it here at Building Design Online (you may have to register, which is free, to read the article).

ImagePhoto from New Road, in Brighton UK, where Gehl Architects have an implemented streetscape project.



Several noted physicians, including Ian Robers, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have claimed that in the 21st century architects and planners will have a larger impact on health than health care professionals. In the forthcoming book, Safety Sustainability and Future Urban Transport, Ian argues that despite the safety risks of cycling in cities with rough traffic density like Delhi or Sao Paulo, the risk of not being physically active is higher. Jeff Risom and Claire Mookerjee have also contributed a chapter to the book with insights from New York, Copenhagen, and Chennai, India that is scheduled for release in early 2013.

At Gehl we are utilizing a people first perspective to explore how built form directly affects (positively or negatively) health, happiness, safety and well-being. Helle Søholt recently participated in the TEDxFMUSP event in Sao Paulo with a focus on health in cities, participating in a discussion about planning not only taking into account the social need of people, but the possibility of architectural provisions favoring the networks that scientists call “social capital.” Kristian Villadsen was a keynote speaker at Then/Now#6 hosted by NAI (Netherlands Architecture Institute) in a discussion and investigation of fruitful forms of cooperation between architects, governments and private commissioners which can lead to new spatial visions for a healthy society.

In the attached video of Kristian’s presentation he highlights research by Bente Klarlund (“Byer til at gå i” Weekendavisen 16 october, 2009), where she points out that since the 1990’s life expectancy in USA has increased 2.5 years, but in the same period life expectancy in New York has risen 6.2 years. Cities are healthier simply because we walk.

A person who lives in a suburban density is at least 10 pounds heavier than the average person who lives in an urban density, all other things being equal.

So what is the difference between the suburb and the city, one factor is the closeness and convenience of walking and biking. Cities, with their higher density, greater proximity to services and higher intensity of uses promote physical activity because we have more of a tendency to walk and use active forms of transportation in the city.

If all non-cyclists in Denmark became cyclists, about 12000 deaths linked to too little physical activity would be prevented every year as a result of cycling activity; and there are only 30 cyclists killed in traffic accidents annually.’
(The Lancet Volume 380, July 21, 2012)

In the creation of a city facilitating human activity, it is all about the awareness of distance and convenience. Generally people do not move because they want to be healthier, they move because it is the easiest way to get from A to B in your everyday.

So the ways we build, how close things are, affect the human activity and the health of the population in a diversely developed city.

For instance, a straight-line distance of about 400 to 500 meters between where you live and a grocery store or an eating or drinking establishment will result in directly increased walking … Walking increases for individuals about 20 percent for each park that is within a 1-kilometer distance of a residential area.
(Mark Holland – a former director of Vancouver’s sustainability office and a founder of the Healing Cities Institute)

Amenity is a key factor in the development of a city supporting the health of the population, when people move not because they need to – but because it is convenient.

Swanston Street, Melbourne. Melbourne is one of the featured case studies in the Gehl Architects component of the exhibit. Photo credit City of Melbourne

Gehl Architects are featured in an circular video component for Louisiana (Danish Museum of Modern Art) that is part of their summer exhibition entitled ‘ New Nordic Architecture’ which opens today and will run through until October 21st.

Part of the ‘Reconquering of public space’ section of the exhibit, our component is comprised of three themes vital to urban quality– Life, Mobility and Scale. The content for each theme is based on the principles established by Jan Gehl and continually evolved by Gehl Architects to the many different types of projects and scales of intervention.

Each theme features two example case studies of exemplary city transformation projects that Gehl Architects have either contributed to – or others that we admire and deliver extraordinary quality.

Cities include:

Life – Melbourne, Australia and New York City, USA

Mobility – Bogota, Colombia and Copenhagen, Denmark

Scale – Malmo, Sweden and Chongqing, China

Over the course of the next few months we will be exploring these themes in more detail as we invite colleagues, collaborators clients and all readers of this blog to engage in dialogue. A parallel exhibit will be featured at the Venice Biennale beginning in August, so if you can’t make it to Denmark, then maybe Italy is a possibility? There will be many opportunities to contribute and we invite you all to do so.

