August 20, 2015

Copenhagen 10 – Ørestad North and ‘Downtown’

Continuing our exploration of Ørestad – the most ambitious urban development in Copenhagen since the war.  (The first part is here.)

In 1994, the winning architectural competition by a Finnish-Danish architecture studio (KHR Arkitekter) divided the area into four districts, “focused on integrating a highly-dense and modern city with the surrounding natural environment … ”

Ørestad North (University District) is the most developed of the four, and given its proximity to Copenhagen, the most integrated.  It also accommodates a University of Copenhagen campus and Danish Radio, including a new state-of-the-art concert hall by Jean Nouvel.

“In all, the entire project would cost almost three times as much as budgeted, making the DR Concert Hall one of the most expensive concert halls ever built.”    (You can read the unfortunate story here.)

Orestad concerthall


To the southwest is ‘Downtown’ Ørestad, where the original vision began to be undone.

The Ørestad Public-Private Partnership had created a dependence between the partners and the state, with costs and ambitions at stake.

The Ørestad project developed in a top-down and non-participatory way.  … the government gave an ‘exceptional status’ to the development because of its (inter)national importance, ruling out local influences.

This may have been productive on a management level, but had a very negative effect on the judgement of the project in the public opinion.  …

When politicians hand over too much power to private parties they lose the opportunity to take local interests into consideration. This undermines the local democratic process and can be a negative effect of the public-private partnership.

– The Story Behind Failure: Copenhagen’s Business District Ørestad


Curiously, the references to traditional Danish ways of building cities were kept, particularly in the master plan for downtown Ørestad City commissioned from architect Daniel Libeskind – even as the project increasingly departed from the intent.  CityLab told the story back in 2011 :

… the coalition developing Ørestad – By and Havn, the Copenhagen port authority, and development corporation NCC – had quietly replaced Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 plan for Ørestad Downtown with a smaller-scale plan by COBE architects.

If the first plan, designed by a world-famous architect, represented the ambitions of Ørestad, the second represents the reality.

Libeskind’s internationally recognized brand would have defined the project. His “downtown,” inspired by a medieval city, was composed of a jumble of narrow streets designed to create a sense of urbanity and keep pedestrians free from the area’s blistering winds. Two 20-story towers would have served as beacons for the development, mirroring taller buildings elsewhere in Ørestad City. It was to be nearly car-free. …

Ultimately ‘Downtown’ became a massive complex of exhibition halls and towers.



The gap between rhetoric and reality is well-illustrated in this promotional video from 2010. Though in Danish after an English intro by Libeskind, the renderings tell the story: just look at the barren public spaces and the hostile way the buildings meet the ground.


Whatever Ørestad was intended to be, it had no serious intention of being this:


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  1. The video pics remind me of two other office mega-districts:

    Canary Wharf
    La Defense

    Canary Wharf took some time to hit critical mass, and by most accounts, is now successful.

    Both districts are largely busy during business hours and devoid of people on off days.
    (not unlike Toronto’s CBD)

    Could it be that Orestad simply doesn’t yet have critical mass?

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