Tag Archives: Public space

A sign declaring, “Please Don’t Touch” sits in front of an indestructible 12 meter tall steel sculpture in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Oblivious to the warnings, kids run up to play on the massive red steel structure until, inevitably, someone points to the sign instructing them not to touch the artwork.

This sign, and other familiar signs such as “Please Don’t Walk on the Grass” characterize a common understanding of the urban landscape and its features as something to visually admire from a distance rather than interact with. While play and physical interaction with our surroundings is an intuitive social behavior, playful uses of the urban landscape and its features are often regarded as an illegitimate use of city space.

Over the last five months, I have had the opportunity to travel from my hometown of Seattle for an internship at Gehl’s office in Copenhagen. In the projects that Gehl does, and in a number of public spaces and buildings I have visited in Scandinavia, I’ve seen ways in which designers, artists and city inhabitants are challenging this traditional view of urban space as something to be passively observed from a distance.

mg_0160The undulating deck of the Maritime Youth Center located in Amager Strand in Copenhagen invites rolling, climbing and exploration of the sloped surfaces.

Kalvebod BryggeA financial plaza at the SBC bank headquarters in Copenhagen is designed for many users, including skaters who find new challenges on a series of sloping concrete ramps.

tumblr_ma6y0v6vKr1rapwr0o1_500A trampoline along Copenhagen´s waterfront invites many users to test their own limits, as well as spectators to watch.

Image Credit: Jan Kronvold, "Robert Jacobsen Sculpture, Odense"

A sculpture by Robert Jacobsen in Denmark doubles as a fun place to hang out.  (Image Credit: Jan Kronvold, “Robert Jacobsen Sculpture, Odense”).

These are a few examples that show that play does not need to be limited to spaces designated as such, but many features of the urban landscape can be designed and thought of as playscapes.

Winter City - Open Air Neightborhood

Winter City – Open Air Neighborhood

Can the darkness and cold be a potential to create activities in the city during winter time? Often these conditions have been viewed as obstacles for activities, but a new open competition and development project focus on the winter city’s potential for activities in the public space.

Gehl Architects is a part of the jury in the Winter City competition, which is running for the next 29 days on Innosite – a platform for open innovation projects supported by Realdania and managed by the Danish Architecture Centre.

Copenhagen based Open Air Neighborhood are heading the project which also counts producers of urban inventory, a lighting firm, the Copenhagen winter festival FROST, as well as the Danish Technical University. The aim is to gain new knowledge on the conditions for activities in winter time and develop new prototypes of urban furniture to enable new forms of events and other activities.

If you have ideas for winter activities, visit Winter City at Innosite, where you can also comment on other’s ideas for the Winter City.


Students cleaning up a project site in Graca. The designed intervention will be implemented on Sunday 18th.

If anyone visits Lisbon in the next couple of weeks, they should be sure to venture into the neighbourhood of Graça, which is currently hosting 200 international designers and architects for the annual Meeting of Design Students (MEDS). Every summer for the past four years, a new European city has been subjected to the experiments and interventions of the participants that spend two weeks designing and building pilot-projects, with the aim of improving public spaces.

This year, the organising team of MEDS has themed the workshop “RE:action”, asking the student to design for a response from the inhabitants of Graça, which in recent years have experienced a decay of public spaces, with the loss of public life to follow. Each of the 15 pilot-projects are designed and built by a team of 10-18 enthused international students that have been chosen through a competition to represent their respective country. The projects are described in detail here:

Besides the pilot-projects, this year’s MEDS also comprises a series of conferences that aim to activate the critical minds of the participants. Every evening, an “Urban Parliament” takes place, in which the students discuss “urban rights” and topics related to the theme of the year. The debate is filmed and will be published at a later date, but it will also be summed up in the “Declaration for Urban Rights” that is to be presented at the upcoming Lisbon Trienniale (

When I was in Lisbon last week, I took part in the event for the third year in a row. Every year I have been amazed by the ambition and enthusiasm of the participants, but this year is especially precious, because of the projects’ large involvement with the community in Lisbon. One team is developing a unique signage identity for the neighbourhood, another is redecorating some of the run-down facades and others focus on creating hubs for the community, including shade and activity options. Unfortunately I had to leave before the end of the workshop, but all the results will be formally presented on Sunday the 18th, and they will also be posted on the reaction website (see above) and on the official MEDS webpage ( )

The series of experimental pilot-projects are implemented in Graça for at least a couple of months, and will make an interesting visit for anyone concerned with public life in public spaces!

