by | 16. May 2013

Landscape/ urban area | Project
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The Red Square. Photo by Iwan Baan

By Jakob Harry Hybel

The sprawling urban park, Superkilen, wedges itself into one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Copenhagen, Nørrebro. It samples benches, street signs and other urban furniture from across the world in an effort to reflect the multi-ethnicity of the area’s inhabitants.

The Superkilen project – by brash Danish architects BIG in collaboration with German landscape architects Topotek 1 and Copenhagen-based artist group Superflex – is boldly subtitled “Public Participation Extreme”. And what could sound as a nifty branding manoeuvre, has indeed been the project’s key philosophy: To actively involve the neighbours – and future users – of the park as much as possible in the design process. Peer-to-peer design, they call it.

The neighbourhood residents were publicly, and on multiple platforms, encouraged to submit their own suggestions to which objects they would like to have placed in the park. This resulted in 57 wildly different objets trouvés from all over the world, which have been scattered throughout the park. Much like in the 19th century English gardens, where follies – buildings without any real purpose besides being sculptures – were used as an exotic touch. 

The park becomes an urban safari into the diversity of the manmade forms of urban furniture

Superkilen’s eccentric collection of modern follies is meant to mirror how the multitudes of nationalities in the neighbourhood are living harmoniously together. It is a very comprehensible – albeit slightly idealized – picture of Denmark as an open-minded, pluralistic society. 


American donut sign and Spanish bull. Photo by Jens Lindhe


Colour-coded masterplan

But one thing is the philosophy behind the project, another the design. The masterplan for the park, stretching approximately 1 km from Nørrebrogade to Tagensvej, has been divided into three areas, each with a different colour marking specific functions.

The Red Square is directly connected to Nørrebro’s busiest street, Nørrebrogade, and thus, it is Superkilen’s link to the city. It is also an extension of the existing sporting center, Nørrebrohallen, and offers additional areas for outdoor urban sports and fitness – which coupled with the Jamaican sound system, gives the area a distinctly youthful vibe.

The Black Square plays a central part in the masterplan. Devised as “an urban living room”, it implies areas for more contemplative, introvert activities. But it also works as a setting for social gatherings and flea markets in the weekends.

The Green Park with its soft, grassy hills is family-friendly and an obvious picnic spot, while also directly addressing the desire of the locals to have more green spaces.


Pavilions for picnic in the Green Park. Photo by Mike Magnussen


Public Satisfaction Extreme

Superkilen has achieved a great deal of attention internationally. Most recently, the project was nominated to the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award. In part, because of its devil-may-care attitude towards city planning, as well as the fact that it was constructed on a relatively small budget. While the project most certainly deserves recognition for the former, one could argue that the low construction cost only tells one side of the story.

For the issue of maintenance has been largely ignored. Since its opening in 2012, the park has been subject to a considerable amount of repairing – and though it could just be teething trouble, so far Superkilen has been extremely costly to maintain.

That said, the significant qualities in the project’s bold playfulness more than outweighs its blemishes. Stylistically – and literally – it is all over the map, sure. But its immense popularity shows that it resonates with the local population.

So, even though the user participation might not have been as extreme as advertised (after all, only the park furniture, not the masterplan itself was open to public discussion), it scores high in user satisfaction. And ultimately, that is the only thing that truly matters when creating urban spaces.

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The popular octupus slide from Japan. Photo by Iwan Baan

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The Black Square seen from the air. Photo by Iwan Baan

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The Green Park seen from the air. Photo by Iwan Baan

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The Red Square seen from the air. Photo by Iwan Baan

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Russian and Chinese neon signs mark the entry of the park. Photo by Iwan Baan

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The small mound at the Black Square. Photo by Iwan Baan

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Urban fitness area, for all ages. Photo by Iwan Baan


Punching bags. Photo by Torben Eskerod


Bench racks. Photo by Torben Eskerod


Rain-wet Red Square. Photo by Torben Eskerod


Site plan. Drawing courtesy of BIG.


Area plan. Drawing courtesy of BIG.


Area plan with flags marking the different nationalities represented. Drawing courtesy of BIG.


SIZE30.000 m2