Read more here

Gehl Architects are featured in the latest Arkitekten, the official publication of the Swedish Architectural Association.  Helle Søholt and myself, Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen are interviewed onsite as part of the office’s on-going work in Rosengard housing estate in Malmö, Sweden. The area, a typical 1960′s housing development categorized as a deprived housing district.  Since 2006, Gehl has been working with the owner and manager of the Estate, client MKB (Malmo commune social housing unit).  Together we have developed a strong collaboration and raised the bar in design excellence for the area.

Whilst respecting the existing qualities and looking for ways to strengthen the existing cultural and social structure of the neighborhood – we have sought out new opportunities in an area with a long history of social turmoil. Helle and myself discuss in the article the strategic framework we have developed explaining the principle design guidelines which work at the core of the strategy. As part of this effort we organized design competitions for the new rail station and also a Design Brief for an international invited competition to work on the densification of the area. We have also worked on designs for the public space, the results seen in the article operate as an amalgamation of smaller interventions working as urban acupuncture governed by the overall framework vision.

The full article is in Swedish and can be access here. 

Sponsored by the City of Vancouver, the two-day working session allowed local decision makers to utilize international best practice

Partner and CEO Helle Søholt was invited by Vancouver City to participate in a 2 day working session on the future strategy for the city’s Eastern Core including considerations for removal or partial removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

Like Boston many years earlier, and taking a more recent cue from Seattle and Oslo, Vancouver  is engaged in public dialogue to consider removing these highway barriers of the 60′s.  City officials are aware of the value, economically, socially, culturally and economically of prioritizing people rather than cars in prime sites. This is great news!

In Oslo they are one step ahead, taking down Bispelokket as of this moment, forever changing their city for the better by reconnecting citizens to the water.

Left: The Elevated highway cutting through Boston's central business district. Right: How the area looks today after the Rose Kennedy Greenway replaced the highway.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway at eyelevel

In other cases working with the barriers might be the solution. Life has returned to the area under the 36 arches of the railway viaduct in Zürich West. Controlled use of signage, high quality shops, simplicity, transparency and openness as well as a sensitivity to the historic structure and industrial surrounds have created a really special new place in Zurich.

Helle recommended Vancouver city to stay true to their values as an innovative city region.  Emphasizing the need for a value based transformation rather than a simple ‘plan’, Helle gave insight into how the City can ensure a dynamic design process to best take advantage of this opportunity in the face of great economic uncertainty. Helle focused on inviting for diverse uses and users to the sites in the future Eastern core, enabling the existing neighborhoods to re-connect to each other and the water front after the infrastructure is removed.

The Swedish Transport Administration invited Helle Søholt to contribute as Key Note speaker and to take part in the panel discussion at the seminar Think Future, Strategies for the transport-system of tomorrow, in Stockholm on the 8th of November.

The Swedish Transport Minister Catharina Elmsäter- Svärd opened the seminar, but with no references to the importance of urban areas, cities, towns and villages not to say the people using daily transport systems.

This was indeed the focus of Helle’s contribution to the future thinking of transport. The need to address a micro level of planning and not just the traditional macro level. The micro level where we understand the behavior of people and make transport networks that multiplies choice and quality of life for the individual. Cities that are walkable, bikeable and have a well developed public transport system are both more sustainable and much more lively and safe as a consequence of the people moving at eyelevel in the streets.

The Seminar aimed at providing an arena for dialogue on issues of strategic and long-term importance related to the further use and development of the Swedish transport system. One of several important policy tools to promote sustainable economic growth, at a time when global structural change of demography, economy and trade increases. The necessity of serious considerations to energy and climate change constraints where considered in the seminar.

Trafikverket is a new administration, comprising all modes of transport, and with the brave ambition of gaining a wider identity as not only contributing to the building of the society but a pro-active ”society developer”.

As the first national authority merging transport silos, we hope at Gehl Architects to see a more integrated thinking and approach also to city building and the need of people.

The discussions at the seminar were to serve as strategic input to the national transport policy-making process and influence future strategies and action plans in the National Assembly, the Ministries and the Administrations.