Pavilion by Kieran Donnellan and Meds Student, 2012, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Likewise installations are currently being built in Graca, Lisbon.

Pavilion by Kieran Donnellan and Meds Student, 2012, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The pavilion has for the past year given the citizens of Ljubljana a place for serenity and reflection. Installations like this are currently being built in Lisbon.



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 is the case with many countries, Norway has its share of large, polluted industrial areas defined by monumental infrastructure, lack of permeability and complicated way-finding. These areas often feature a concentration of land uses that have been deliberately isolated from the surrounding city due to their unpleasant nature. Lin Skaufel, Associate at Gehl, is currently dealing with a project of this nature in Breivoll, Oslo. Together with Hans Martin Aambø, Project Manager, and his team at Planning & Building Authority of Oslo Municipality, they have investigated how these areas can become integrated within the city and methodologies for approaching city design can be used in industrial areas.

Breivoll is in the industrial area Groruddalen that stretches approximately 15 km north east of Oslo. Through lack of a coherent planning policy, the area has developed haphazardly over time along the beautiful river Alna. Breivoll is only 4 km from the center of Oslo and has the potential to become an urban generator for Groruddalen region.

I asked Lin to answer some questions for us on the project:

The pictures are from Lin's presentation framing Breivoll's positive characters. The headlines say Contrasted, Place of opportunities and Mental city planning. The last picture is from a light walk Groruddalssatningen facilitated

+Where did you begin and what did you do?  

I grew up in Oslo and had only been to Breivoll once before. We had no reason to go there. It was never part of my mental map of Oslo and I think it counts for many of the citizens.

We developed a plan based on principals with concepts focusing on mental and physical city planning. We strongly believe these initiatives will attract investors, residents, users and visitors.

Firstly the area needs a rock solid physical cleaning up to make it work. Such as creating mixed functions, increasing the walkability, new metro station and improve the accessibility. Basically we need to strengthen the backbone. The plan concentrates on basic space identity and grasps what’s fascinating about the existing characters. By making a more playful area we give people a reason to come there. Making events, using temporality, experimenting and telling the industrial story, changing some of the functions and utilize the wonderful amenity value around Alna for relaxation and mindfulness. 

Also from Lin's presentation. For the first picture "Magical destination" is about creating something Oslo does not have and making it special for Breivoll. We have borrowed the picture from Raum Labor Berlin. The second picture "Other spatialities" is about using space in a completely different way than originally thought (Picture is borrowed from The last picture "Breivoll twist" is a collage made by Lin about using existing functions in new ways.

+This city typology may off hand seem very limiting and uninspiring – Which opportunities does this city typology give you?  

It is about using and finding the histories and potentials within the area. Working with second life; keeping instead of eroding. Interesting places are difficult to make. Breivoll has an super interesting complexity within contrasts between the industrial anti-nature, high noise, rough architecture and the poetic, peaceful, silent and rich wildlife nature around Alna. Imagine using this contrasted landscape and mindscape as a catalyst for change.

In Breivoll The Salvation Army has an enormous stockroom of collected cloth, you’ll find Norway’s biggest distributor of car tires, a huge recycle stations and car scrappers. All of this could be attractions and part of events. These places are often stocked with do-it-yourself distributors. The areas can then also be seen as handy and a place to do things. It is about understanding the beauty and potential in industry: There’s lots of space, it’s robust, generous and flexible. So it’s about changing the narratives and imagination of these places. About putting them on the mental map of the city. Creating a reason to go there. It’s about making the development of Breivoll poetically, entrepreneurial and vibrant. About discovering the second life of industrial cities and linking it (mentally and physically) the rest of the city.

Headlines sayi The Process, Example and Eventful. The pictures are from Berlin, Carlsberg in Copenhagen and PS1 in New York.

Check out second lives of industrial areas

Check out the video by André Crocton “Time is the essence” with music by Cold Mailman. It’s a timelaps-video of habitation in Groruddalen. This is an example of one of the many initiatives the municipality have undertaken.

See also the news paper articles Breivoll Faar hjelp av anerkjente arkitekter and Spektakulere planer for Breivoll.

