Creative City

Guided walking tour of Shoreditch with Igloo near Arnold Circus

In the Gehl Architects family, annual study trips are a well-loved tradition; partly because it is important to keep a social office, but also in large because we actually really enjoy the opportunity to play tourists. Although our work takes us to many exotic and exciting cities, it is sometimes difficult to find the time to marvel at tall, shiny buildings, when the paving is disastrous and we are blinded by visual clutter or by the overpowering presence of D-categorised facades (refer to “How to study public life” or know that on a scale from A-E, where A is a façade that has a dancing unicorn and a coffee-drinking hipster on display, D facades are pretty uninteresting.) Therefore, it was a happy crowd that showed up at Copenhagen airport earlier this month to partake in this year’s two-day, jammed-packed study trip to… London town.

We arrived early in the morning at Gatwick airport, with two hours to get two dozen Gehlians, via our hotel in East London, to King’s Cross station for the first stop of the tour. Argent, who are responsible for the redevelopment of the areas around the station, had invited us to their office to give us an insight into what has been called “the largest area of urban redevelopment in Europe.” (Richard Godwin, Evening Standard Magazine). In the office, we were presented with the grand plans for making a vibrant, diverse and inclusive neighbourhood, along with interesting schemes for an implementation considering both the economic and the social parameters. We wondered: is it possible to transform a polluted and neglected railway area in the middle of London into something truly nice? Afterwards, when we had bought lunch at the exotic food trucks on the plaza between the granary-turned-art-school (St-Martins) and the greened river bank, it was easy to believe in a bright future for King’s Cross.


Colourful food carts and street furniture bring life to the grey plaza in front of Central Saint-Martin’s School at King’s Cross.

At Stratford, we were introduced to another area of London that has been subjected to ambitious planning strategies: the post-Olympic wasteland, of which we were given a very entertaining guided tour by London Urban Visits. However, as fond as we are of walking, the vastness of the Olympic park and the scarceness of distractions, managed to make our feet and legs growl by the end of the tour. It shall be interesting to see how those large-scale spaces between the sports arenas will be appropriated in the future, and whether they can be brought back to life when the surrounding areas have been developed for residential and commercial purposes.

In Dalston, Hackney, we visited this green oasis known as the Eastern Curve Garden, which is preserved and appreciated by the local community.

However, my favourite visit of the day was our rendez-vous with Dalston, Hackney, which (according to the Guardian and I) is one of the coolest areas in London. However, you need not fret if you haven’t heard of Hackney yet, because the gentrification of the area has happened so quickly that not even the long-term residents of Hackney have had time to grasp their new status. They are left to marvel at the rapid increase of property prices and the sudden occurrence of novelty bars and tourists, such as ourselves. We met with Hackney Co-operative Developments, which is a non-profit local community organisation, aiming to create an equal and solidary environment for the (small) business owners in Hackney. Our meeting took place in the Eastern Curve Garden, which will definitely be used as a best-practice example in the Gehl office, for how to develop successful, community driven green spaces within a dense, urban fabric.

In the evening, we digested the many impressions of London in a cosy restaurant, which was located beneath the bridge of a functioning railway. Who said re-appropriation?


On the second day during the “creative city”-tour we had lunch in “Lookmumnohands” – a bicycle-themed café at London Fields.

For the second part of the tour, we were split into two groups, entitled “creative city” and “retail”. The group, which was investigating creative city co-operations, had the pleasure of visiting Igloo in the London Tech City, the Trampery and Netil House. London Tech City was a very interesting example of the effects that the branding of a city area can have. The Trampery and Netil House proposed two very different working cooperatives, both promoting inter-disciplinary mingling, but with varied means and goals. While the Trampery oozed of creative hub with artwork on the walls and social designer-kitchen spaces, Netil House had a scent of raw concrete (literally) with a hint of squatter and DIY. As some of us were debating the ups and downs of the creative industries in London, the rest were busy scouting retail-strategies in the high-end shopping district of Mayfair. In this area, the streets are groomed with good paving, wide sidewalks and beautiful window-displays, because the shop-owners know that their clientele prefer (are used to?) nice surroundings. Their tour also went by Lamb’s Conduit Street, a sophisticated hub for menswear designers, and the Brunswick Centre, which is a successful example of a mixed-use development (residential and shopping). Their day finished on Camden High Street, which might be said to be diametrically different from where they had started off in Mayfair; In Camden, the streets aren’t “nice” in the physical sense of the word, but the bustle of people rushing in and out of the many little shops gives Camden a uniquely “nice” vibe that attracts Londoners and tourists alike.

