Just over a year ago I was fortunate enough to visit the effortlessly chic city of Copenhagen on a press trip for those interested in effective education design. At that point in time, the kilometre-long Superkilen project was still under construction, one third of its vibrant coloured pathways complete and the second well underway but even then you could feel the buzz that was beginning to surround the project as colour seeped in and a diverse range of street furniture was inserted. Now the project has been fully realised and is in use by the local community, bringing people from different cultures together in a celebration of urban life.
For those not familiar with this inventive scheme, Superkilen is a long strip of urban parkland created by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Topotek1 and Superflex, connected to the rest of the city by a simple bike network which joins the main Copenhagen cycling infrastructure. This scale of urban parkland in the centre of a city is rare and the designers of Superkilen have deliberately sought to integrate all members of the local community within its kilometre-long boundaries.
The design concentrates on the integration of more than sixty different cultures, blending symbols of the ethnically diverse community into a single architectural gesture. As Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG explains: “Rather than a public outreach process towards the lowest common denominator or a politically correct post-rationalisation of preconceived ideas navigated around any potential public resistance - we proposed public participation as the driving force of the design leading towards the maximum freedom of expression.”
Split into three sections, the strip of urban land shifts from red to black to green as its uses are altered. The red square is merged with an indoor sports hall and offers an outdoor space for recreation and sports. Across the road, Superkilen continues in black with a Moroccan fountain and large octopus-shaped climbing frame. This is the core of the project where residents of the neighbourhood can gather to chat on different styles of benches from around the world or shade themselves under palm trees. Further up, the largest section of the urban park erupts as a green stretch for major sports competitions and raised mounds which provide vantage points to view the city.
Superkilen splices through one of the most socially challenged areas of Denmark, Norrebro, just north of Copenhagen city centre. With an area of approximately 3.82 sq km, Norrebro is home to a diverse selection of minority groups, including Pakistanis, Bosnians, Turks, Arabs and Albanians. In order to bring people together, the collaborating architects and designers looked to the various different cultures for examples of street furniture from around the world and inserted more than one hundred objects throughout the urban parkland.
The objects range from exercise gear, including muscle beach LA to sewage drains from Israel, palm trees from China and neon signs from Qatar and Russia, and are all accompanied by a small stainless plate inlaid in the ground describing each of the objects and their origin.
Danish arts group Superflex selected five groups and visited their countries to learn from local design techniques and styles, explaining: “Our mission was to find the big picture in the extreme detail of a personal memory or story, which on the surface might appear insignificant, but once hunted down and enlarged became super big. A glass of Palestinian soil in a living room in Norrebro serving as a memory of a lost land, enlarged to a small mountain of Palestinian soil in the park. A distant Mediterranean flirt in the seventies symbolised by a great iron bull, hunted down and raised on a hill in the park.”
More images coming shortly.