Numerous new housing developments are shooting up in previously undeveloped and industrial areas of Copenhagen. Holscher Nordberg Architecture and Planning is one of the firms shaping these areas. Scan Magazine talks to partner Nils Holscher about the importance of creating a social, sustainable urban environment, blurring the edge between private and public and enabling people to meet and connect.

At the heart of Holscher Nordberg is an insistence on continuously challenging the many preconceived borders in urban development. In a rapidly changing city landscape such as Copenhagen’s, this is particularly important as a lack of well-connected social spaces might lead residents in new areas to feel disconnected and isolated, according to Holscher. “Good urban spaces, living spaces and social spaces are at the core of all our solutions. It’s the best investment a developer can make as well – to create something that will have the functionality and longevity that good space relations and materials provide. It’s about adding value for the users and a connection to the place – it’s not just about creating a cool building; it has to connect to the surroundings, giving something back. Otherwise it won’t have a lasting value.” He adds: “Social sustainability is our responsibility as architects, and that’s fundamental to us. What we aim for are simple and subtle solutions. We believe that what makes an urban space or a building relevant is when the aesthetics are based on the conceptual idea of the project – that’s what creates beautiful, long-lasting solutions.”

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Kvarterspladsen, designed by Holscher Nordberg, will be a new social gathering place at the harbour front in Copenhagen, offering new possibilities for kayaks, rowing boats, swimming and more. Photo: Holscher Nordberg / Vismo.

For the last ten years Holscher Nordberg has, led by Nils Holscher and co-name partner Mikkel Nordberg, implemented this philosophy all over the centre and outskirts of Copenhagen. Working with the firm’s 42 dedicated co-workers, they strive to shape the city to accommodate the needs of the rapidly growing number of families and singles who want a new kind of urban life.

Spiralling people together

Among Holscher Nordberg’s recent projects is a new living quarter in Bellahøjen, a Greater Copenhagen neighbourhood with its own distinct character and challenges. The project, which includes a combination of private terraced houses and subsidised flats, is constructed in a spiral shape rising from two stories at its lowest to seven stories at its highest. The spiral creates a borderless and interconnected urban space and, together with a string of private, public and semi-public green spaces, this creates a number of natural ways for people to meet and be together.

“Our starting point is to create a variety of interknitted urban spaces, enclosed dense environments and more open spaces,” says Holscher. “It’s our goal to bring people together in some areas and give them space to be private in other areas. People have to be able to make their own choice as to how much they want to engage with their local community, but we create the conditions and possibilities for meeting and connecting.”

Another project that makes use of semi-public spaces to bring together residents of housing developments is the new Arenakvarteret in Ørestad, where Holscher Nordberg has created 84 terraced houses. The development combines five different types of housing units of varying heights and typologies as well as different edge zones, where the private sphere of the houses intertwines with the public sphere. “It is our responsibility to create a mixed and varied area with different social class and housing units that appeal to different age groups,” Holscher explains. The space will also soon include three nine-storey apartment buildings, which have been commissioned as an extension after the highly popular development sold out. The high-rise buildings will feature communal roof terraces with conservatories on top to give residents an unconventional shared social space.

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The Loop in Værebroparken is a small-scale intervention that aims to create a relaxed and informal meeting place for the local residents of the socially strained housing project in Gladsaxe. Photo: Peter Nørby.

Social sustainability starts at home

Even though features such as shared terraces, protruding or transparent façades, smaller divisions, and dense, varied and meaningful urban spaces are essential to Holscher Nordberg, every single project is adapted to the specific area and its future users. One very pertinent example of this is the recently opened Loop, a playful ‘loop walkway’ located in the Værebro Park, an old housing estate suffering from high crime rates and a declining number of inhabitants. The low-budget yet aesthetic structure is designed as a playful path offering a variation of activities and a physical as well as mental bridge between the different users of the area.

Arenakvarteret in Ørestad focuses on creating dense, varied, and meaningful urban spaces with a mix of public and semi-public areas where the residents can meet and interact. Photo: Holscher Nordberg / Vismo.

It is about creating an environment that will affect people’s lives every day, and that is something to be taking very seriously, stresses Holscher. “You might ask, why is social sustainability so important? The answer is simply that it makes a development a nicer and better place to live and be. The closeness you create with your neighbours means that you can feel comfortable sending your children out to play, and that you can enjoy your social spaces, and that is incredibly important for a community to survive.” He concludes: “We are very dedicated to creating strong social dynamics, and that’s something that starts right here in our own studio. We have a really dynamic working environment – how could we be preaching social sustainability if we weren’t leading the way in our own firm?”


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