So, at the end of a study tour, what does the Gehlian take home, besides sore feet and a million pictures of urban prodigal moments? Firstly, a renewed will and energy to partake in the many changes that cities constantly undergo. Secondly, a ton of questions, answers and ideas to inspire future projects. And, in this case, thirdly: a love of London, as the city which continues to renew and reinvent itself so rapidly that even the flâneur breaks into a run.



The Mid West in the 1950’es? Could be, but it’s the prospect of a new project in Hillerød, north of Copen-hagen; an example of the bizzare type of nostalgia that still exists in Denmark, while other countries are busy rethinking retail.

The Mid-West in the 1950’s? Could be, but it’s the prospect of a new project in Hillerød, north of Copenhagen; an example of the bizzar type of nostalgia that still exists in Denmark, while other countries are busy rethinking retail.


By Julie Holck, Retail Expert

In Denmark, a unique planning legislation has prevented the construction of hypermarkets for the last 20 years.

However a bizarre type of nostalgia keeps popping up among Danish politicians. For some reason they keep dreaming of a disconnected and absolutely unsustainable phenomenon which other countries long ago labelled as undesirable. The negative consequences of hypermarkets are wide-ranging, and, well, so last millennium.

In the US they haven’t built isolated hypermarkets since 2006. Instead they are talking enthusiastically about mixed-use projects, which combine retail, culture, parks and housing, resulting in something that looks like – yes, you guessed it – cities. Since 2009 hypermarket chains like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco have implemented down-sizing strategies, creating smaller stores in city centers.

At the global retail conference in New York in January 2014 trend spotters talked about the future of retail and showed pictures of markets, bazaars and high streets (including Strøget in Copenhagen!).

Shops belong to the city, and great shops create urban life. They support social relations, increase safety in the streets, attract tourists, enhance property values and inspire people in their daily life. Local shops also reduce CO2 emission. Therefore, the intention of keeping shops in cities – thereby responding directly to basic human needs – can never be retrograde. On the contrary, it is our way to move towards a sustainable future.

American university studies throughout the last couple of decades demonstrate that hypermarkets (example: Wal-Mart) do the opposite.

They increase CO2 emission.

Markets function as anchors to other shops, create more jobs and bigger economic growth than ordinary super markets and are an extremely good investment regarding health, climate – and property values!

Markets function as anchors to other shops, create more jobs and bigger economic growth than ordinary super markets and are an extremely good investment regarding health, climate – and property values!

They lead to the closing down of shops in nearby areas, which effectively reduces urban life and public meeting places; fewer social organizations and lower voter turnouts are de facto consequences of Wal-Mart coming to town. People get fewer reasons to go out and the citizens’ feeling of belonging to a place decreases. The result is lower property values and unsafe ghost towns – and ultimately a loss in the net-tax-income for the city.

Besides, hypermarkets, in the long run, lead to less competition and fewer options for the consumer. When the other shops are out of business, cases show that Wal-Mart rises their prices.

Another consequence is the distortion of the power structures regarding the production of food and other goods. During the 1990’s Wal-Mart achieved market shares that were so big they could control the production of food and non-food; their demands for low prices have had an unreasonably and detrimental influence on natural resources, animal welfare and human working conditions. The cost of low prices is very high.

Retail is a vastly complex field and it is essential to look at all aspects – not only productivity – when considering changing the legislation. As Winston Churchill said: ”We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” – but before that we create commerce and then commerce sets the framework for the rest: Not only our cities but also our infrastructure, our landscapes, our social relations and the power structures of society.

Urban shops support social relations, increase safety in the streets, brings character and diversity to a place and attract citizens, tourists and other businesses alike.

Urban shops support social relations, increase safety in the streets, brings character and diversity to a place and attract citizens, tourists and other businesses alike.

Therefore, let’s jump over the dark hypermarket era, and continue straight ahead to a future of sustainable shopping in living cities!


I was recently approached by two Danish teenage girls – Mira and Camille – who wanted to do a project about ‘urban worlds’ in Copenhagen, and it immediately sparkled my curiosity – why the interest in that topic? How did they themselves experience the urban worlds of the city? Do they have an urban world where they feel at home? Reflecting on these questions I started thinking more generally about the notion of democratic public spaces.


In recent years there has been an ongoing debate about girls in public spaces in Copenhagen. There seems to be a tendency towards girls using the newly redesigned public spaces far less than boys. Why is that? Can – and should – we do something about it? In the name of ‘the healthy city’ many of the new public spaces focus on ‘active spaces’ and it often results in trajectories and skate parks. Very few girls are active in these spaces, and if present they are to a large extent ‘reduced to passive spectators’.


