The nearly mile-long Superkilen park in Denmark is a bold attempt to create a new identity for an “ethnically diverse and socially challenged” neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark. An in-depth community outreach process organized by the city has led to a place like no other, with a sequence of plazas that honor different ethnics groups living in the area. Designed by Bjarke Ingels’ firm, BIG, landscape architecture firm, Topotek 1, and artists’ group, Superflex, the massive project also accomplished a lot with a little budget: at just $34 per square foot, the landscape “packs a lot of bang for the buck.” The project, which has recently been all over the design press, also just took home the AIA Institute Honor Award for urban and regional design and an annual design award from Architect Magazine in the “play” category.
The AIA jury, which included Ellen Dunham Jones, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, Mark Shapiro, Mithun, and Tom Luebke, U.S. Fine Arts Commission, wrote: “This is not only original, but stunning to behold. It is noteworthy for its aesthetic approach, which is straightforwardly artificial rather than pretending to be natural. One of the project’s most exciting dimensions is its inclusion of the diverse community of users. Its bold use of color and public art in spaces that promote social interaction and engagement all exude a high level of excitement and energy through what once looked like residual space. Superkilen shows what can be done with an open, inventive approach within severe cost limitations. It demonstrates the value of powerful visual and spatial moves while keeping connected to the realities of a contemporary multicultural context: the condition of many European cities.”
AIA writes that the design of Superkilen was driven by two over-arching ideas: “First, that the park would become a vehicle for celebrating the neighborhood’s multicultural heritage, and, second, that it would serve as a giant exhibition of urban best practice.” Beyond this, the park would also work for the neighborhood, with new trails for pedestrians and bikers, local transportation connections, outdoor recreation areas and playgrounds, and space for markets.
Three zones provide both hard plazas and green areas: the red square, the black market, and the green park, which serves as a “giant exhibition of urban best practice,” writes AIA. Urban best practices are defined as a “global collection of found objects” that come from the groups represented in the residential areas surrounding the park, some 60 nationalities. Arch Daily says these objects range from “exercise gear from muscle beach L.A. to sewage drains from Israel, to palm trees from China and neon signs from Qatar and Russia.” All the urban objects are identified by small stainless plates.
The objects, they write, are a “sort of surrealist collection of global urban diversity that in fact reflects the true nature of the local neighborhood – rather than perpetuating a petrified image of homogenous Denmark.”
Local diversity is also represented in the landscape architecture that frames all the unique objects. “Superkilen re-attributes motifs from garden history. In the garden, the trans-location of an ideal, the reproduction of another place, such as a far off landscape, is a common theme through time. As the Chinese reference the mountain ranges with the miniature rocks, the Japanese the ocean with their rippled gravel, or how the Greek ruins are showcased as replicas in the English gardens. Superkilen is a contemporary, urban version of a universal garden.”
Apparently BIG and team started with three different colored zones as their starting point, but ended up expanding the green section due to community demand. “The desire for more nature is met through a significant increase of vegetation and plants throughout the whole neighborhood.” Nature is found in “small islands of diverse tree,” sorted by color, type, and bloom period. The origins of the plants also match those of the found objects nearby.
To extend the sports and cultural activities at the Norrebrohall outward, a new Red Square, which looks a bit fascist or playful depending on your mood, was created. “A range of recreational offers and the large central square allows the local residents to meet each other through physical activity and games.” A large section of the square is covered in “multifunctional rubber” to enable ball games, parades, and farmer’s markets.
Also included is an outdoor fitness area that is also a global mix-up, with Thai boxing equipment; a playground that includes a slide from Chernobyl, Iraqi swings, and Indian climbing playground; a sound system from Jamaica; and benches from Brazil, Iran, and Switzerland. Of course, the trees in the neighborhood all bloom red, too.
Mimers Plads, the black component of Superkilen, offers the main gathering spot. This is “where the locals meet around the Moroccan fountain, the Turkish bench, and under Japanese Cherry trees.” There are tables, benches, and tables for backgammon, chess, BBQing, and hanging out. Humorously, there’s a big dentist’s sign from Qatar, “Brazilian bar chairs under the Chinese palm trees, a Japanese octopus playground next to the long row of Bulgarian picnic tables and Argentinean BBQ’s.”
Lastly, there’s the Green Park, where everyone can speak the language of games. There, BIG and team built a hockey field with an integrated basketball court but surrounded these spaces in green. “The activities of the Green Park with its soft hills and surfaces appeals to children, young people, and families.”
The neighbors has asked for more green so BIG and team ended up making the green park completely green, “not only by keeping and exaggerating the curvy landscape, but also painting all bike- and pedestrian paths green.” Monochromatic landscape in three colors.
Image credits: (1) copyright Iwan Baan, (2) copyright Torben Eskerod, (3) copyright Jens Lindhe, (4-7) Iwan Baan, (8) Torben Eskerod, (9-10) Iwan Baan, (11) copyright Mike Magnussen