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5 things Cape Town could learn from Copenhagen

Being a Cape Townian architect, urbanist and harbour lover I spend hours engaged in flânerie around my new home city of Copenhagen, noticing differences, and similarities, whilst sometimes wishing for more sunshine.
1: Harbour and waterfront for people

The vast majority of Copenhagens harbour-side is public, and forms part of the urban figure of the city. In summer the harbour becomes Copenhagen’s beach, with PLOT’s Islands Brygge harbour bath, and the newly completed Kalvebod Brygge by JDS architects, you can swim, play water-polo, or utilise the kayak course, or just watch the activities from the piers. The very brave even engage in winter bathing. The harbour also provides my favourite part of Copenhagen’s public transport system, the harbour bus, a bright duck shaped boat that chugs its way back and forth up and down Copenhagen Harbour. Cape Towns own waterfront is becoming more and more public, and my favourite recent addition is the running trail, but perhaps this could be taken even further to our own harbour bath, or a more public harbour area, with open public spaces, housing, and recreation areas.

2: Getting cycling infrastructure right

In Copenhagen cycling is the preferred form of personal transport. Most city-dwellers own a bicycles, and 36% of Copenhageners cycle to work, resulting in an impressive figure of 1,1 million km cycled collectively each day. Nørrebrodgade, which is the street that sees the most bike traffic in Denmark, has more than 35 000 cyclists each day. An impressive and well-designed cycling infrastructure is what has allowed the prominence of cycling in Copenhagen. Bike-lanes are separate from roads, usually on the other side of parked cars. The lanes are wide enough, and have their own road signs. We need to get the infrastructure right in Cape Town if we want to attract the critical mass require to make cycling a feasible alternative to public transport in Cape Town.

3: A new way of living

Most Copenhageners live in apartments relatively central to the city. This is made possible by a general medium-density model of 5-storey walk-ups, or opgange as they are called here. Majority of the housing stock here are made up of these opgange. This typology also allows for pubic or commercial uses in main roads, or commercial areas. Collective housing associations are also formed by clusters of adjacent opgange, which often share facilities such as common-rooms, basements, bike-parking, leisure facilities and courtyards. Copenhagen also has a unique form of the housing market which is called andelsbolig, which is a multi-ownership, co-operative property system which allows buyers to buy in at a lower price than in the open-market, and share maintenance costs through monthly payments. I think both this density model as well as the co-operative ownership model would be interesting case studies for Cape Town.

4: Re-using or transformation

The Danes are very skilled in the re-use or transformation of existing buildings or infrastructure, so much so that one of the most popular study units at the Royal Academy of Arts School of Architecture is the unit called architectural heritage, transformation and restoration. They see the value or re-using the existing built-fabric, and often in very innovative ways. There are multiple conversion of silos which existing alongside Copenhagen harbour. Best known is perhaps MVRDVs Frøsilio, and Praksis arkiteker have just won an architectural competition to convert the Silos up in Nordhavn.  There are many other examples of transformation from private or commercial uses to cultural or public uses. The biggest brewery in Denmark, Carlsberg has transformed the majority of its original site into a large cultural centre offering music and performance venues, art galleries, parks and adventure playgrounds. Another example is Copenhagen’s old ship-building district, Refshaleøn, which is currently being occupied, by creatives, restaurants, and leisure activities, such as one of Europe’s biggest climbing walls, and a stomach-churning urban rangers course 50 meters up at the apex of an old ship-building warehouse. We have so many un-occupied or abandoned buildings in Cape Town, which could be creatively transformed and occupied.

5: Sports venues: value beyond profits

Many of the public sporting venues in Copenhagen are open to the public daily for sports training.  A well-known local running group, NBRO, make very good use of the Østerbro Stadium, come rain or shine. Running table mountain is bliss, as is doing laps around the Oranjezicht reservoir, but I can imagine training in Cape Town Stadium would be pretty great too.

1. Harbour side in the mist. Photo Justine Bell

1. Harbour side in the mist. Photo Justine Bell

1. Harbour side pizza. Photo Justine Bell

1. Harbour side pizza. Photo Justine Bell

1. Riding the harbour bus. Photo Justine Bell

1. Riding the harbour bus. Photo Justine Bell

1. Swimming Refshaleøn. Photo Justine Bell

1. Swimming Refshaleøn. Photo Justine Bell

1. The Harbour Bus. Photo Justine Bell

1. The Harbour Bus. Photo Justine Bell

1. Winter bathing. Photo NBRO running

1. Winter bathing. Photo NBRO running

2. Cycle lanes. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cycle lanes. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cycling Copenhagen. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cycling Copenhagen. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cycling in the city. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cycling in the city. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cykler Kødbyen. Photo Justine Bell

2. Cykler Kødbyen. Photo Justine Bell

2. Harbour cycling. Photo Justine Bell

2. Harbour cycling. Photo Justine Bell

3. Copenhagen buildings. Photo Justine Bell

3. Copenhagen buildings. Photo Justine Bell

3. Vesterbro Andelsboliger. Photo Justine Bell

3. Vesterbro Andelsboliger. Photo Justine Bell

4. Carlsberg. Photo Justine Bell

4. Carlsberg. Photo Justine Bell

4. Converted silos Islands Brygge

4. Converted silos Islands Brygge

4. MVRDV Frøsilo. Photo MVRDV

4. MVRDV Frøsilo. Photo MVRDV

4. MVRDV Frøsilo. Photo MVRDV

4. MVRDV Frøsilo. Photo MVRDV

4. Carlsberg Park. Photo Justine Bell

4. Carlsberg Park. Photo Justine Bell

4. Refshaleøn urban rangers. Photo Justine Bell

4. Refshaleøn urban rangers. Photo Justine Bell

5. NBRO running at Østerbro Stadium. Photo NBRO

5. NBRO running at Østerbro Stadium. Photo NBRO

5. Østerbro Stadium running in the snow. Photo NBRO running

5. Østerbro Stadium running in the snow. Photo NBRO running

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Architect, designer, photographer.