Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Last Day

I should mention that I am home in Seattle now. I got home just in time for a rare Seattle snowstorm and a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with family. I am still combing through the digital mountains of photographs that I took in my last few weeks. However, here are some shots from my last day in Copenhagen. I went out to see the Munkegåards Skolen, an elementary school north of the city center that was designed originally by Arne Jacobsen in 1956. It is a listed historic building, with new extension and renovation by Dorte Mandrup, one of my favorite architects.

Here are some photos I took of the school, though as you can see I needed a much wider angled lens for this place... For better photos and interior shots of the remodel, click here.

Also, on the long bike ride out to the school, Ellen and I stopped at another building I hadn't visited in Copenhagen yet: Grundtvig's Church. Just like a giant pipe organ composed entirely of yellow brick. Pretty cool!

Case III: Ørestad?

Ok, so a developing neighborhood along the metro line in Amager called Ørestad is getting a lot of attention right now. Some of the attention is positive: It's a new 'sustainable' neighborhood, and a glimpse into the future of design and urban living, etc... Bjarke Ingalls owns an apartment there, and his young architecture firm BIG has designed a large percentage of the housing projects nearby. Yet critics will say that the neighborhood shows complete disregard for the human scale, and everything we know about urban planning via Jane Jacobs.

The buildings are massive, and it takes about 3-5 min to pass by each individual complex on foot (according to Gehl Architect's principles of designing for people, we need much more visual stimuli than that or we become bored). The area is dense, but where are the grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops? There are a few, but even crossing the main street (over the highway and under the metro) feels like it requires careful strategic planning. In short, the area was designed for commuters who want to work and play downtown, then take the train 5-10 min max, and be at home in the privacy of their fancy condos. And, I'll admit it feels kind of cool to go breezing through this futuristic neighborhood in the front seat of the driver-less metro with sparkling canals beneath you, and windmills in the distance...

One of the most interesting of the sustainable strategies that are applied in Ørestad is the separation of water into 3 distinct categories: sewage, clean stormwater (from roofs and other 'clean' surfaces, and road runoff (includes parking areas). These three types of water are handled very differently: Sewage is treated at the treatment plant, and never mixes with the other two. Stormwater runs through Ørestad in a series of canals, and eventually drains into protected wetlands beyond the neighborhood. The runoff from roads is collected in a different system of pipes, to be filtered to remove pollutants (this part is still incomplete I believe). Once a successful method has been decided upon, the treated road runoff can be routed into the stormwater canals, which are designed with a variety of different characteristics throughout the district.

For more information, click here.

I also spent some time checking out the new 8HOUSE project by BIG in Southern Ørestad with Ellen. It is a figure 8 shaped building that you can walk over the entire top of (not on the green roof part, but a stairway off to the side). It was interesting, though I'm sure sure I would want to live there...

This is the view from the top of the 8HOUSE. Pretty desolate.

This is the VM houses, also by BIG. It was one of the first projects completed by BIG in Ørestad, and was interesting to see because it seems to be inhabited more than some of the other developments. It is funny to see what people put in the pointy tips of their balconies: BBQ's and potted plants seem to be the winners.

And, of course, here's the Mountain. Parking garage with housing "smeared" across the top. It is lovely from this angle.

They've really starting sprucing up the area in from of the Mountain. New tiny gardens out front add some color, and the leased space at ground level is now occupied by a fantastic bakery.

A Case for Open Stormwater Systems (Part II): Augustenborg, Malmö

The open stormwater system at Augustenborg (Eco-City), Malmö differs greatly from that at the Western Harbour because the strategy was applied to an existing neighborhood, as opposed to a new development. The area suffered flooding, as well high tenancy turnover. The neighborhood was run down, and the buildings (ubiquitous 1950's housing seen all over Sweden) were suffering. The Eco-City project began in 1998, and included re-routing all stormwater to open systems, the creation of flood reservoirs which allow for controlled flooding during rainy periods, and the addition of green roofs.

Since then, over 6 km of canals have been built, and at least 70% of stormwater is dealt with on-site. Additional benefits to the neighborhood include better outdoor spaces, longer tenancies, and an economically diverse neighborhood that is desirable yet affordable.

The components of this project are less flashy than the Western Harbour model, but at least as effective:

Here is a shallow stormwater canal that drains to a flood reservoir. The raised bumps in the concrete canal serve as a primary filtration system that prevents leaves from clogging the system.

One of the deeper branches of the system comes equipped with overflow holes that dump water into side swales in the event of extreme rainfall.

Detail of the 'leaf filtration' system at work.

Reservoirs become public gathering space for the neighborhood, as well as providing habitat for a variety of water fowl.

Permeable pavers in desginated parking areas.

