As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Copenhagen was not originally designed for the changes in the weather that we have been seeing over the past 100 years. To deal with the ongoing and future changes requires insight, will and skill, particularly when renewing urban spaces. Danish Schønherr walks this fine line
In the old centre of Copenhagen, fairly close to the Queen’s Castle you will find a newly pedestrianised area. This area is called St. Ann’s Square and has been part of Copenhagen since the rebuilding of the modern city from the embers of the medieval city. The sidewalks are wide, with lots of room for cafés, passers-by and kids to play. The small patch of grass that used to adorn the centre of the road has been expanded to accommodate flower beds, playgrounds and an activity sculpture by the Danish artist Eva Koch. The whole scenery looks pretty, and 20 years ago, looks would have been the primary reason for renovating the square. Today, the reasons behind the restoration are very different.
”Considerations over the climate and the changes in the weather we are now experiencing have been the overall driver for the current project and are in fact the primary reason behind the restoration of the area. The idea is that the improvement should be able to protect the whole area during massive rainfall, partially by leading the water away from the surfaces as well as by a new arrangement of pipelines, which makes it possible to separate rainwater and water from the sewers”, explains Sanne Slot Hansen from Schønherr, who is the architect responsible for leading this project. She continues:
”The green area in the middle has a profile that will lead rainwater away to the nearby harbour in the case of a so-called 100-year-event. But actually, the overall idea was to ”go green” in every aspect of the restoration, including making room for pedestrians, bicycles and for people to lounge about all at the cost of reducing parking and traffic. Material-wise, we recycled and reused as many of the materials as possible.”
Going green means to take a break
By removing cars and reducing their engines idling, you naturally go ‘greener’. But the effect is an empty space – unless you activate something else instead. This would be the preference when creating or renewing urban spaces:
“The area is created for pausing, promenading and lounging. It´s meant for people – for the everyday life of the inhabitants of the area, not just characterised by tourism and events. Instead we wanted to create areas that are flexible to be used for public events, but that’s not their primary use. Our way of arranging and programming the area makes it possible to create interludes in different tempi and for different ages and sizes of groups”, explains Sanne Slot Hansen.
New area but old trees
Her proudest aspect of the new St. Ann’s Square is how Schønherr succeeded in balancing a very complex programme and at the same time, discretely and with respect for history, managed to implement a functional and elegant solution:
”Not only has the area of St. Ann’s Square maintained its historical link as a clear border between medieval Copenhagen and the later part of the city called Frederiksstaden, but at the same time, we have managed to create a modern, recreational and active urban space together WITH an advanced solution to the rising challenges related to changes in the climate.”
Quietly, she also mentions how renovating St. Ann’s Square confirmed to them that it is possible to create artistic and well-functioning city spaces in combination with addressing climate adaptation as the overall headline. ”Even with the extensive work we did, we managed to maintain the old existing trees! We always believed that function and aesthetics should walk side by side, but confirming it with St. Ann’s Square has been refreshing”, Sanne Slot Hansen finishes.