A large scale and ambitious project in Copenhagen, this water-controlling design aims to mitigate against ‘1,000-year’ rain events that have historcially overwhelmed the city. We spoke to SLA, the firm behind the winning design.
Can you start with some background on the project?
The competition started two years ago, so there was a pre-qualification process involving putting together a team and a bid. Here in Copenhagen, they are well known for having urban renewal project offices, so when you have a specific area where there’s a transformation or identification planned, then the project leaders have to contact the local residents or people in the neighbourhood.
So they were actually the ones applying for the challenge, then they got through, then there was pre-qualification and then we got through, together with two other teams. We competed in an open process – the best translation I have is that it’s a parallel experiment where you have direct contact with the end users but also to the urban renewal project, who’s actually the client.
So this project was essentially a local authority commission?
Yes it was. But it was part of the Nordic Built Cities Challenge – the Nordic cities is like a part of the Nordic council of ministers who have made this project based on what’s called the Nordic charter. The Nordic charter has 10 recommendations on how to work towards the most sustainable future of the Nordic cities. We felt that their ambition and their vision was aligned to the way to SLA works – the common understanding of what’s relevant and what’s important in cities.
What sort of land area is this covering?
It’s a long rectangular site adjacent to a street in a very dense area in Copenhagen, one of the densest areas in the city. In the birds-eye view (pictured), our design has circular activity area, then to the left is an old historical cemetery where some of the best minds of Danish culture and philosophy are buried amongst some of the most magnificent and oldest trees of Copenhagen. Today the site is a wetland, and it’s well used because the residents of this area have some of the lowest per capita square metrage of green space in the country. The whole idea or concept was how can this be part of the public space of Copenhagen but also obtain up to 20,000 cubic metres of water and delay it in the a system that manages the rainwater. How do you also raise the level of social value to the site but also the cultural activities in the area. It’s about raising the performance regarding environment but also regarding life quality.
It’s a complex brief!
Yes, it is. the background is also very interesting. In 2011 Copenhagen was hit by a ‘1,000-year event’ of rainfall and the whole city was paralysed for three days. The aftermath of recovering the city and getting it back to normal was thought to have cost of around £1 billion. In the end it’s the citizens who pay for the reconstruction, through our insurance and so forth.
So if you have this prognosis and a dynamic changing weather environemnt, and you know that it will come again, the question is how can you make Copenhagen more resilient towards future events on the same scale. In 2012 they agreed upon a resilience plan on rainwater for the whole city, which involved the utility companies which normally build pipes underneath the streets to take care of rainwater and utilities in general. The utilities services said OK, we are alright with using our money allocated for making these adjustments in the city and using it as some of these 300 projects that were pointed out in the plan of Copenhagen to use them as our surface or terrain recontouring of the city. So part of the funding for the project is from the utility services.
I’m looking at the profile showing rain basins – there are holding tanks, am I perceiving that in the right way?
Yes. What’s important about that is that it’s the whole area is graduated down towards some artificial lakes of Copenhagen. There are five artificial lakes and they also have a certain capacity so under these rain events. The key task was how can we slow down the process of rainwater getting down into the lakes. The system is even designed to clean the water: when you have it coming from first rain flush from the street, it actually cleans it. So there’s a whole series of high performing city nature needs that cleans the water in the system.
When you sit down to do a project like this, what’s the creative process in your offices? How many people get involved, What stages do you go through?
It had so many high demands on the design – both the landscape design but also the design of the ecosystem services. We had a series of internal workshops where we included people that at SLA are right now working with climate adaption and eco-conversion of grey infrastructure into a climate adapted neighbourhood. It was something that we addressed before we started the competition, that we should accumulate all our common knowledge in all our different phases of project. We have also some specialists, we have some plant specialists and they went out there and looked at the existing tress and asked how we could include them. So it was a very dynamic and challenging process for us but we really felt very inspired by this brief because it’s that specific site.
Presumably, this now goes ahead and gets constructed or have they begun work on it already?
We are still looking at the programming of the site. In this area there’s three huge schools allocated as neighbours to the park so right now we are looking at the schools and how they can be part of both the maintenance but also the use of the park.
What’s the cost of building what you have created? What’s the budget, if that can be shared?
The budget on the brief you see 140 million Danish krones or around 20 million euros.