View towards Sugar House Lane area

Gehl Architects, “world-famous Danish street-planners” according to, have been hired by Ikeas development arm, Landprop, to help with a regeneration scheme in Londons East End. “Gehl Architects will work on all public spaces, as well as residential, retail and industrial land.” writes

The development is in Stratford, at Sugar House Lane, in close proximity to the Olympic legacy area. The site is a former industrial site that has been declared a conservation area in 2008. The area has a lot of qualities in terms if both history, scale and location. But it also carries with it a lot of challenges, not least some of the harsh surroundings with major traffic arteries running along it on more sides. From Gehl Architects the project has been lead by Louise Grassov, assisted by Henning Thomsen, Sofie Kvist and Rasmus Frisk.

Major traffic arteries surround the site

A former industrial area filled with good scale and building qualities

Opportunities to tie in to existing non-motorized infrastructure

Illustration: Gehl Architects

What would you do if you had $20 million dollars and were tasked with turning three and a half miles of one of Los Angeles’ most iconic streets into the kind of street that encourages people to be outside?  That’s the question the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) raised in 2010.

Follow the discussion on

Gehl Architects have been developing ideas for this iconic streetscape of Los Angeles and for those of you in the neighborhood, Gehl Architects director Oliver Schulze is giving a talk at the UCLA February 11 on the issue of Public Space and Public Life.

Figueroa as it appears today - space enough for cars, but is it good for people?

Making the best of what is there - but is it worthy of a great city to treat its people like this?

Gehl Architects illustration of some possible improvements to Figueroa, Los Angeles

A possible future for Figueroa? Illustration by Gehl Architects.

Blue side, Aspern Seestadt

Gehl Architects project for Aspern Seestadt in Vienna has been chosen as the sole future project to feature in a new guide to existing landscape architecture in Vienna. The project is a result of a 1st Prize in an open competition in 2009 to refine and develop a politically adopted masterplan for the old airport of Vienna in Aspern. Gehl Architects delivered the next evolution of the vision through refined strategies for an attractive public realm. The  result is a planning tool that informs directly the further design of public infrastructure and private real estate development. The Handbook for Public Spaces recognizes key lines of leisure and transport infrastructure in the masterplan by Johannes Tovatt.

It refines these lines of the plan by crystallizing a series of unique and unifying ‘evolutionary axes of urban development’. Through this strategic intervention it is made possible to focus public and private capital investment over the coming generations to strengthen those urban structures of the new district where public life is expected to satisfy defined minimum standards of urban intensity and perceived urban quality.

Architects Oliver Schulze and Lærke Jul Larsen have been the main Gehl Architects people on this project.

Check out the new guide to landscape architecture in Vienna here.

Check out some illustrations of Gehl Architects project here.

Read more about Aspern Seestadt on their homepage.

Gehl Architects report ‘Partitur des öffentlichen Raums‘ is available on the Aspern Seestadt homepage.

An ordinary day on a street in Chennai.

Being a pedestrian on the streets of Chennai, India, is not the easiest of things. On the third day of the Public Life Public Space workshop, that Gehl Architects is giving to ITDP and Chennai City Connect, the topic of Public Space was on the agenda. Detailed investigations and documentations of the public life and how it unfolds were the focus and the workshop participants were on the streets studying these issues.

Lars Gemzøe, Gehl Architects, explaining how to study public space

To see for yourself how challenging it is to be a pedestrian in Chennai take a look at this little film from Sir Thyagaraya Road:

Second part of the third workshop day was the introduction to the volunteers, who are going to help carry out the Public Life Public Space survey over the next three days. Gehl Architects, ITDP and Chennai City Connect workshop participants and volunteers, who come from four different architecture schools in Chennai, met at Chennai City Connect offices for the briefing.

Architects and architecture students being briefed before they hit the streets to carry out the very first Public Life Public Space survey in India

Doing a Public Life Public Space survey requires a tremendous amount of preparations and planning

...but the whole thing is also a lot of fun - Mahesh Radhakrishnan, MOAD, and Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects in the middle of planning the PLPS survey activities

Mahesh Radhakrishnan briefing students on the PLPS survey

Sia Kirknæs, Gehl Architects, along with Mahesh Radhakrishnan, instructing students on the PLPS survey

And here is the plan. The PLPS survey will be carried out over the next three days - more on this to follow.

And take a look at the Public Space Survey Manual developed by Gehl Architects:


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