The Orestad Development: The Manhattan of Copenhagen?

The view from our hostel, the Danhostel Amager Copenhagen. A very interesting piece of architecture, the Bella Centre, which is very close to the Orestad development.

For our first day in Copenhagen we visited the Ørestad development, guided by architect Jan Loerrakker. After seeing many successful new developments in Sweden, the purpose of this visit was to analyze a European development that has been seen as largely unsuccessful in aspects like planning, use of space, and social sustainability. The Ørestad development started in 1994, and was deemed the "Manhattan of Copenhagen," due to its hope of becoming the new cosmopolitan region in the city. It was a highly contested development as it was built on a natural reserve just outside the city. We found this location choice surprising because Copenhagen is often seen as a leader in sustainability yet this new development has been built on a greenfield and does not have a focus on sustainable infrastructures and lifestyles.

The famous 8 Building in the Orestrad development, Copenhagen. Famous for its pathway that runs the entire length of the building, residents are supposed to be able to cycle right to their doors. However, when we arrived there were signs prohibiting cyclists, so we assume the pathway is now only used for walking.
 The famous 8 Buiding in the Orestrad development, Copenhagen. The building features a pathway where residents are supposed to be able to cycle up to the top of the building, however when we were there, signs prohibited cycles. The pathway is likely used only as a walkway now.

The problems with this development began with the financing of the project. The development was created through a "private-public partnership," which is a negotiated business deal between private and public organizations where trade offs are made, and risks, benefits and profits are shared. The aim of doing a partnership like this is so that both business sectors can maximize profits while minimizing risks, however, in the case of the Ørestad development, businesses got neither. Funding for the public metro line was reliant on private developments to be built along the line, but there weren't enough developers in the end to pay for it. The development ended up building the largest mall in Scandanavia, Fields, to help pay for the metro. Shopping malls go against Danish planning guidelines, which prohibits large centres in the suburbs in order to protect local businesses.

We felt that the Ørestad development was very fragmented and a poor use of public space. The shopping mall in the middle of the residential area creates a very disjoint community space. Another reason for this fragmentation was because of the rigid masterplan, that limited adaptation and resulted in large gaps between buildings where lots were not developed by private businesses. The architects blame this fragmentation on the planners, and vice versa, but whatever the case, this development as a whole is not working.  The Mountain Dwelling building, another famous piece of architecture in the Orestad development.

However, when visiting individual buildings in the development we found that they worked quite well in terms of design, use of space and community. But the buildings failed to integrate into the existing neighbourhood and did not work together because of the distance between them.

On the contrary, the Royal Seaport development in Stockholm that we visited the previous week was a much better example of a successful development. In the heart of the new sustainable development, an old neighbourhood was integrated very successfully with the new residential units. Unlike the Ørestad development, Royal Seaport had a very flexible masterplan, and built the private buildings in phases rather than all at once. Rather than building on a natural reserve, they built on a brownfield beside a natural reserve, and even managed to create green corridors throughout the development for a more gradual transition between urban and natural spaces.

The takeaway for us here is that even new developments in sustainable countries have their flaws, and no development, no matter how innovative, is a utopia. Maybe if developments were to take a more adaptive approach to planning, and look at the successes and failures of past development projects, failed architecture developments like the Ørestad development could be avoided.



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