We are looking forward to see the results of integrated thinking in transport solutions contributing to improve cities for people in Sweden.

Thanks to an unusual fun day of transport discussions in Stockholm on old and new paradigms.

Helle Søholt was Key Note speaker at Think Future, Strategies for the transport-system of tomorrow, in Stockholm.

The following panel discussion at the seminar.

Brainstorm in Gothenburg – A collaborative workshop could replace design competitions as the model for how politicians and design experts plan and build cities.

The workshop brought almost one hundred international city design experts together with local decision makers for 6 days of intense collaboration in Gothenburg's Townhall

Can the way we produce new ideas to cities be made more productive through intense collaboration and open dialogue rather than design competitions?  Helle Søholt and Gehl Architects led an advisory board of experts that facilitated the collective input of 10 international design teams to develop a design vision for Gothenburg’s waterfront and city center. The Gothenburg Advisory Boared included Lars Reutersvärd (former director of UN Habitat, now director of Mistra Urban Futures) Martha Schwartz (Director of Martha Schwartz Partners), Rob Adams (Director of Design and Culture for Melbourne) and Helle Søholt (Gehl Architects). The advisory Board had a direct dialogue with Anneli Hulthén (Mayor of Gothenburg) and Bo Aronsson (Project leader for Centrala Älvstaden) and shared their own experience as inspiration to the future planning proces for Gothenburg River City.

The process represents a new direction in city building that moves away from wasteful competitions where a majority of the material produced through thousands of man hours are essentially ‘thrown out’ in choosing a single ‘winning scheme’.  The Gothenburg Process was a 6 day long event is a more open and collaborative process where invited international teams work together with local decision makers to determine a new plan for Central Gothenburg.  Each team was given 250,000 SEK to participate in the workshop and then 100,000 SEK to finalize their work after the workshop’s conclusion.

The process represents a radical departure from the traditional architectural competition process and concentrates on harnessing the collective wisdom of many experts  rather than awarding the often imperfect, yet winning ideas of one team.  This new process fosters an environment of learning from each other and challenging the idea that good ideas grow out of competition to arrive at better solutions to city problems.

According to Sweden's Arkitekten publication, Gehl's Helle Søholt together with Mayor Hulthén, Project Leader Aronsson and Advisory Panel member Reuterswärd are the most important people in the Gothenburg Central City Plan - image Arkitekten

The process was both daring and inspirational and challenged the Architect’s way of thinking and competing. After two intial days of pleasant niceities, and limited knowledge sharing  between design teams, a refocusing of intentions and knowledge sharing on the 3rd day led to an incredibly productive and inspiring final stretch. The event culminated on Saturday with an inspiring and open presentation to the public, the politicians and to the other design teams.

While innovative, the workshop was the easy part.  The challenge will now be to continue an open and collaborative process with local politicians to ensure that difficult decisions are made through productive collaboration and coordination between design, good governance, as well as social and cultural sensitivity. Any ideas/references of how we can continue a productive and open process are welcome.

People first transportation in the 21st century?

Helle as part of a distinguished panel discussing Meeting People's Needs in Policy in Planning

As part of the OECD, the International Transport Forum’s annual Summit is the place for a vibrant exchange of ideas about recent developments and the future of transport. As the unique global platform that brings together Ministers, decision-makers, experts and practitioners from around the world and from all modes of transport, the International Transport Forum has established itself as the leading global mobility event.

This year, the focus of debate is “Transport for Society”. It has been impressive to hear so many ministers of Transport, academics, and practitioners talk about prioritizing the needs of people in transport planning.   It is also encouraging to hear more and more panelists and speakers talk about the need to focus on integrating land use planning and human scale urban design together with complex transport networks.

It is exactly these issues that Founding Partner at Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt focused on in the two panels that she participated in during the Forum.  In both  Keeping it Clean – Transport, Health and the Environment and Meeting People’s Needs in Policy and Planning, Helle emphasized the need to balance fast transport with slow mobility and to complement capital intensive mega projects with non-motorized mobility improvements.  Helle contributed to the esteemed panel including Gao Hongfeng, Vice Minister of Transport in China and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York.