A number of municipalities in the Copenhagen area have taken up the challenge of how to incorporate the girls’ perspective into planning. Some of the insights gained from this initiative (which were also echoed in my conversation with Mira and Camille) seem to indicate that many young girls simply spend time at home and not in the public space. Why is that? Are there hidden barriers that we’re unaware of? What types of public spaces could possibly attract young girls to be more ‘active’?


The presence of both men and women in public spaces are good indications of spaces with a high level of sense of security, and for this reason we at Gehl Architects also do gender mappings as part of our PSPL’s. But perhaps we need to sharpen our understanding of how – not only men and women but also boys and girls use and perceive the public spaces differently? Surely ‘girls’ are by no means a homogenous group and it may not – despite all good intentions – be possible to create ‘public spaces for all’ as is often stated in vision documents, but an increased awareness of the issues at stake seems to be an important place to start.

Vienna has since the early 1990’s worked consciously and strategically with the implementation of a gender mainstreaming programan initiative which has led to an increased focus on the many different needs related to public spaces (Read more here) . Some would (rightly) argue that it would be a shame to start creating spaces for either men or women, but to see ‘defining needs as a continuous process’ doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

For inspiration I invite you to take a look at the website created by Mira and Camille based on their impressions from a tour looking for ‘urban worlds’ in Copenhagen.



The process of developing cities for people can flourish in various ways. In Lublin, Poland, they have nominated 2014 to be “Year of Jan Gehl”, and we are curious to follow the initiatives and the outcome. Follow the blog “2014 Rok Jana Gehla w Lublinie” to keep up with initiatives.

In November 2013, Jan Gehl sat down with Jakub Zasina from the University of Lodz for a conversation on what determines a ‘Livable City’. Have a look right here.

Active by Design, page 7

Active by Design, page 7

We have just received word that the Design Council in London have launched Active by Design, their new programme to design places for healthy lives. The first step in their launch is the release of their short guide publication, which you can browse through here. Gehl Architects is very happy to be included in the guide with our Brighton, New Road project!

Active by Design was created in response to the increasing health crisis affecting the UK. The intention is to promote the use of good design in buildings and spaces to encourage greater levels of daily physical activity and increase access to healthy and nutritious food.


Local newspaper ‘Sydsvenskan’ March 19th. Kommunstyrelsens ordförande (Leader of municipal council), Christian Sonesson (M) and Thomas Heinegård, regional manager at Skanska announced the plans for a new district in western Hjärup at a press meeting last week

Last week I had the privilege of attending a press meeting in the small town of Hjärup, Sweden, where the municipality of Staffanstorp and our client Skanska, announced that together, they are now starting the formal planning process of developing a new residential district of about 700 new houses and apartments, as well as commercial and public service in western Hjärup. In 2011/2012 Gehl Architects developed the masterplan that will form the starting point for the redevelopment of the 26 ha. industrial site where Skanskas former concrete factory is located, right next to the Hansa – inspired by the development of Jakiborg.

The new district will add a significant amount of new residents to Hjärups current 5000, and will form a basis for more extensive commercial and public services in Hjärup, as a whole. The proposal builds on qualities found in Hjärup today – the strategic location in the Øresunds region and proximity to the railway, good accessibility by foot and bike within the town and the green and child friendly environments. It addresses the challenge of the barrier effect of the railway by ensuring that more connections in the future can link the existing eastern and the new western parts of the town and by providing new public spaces, a variety of housing types and additional services that will be accessible to current as well as future inhabitants in Hjärup.

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposes concentrating the active and commercial life and a higher density of built mass around the natural node of the railway station while exploring how recreational, spatial and social qualities can be enhanced in the residential areas. The proposal is based on a fine grain network of connections and includes a series of parks of different character and programming acting as meeting places and providing local identities within the area. The residential streets are proposed as intimate laneways where children can play and neighbors meet.  A key challenge has been to explore how row-houses and villas can be mixed and carefully placed in order to achieve high spatial definition and variation.

Collage from the masterplan

Collage from the masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012

The masterplan proposal by Gehl Architects from 2012The masterplan proposal was developed in close relationship with our client Skanska Nya Hem, with representatives from the Municipality through an intense and educative process of creative working meetings, exciting discussions and field trips. All with the aim of jointly illustrating a well-founded vision for a new livable and locally anchored district in Hjärup.


Gehl led collaborative working session together with the Skanska team

Read article from local newspaper ‘Sydsvenskan’ March 19th here >


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