This is the one part I can't figure out. There were many of these concrete boxes embedded in the ground, each with a thin green roof layer on top, complete with drainage mesh, etc... I think they might be small test plots for collecting info on green roof systems?

Accessory building, either recycling station or bike storage, complete with green roof.

For more information about stormwater systems in Malmö, click here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Case for Open Stormwater Systems (Part I): Western Harbour, Malmö

In Scandinavia, sustainable developments that address environmental health of both land and water are called "green and blue". Blue refers to measures that help protect water quality adjacent to urban areas. One of the biggest efforts that is being made to help protect urban waterways is the separation of stormwater and sewage. Combined sewage and storm systems are an issue all over the world, as they were the most cost effective way of transporting wastewater before cities developed sewage treatment systems. Now, the rate of treatment is controlled by how fast a treatment plant can handle water intake.

Sewage treatment plants, which often rely on living systems are not equipped to deal with fluctuations in the volume or nutrient-concentration of water they receive. The raw sewage produced by a city on a daily basis is fairly predictable, except during periods of heavy rain. During these times, systems become overloaded, and overflows occur. These overflows dump sewage directly into urban waterways, full of pollutants.

The alternative to combined sewage systems is to completely separate stormwater from sewage systems. Often, stormwater is regarded as clean and unharmful to urban waterways, and is allowed to drain freely without any filtration. However, stormwater that passes over contaminated surfaces such as roads and parking lots can contain many contaminants as well.

A trend in stormwater management is the 'open system'. Open stormwater systems can include many different approaches to dealing with stormwater: swales, open gutters, reservoirs, permeable pavers, greens roofs can all be part of a system designed to manage water on site.

The Western Harbour in Malmö incorporates many of these strategies into a newly developed mixed-use housing district. Here are some of the systems at work:

Small alleys are lined with open gutters that transport stormwater to larger canals. The gutters also create a buffer zone next to people's homes and windows for better privacy, and provide an opportunity for plants to climb the walls. Changes in paving indicate when cyclists and pedestrians are near the gutter to prevent accidents. The gutter is covered in places where people must cross to enter a building.

In larger 'streets', small gardens act as swales, and help filter the water. These gardens also serve as traffic calming devices, and help to indicate parking spaces (for the few inhabitants who own cars).

Building layouts are staggered slightly to create opportunities for small filtration pools and gardens. They provide green spaces for the neighborhood, and break up the monotony of a solid street wall. This effort is aided by the fact that most of the buildings are very small (2-4 units) and are designed by many different architects, to avoid feeling like a monolithic housing complex.

One benefit of an open stormwater systems is that beyond the initial cost, maintenance is cheaper because all problem areas are open and accessible. In the case of the Western Harbour, Bo01, most components are made of small masonry/block units that can be replaced individually when repairs are needed.

All of these measures are taken to help protect the quality of water in the Øresund. The waterfront of the Western Harbor was designed with bathing in mind: Seating oriented toward the sun, unlimited access to the water, and a lovely boardwalk. I should also add that though I took these photos on a sunny day, the temperature was well below freezing, so there were not many people outside.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


What a week! I had a cold for most of it, though it seems to be getting better now. I was fortunate to be invited to visit Gehl Architects, where my friends Mary and Jenny are interning this fall. Once a month they gather to present current projects, and discuss themes within their work. Very interesting!

This weekend I hung out with Jenny, shopping, and exploring. The weather is now cold and crisp, and has been extremely beautiful. Friday was the famous city-wide Juløl release, where all the young people drink themselves silly on Christmas beers. On Sunday we went out to the Dyrehaven, which used to be the Royal hunting grounds. It is full of deer and elk, and is absolutely gorgeous right now. They were reenacting an old hunting story this weekend, so there were men with costumes and bugles. I hear there was even a 'fox' (man in costume) but we didn't see him!

In Klampenborg, next to the park there is also a small seaside town with a tiny beach and the Bellavista housing designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1934, as well as a theater in 1935.

Oh yeah, and this little guy has been staying with us for a few days. His name is Perro.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in Denmark

This weekend, Natalie, Thomas and I threw a Halloween gathering at our apartment to introduce all of our international friends to this tradition. We served pumpkin cupcakes, caramel apples, pies, and chile. And of course, tons of candy (though the most popular candy in Denmark is licorice which is an unusual Halloween treat). Our guests wore some amazing costumes, and we took over the courtyard of our apartment for a pumpkin carving contest. Inside, we screened classic horror movies all day long: Jaws, Arachnophobia, The Shining, and Poltergeist.


Mary, with a huge knife and a tiny pumpkin.

Jan and Viktor take on this gigantic pumpkin.

Natalie teaches Leo how to clean the seeds out of a jack o' lantern.

My sushi costume.