Tour of Copenhagen at the BCO conference 2019: making places happy

21 June, 2019

Other than the number of cyclists (more on that later), one of the most striking features of my recent visit to Copenhagen for the British Council of Offices 2019 conference was how well open spaces are woven into the fabric of the city. Truly a place designed for people and perhaps a key factor in Copenhagen being tagged as the happiest city in Europe.


A harbour tour delivered views of eye-catching examples of how public spaces are incorporated through multi-functional building design. Amager Bakke is a waste to energy plant designed by architect Bjarke Ingels, one of the conference’s impressive speakers. Not only will the power plant help drive Copenhagen towards its ambitious aim to be carbon neutral by 2025, but its roof doubles as a ski slope and hiking trail. Across the harbour in the regenerated Nordhaven district we saw Konditaget Lüders, an exciting playground and outdoor fitness area installed on the roof of a multi storey car park.


Successful examples which spring to my mind in London are Granary Square at Kings Cross with its playful fountains and the transformation of Duke of York Square by the Cadogan Estate where the circular roof terrace of the Duke of York restaurant will be open to the public as an additional green space to relax. I am sure there are plenty of other examples but it seems to me that the critical success factor is that these facilities are sincere and well thought out, as opposed to reluctantly delivering a planning or open space requirement.


Beyond the architectural showpieces, it is the harbour and cycle routes that pump life through Copenhagen’s urban environment. After some 20 years of significant public investment in cleaning and monitoring, the harbour has been transformed from being a vessel for industrial waste and sewage pollution to a place for people to have fun, gather and interact. The harbour side features a series of free admission ‘harbour baths’, dedicated swimming and water play areas which were being thoroughly enjoyed while I was there.


The emphasis on cycling and provision of the necessary infrastructure is well documented and not unique to Copenhagen but it was interesting to see how it works in practice. 62 percent of Copenhageners use their bike for daily transport and I certainly noticed the consequential reduction in traffic noise and pollution. The dedicated cycle paths resulted in a relaxed and calm experience far removed from the frantic commuter pelotons we see in London. No lycra on display either.


As place-making is now well established compulsory feature of any development proposal, I’m excited to see how we continue to engineer similar creative and open designs in UK cities. My experience in Copenhagen suggests that the creation of genuine open spaces does play an important part in creating a happy and healthy environment in which to live and work and play