Helle emphasized that all public transit riders and motorists begin their journey as pedestrians and therefore the transit and automobile network can only be as good as the pedestrian network that brings them to other modes of transit.

A portion of the Our Cities Ourselves Exhibit is also on display at the ITF Forum

The key is to provide dignified choice and multi-faceted options for mobility. In integrating these systems and promoting safety, comfort, convenience  in moving through the city and inviting people to meet and spend time in public spaces, we can come a long way toward making cities for people.  Yet a change of mindset still needs to occur where decision makers consider proximity as well as density, quality of experience as well as capacity, safety as well as reliability.  This is the approach of the Our Cities Ourselves campaign, developed in collaboration with ITDP and also on display at the ITF Forum.

Helle argued that we can still accommodate for motorists and public transit riders by prioritizing proximity high quality conditions for  pedestrians and cyclists.  But experience from around the world shows the converse is not true; we cannot create good environments for people by prioritizing the needs of motorists and public transport capacity alone.

Mercy General Lego City Hospital

In recent years, health and healthcare have become prominent factors in measuring socioeconomic progress. At the same time, our expectations have increased enormously and more resources than ever are being invested in health. This was the basis for an international conference, hosted by Rambøll, that took place Thursday 11. November in Copenhagen.

Founding partner of Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt, was one of the speakers at the conference. Other speakers included the health minister of Denmark Bertel Haarder (Image), Torben Stentoft, Hospital Director of Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen; Paul Kingsmore, IHEEM president and Director of Health Facilities from Scotland and Adrian Sprague, Director of Design Management with Skanska Public.

The main focus of the conference was to Think ahead on how to develop hospitals of world-class quality while at the same time ensuring cost effectiveness.

The minister presented the national strategy of arriving at 18 super hospitals in Denmark, with a billion kroner investment in the coming years. The super hospitals he compared with airports – system focused and flexible buildings and organizations. The focus of his talk was on the need for centralization of knowledge and skills in highly technical centers, but a number of related themes where mentioned such as needed increased outpatient placements and increased development of it systems supporting the goal of these future super hospitals to only host patients in 24-48 hours.

Helle Søholt talked about the role of hospitals in cities, and how large hospitals grow into hospital cities needing to integrate facilities, functions and activities with the surrounding urban context.

Today’s hospitals are closed campus areas often placed far from an urban setting. These areas represent a lack of value adding by co-location and creating of synergies. The current focus of planning is primarily on costs and energy savings arriving at larger and more efficient building machines with the risk of alienating people and patients in the process. The needed paradigm shift in planning also needs to entail the hospital sector. Current and future changes in lifestyle and general health conditions of people calls for hospitals, that are open and accessible for all.

Helle Søholt presented four needed concepts in modern planning of hospitals enabling these large institutions to tap into the urban health resource:

  • Quality of Life – calling for the hospital to change from a medical centre for treatments to a learning environment for healthy lifestyles reaching out into the surrounding communities. Future technology will enable outpatients to be helped and monitored in their preferred surroundings at home, and the hospitals become facilitators of a health process taking co-responsibility for the quality of life of people in society.
  • Hospitality – questioning how the hospital can act as a host making people feel welcome, safe and invited. And at an urban scale a host and facilitator of the development of a people friendly and mixed use environment, ensuring synergy and added value of large public investments.
  • Openness – ensuring permeability on an urban scale through the hospital districts, and a high level of mobility and integration between the hospital and the city. Many activities indoors can be naturally linked visually, spatially and physically with the urban spaces outside, ensuring life in the areas overall, feeling of safety and attractiveness.
  • Life first – Finally addressing the need to involve patients, citizens and key actors in the surrounding community in the design, development and building of future hospitals. There is a need to design the hospital districts with people’s needs and behavior in mind, as a constant and living vision.

World class hospitals cannot be cost effective by not tapping into the urban health resource or by not addressing the needs of people and humanistic design of both buildings and the future urban areas.

We need to think ahead and explore the role of the future urban “hospitals for people”.

Check out Helle Søholts presentation here:

Rambøll had excellently organized this conference program ensuring professional input from both the hospital management sector, the political national level, from large contractors and builders to designers and planners.

Check out the conference website here.


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