Digital Book of Landscapes 2020


Superkilen - Nørrebro, Copenhagen

Chris Massey
London studio

If you tore up several magazines to make a collage, primary school style, pritt-sticking images of roller discos, cultural iconography, delicious food and exotic trees onto a piece of card and then built a bright pink version of what you had created, you would end up with Superkilen.

Superkilen is a string of public plazas and recreational space extending around 750m along a disused railway; in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen. The corridor is part of a of a green cycle and pedestrian super-highway network that criss-crosses this part of the city. The green areas of Superkilen provide important local recreational value but it is the two instantly recognisable main squares that provide the wonder of this project: one is bright pink and the other, in stark contrast, is black and white; both are equally brash and wonderfully tacky.

The squares are more than visual whimsy however, they create captivating vibrancy through their design approach. The spaces can hold myriad events and do attract tourism, but most importantly, it explicitly welcomes a diverse local community to do the things that make them who they are.

The design aimed to address social issues by recognising that a diverse local community needed a communal space to match their needs with a range of freedom and experiences. The community communicated the things that made them feel most at home and the result is a collection of sculptural yet functional objects including a Thai boxing ring, a giant black octopus slide, boat swings and outdoor communal barbecues that bring people together. Superkilen is a literal illustration of how the cultural layers of a community can form the foundations of a design and is as much an art installation as it is a piece of public realm.

Superkilen poses two important questions:

  1. How often do you use a piece of public realm that truly grabs your attention through the way it presents the local community?
  2. Do our designs do enough to allow people to express themselves outside?

Public space is often distinct from the values of the community that will use it. It can become a patchwork of constraint evasion or a boring surface for people to pass over when heading to the shops. Issues aren’t always the fault of the designer; they perhaps illustrate a poor transition from planning objectives to implementation and stakeholder involvement.

To match the success of Superkilen, we needn’t paint everything pink and place Muay-Thai boxing rings throughout our proposals, we can leave the literal aspects of this scheme behind and instead focus on the metaphor it presents: We should critique our inherited ideas of public realm, avoid a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach and creatively adapt to our ever-changing communities, their values and our planet’s ecology.

In response to and in spite of Covid-19 restrictions, our open spaces can transform our urban centres into assets that aren’t just measured on their dwindling retail draw but places for interaction and free thinking; returning the focus to what cities are all about.

Author - Chris Massey, Landscape Architect.