Tag Archives: Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen


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.


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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.


The University of Gent had asked Prof. dr. Jurgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School and author of the latest Report to the Club of Rome, “2052-A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years” and Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, Architect & Associate at Gehl Architects give the final keynotes in a series of events focusing on sustainable cities.

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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.

ImageIn the latest issue of Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs magazine “Focus Denmark” an article puts focus on the collaboration between the City of Chongqing, Energy Foundation and Gehl Architects working for a more people friendly and sustainable city development in Chongqing!

A few quotes from the article:

“We need to get more people to walk because it is good in every sense: it makes a city more vibrant, more safe, more sustainable and healthier. That is positive, but it is actually also the cheapest policy because it is less expensive to invest in design on a human scale than in infrastructure for cars. And we also benefit from lower healthcare costs,”

Jan Gehl

“In China’s new metropolises they still create urban squares and parks, but the streets – which have always been the core of Chinese cities and the hub of street life – have been replaced from one day to the next with motorways”

Kristian Villadsen

To read the full article go to Focus Denmark (p 28)

Last week Kristian spoke at the NAI in  Rotterdam on the topic of ‘Inviting for health through design’ looking at Copenhagen and China. He makes a distinction between how this can be achieved in different global contexts defined by the stage of industrialization and level of car domination in a particular city. In the car-dominated Western cities it is necessary to design invitations for active transit, making walking and cycling attractive and safe. Whilst in less developed economies the challenge is to preserve the pre-existing opportunities to a healthy life ingrained in the culture and fabric that is already there whilst also allowing for economic development.


For his new film, ‘The Human Scale’, Andreas Dalsgaard drew inspiration from Gehl Architect’s  approach to human centered planning. This move in turn inspired us to create a series of topic-based video shorts featuring some of  the footage from the film. We want to use these video short as a platform for people to share their thoughts and opinions on varying city-based topics.  In this third video short, ‘Streets for people’ and ‘Mobility for people’, Kristian Villadsen discusses the importance of the street as a social public space and people prioritized mobility as a tool for bettering people’s lives in cities.

See our Vimeo site here 

Danish transport minister Henrik Dam Kristensen, Danish congestion commission for Copenhagen, Flemming Borreskov CEO of REALDANIA, Futurist Uffe Palludan and Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen Associate Gehl Architects

On Monday the 1st of October the Danish transport minister Henrik Dam Kristensen opened the first conference of the Danish congestion commission for Copenhagen. Associate at Gehl Architects, Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, was invited to give an inspirational talk and to be part of a panel discussion together with Flemming Borreskov, CEO of REALDANIA, and futurist Uffe Palludan. The message from Kristian was simple “Mobility is about people” – the strength and efficiency of our macro network  is defined by the quality of our micro network.  Linking all modes of transport to a fine grained micro network for pedestrians and bicycles, supported by high quality public spaces and mix used environments, is the key to invite people to have a choice of mobility and deal with congestion.

China’s on-going urbanization  is in many ways unlike any other in history and for the problems this brings there is an urgency to find  sustainable solutions. Our strategy when working in China is to build capacity within our team, our local partners, local planners, politicians and decision makers. In other words it is a two-way learning experience with a goal to empower everyone involved in the planning process, to ask the right questions and to secure resilient cities!

The last weeks have exemplified Gehl Architect’s strong engagement in the Chinese urbanization and our collaboration with China Sustainable Cities Program at The Energy Foundation in Beijing.

Energy Foundation in CopenhagenCHINA IN GEHL: The staff from the China Sustainable Cities Program at Energy Foundation were in Copenhagen for 5 days with Gehl Architects, working together, learning together, and seeing European best practice first hand with a critical and observant Chinese view. Getting an understanding of implemented solutions is key to transferring them in to the local context in China, intensely working together for 5 days is a great way to build strong relations or “guanxi” and create a culture of open communication.

Maria Wass-Danielsen, GEHL ARCHITECTS

GEHL IN CHINA: Every five years, the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) organizes an exceptional 10-day executive training for the top-level personal of the Chinese State and Party apparatus: including Ministers, Mayors, senior decision-makers from the Ministries and provinces. In recognition of the recent EU-China partnership on Sustainable Urbanization signed by  Vice- Premier LI Keqiang in May 2012, and in anticipation of the next meeting of Premier Wen with the EU Leaders, CAG has approached the European Commission to jointly prepare a half-day session on EU urban planning best practices. The EU delegation in China invited Gehl Architects to do a presentation on sustainable mobility at the seminar. Maria Wass-Danielsen from Gehl Architects recommended that Chinese decision makers need to create an inviting, convenient and inclusive environment for people to walk, bike and use public transport, making green mobility a realistic choice for everyone.

David Sim, Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, GEHL ARCHITECTS

CHINA IN GEHL: David Sim, Director at Gehl Architects and Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, Associate at Gehl Architects hosted a one day masterclass for 25 Chinese majors as part of a ten day training scheme at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Asking the right questions was the theme of the day and the weight of the responsibility amongst the mayors for building a sustainable future was very much felt in the room.

The dialogue between chinese cities, our collaborative partner, decision-makers and Gehl architects is as strong as ever as we learn from – and contribute to a deeper understanding of how it is possible to plan for people in this time of rapid growth and change.

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. 


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