Cities are a big part of the cause of climate change, sea level rise and pollution,” declares Marshall Blecher. “But they can also be part of the solution.” Blecher is one of the two architects behind CPH-Ø1, a new man-made wooden island in Copenhagen’s South Harbour. The 20m2 structure, about the size of a comfortable bedroom, is a remarkable architectural feat by many standards. For instance, it was constructed by hand using boat-building techniques, and is kept afloat by a whopping 4,000 recycled plastic bottles. At the heart of the island stands a single, slim 6m-tall linden tree sponsored by SITAS (Scandinavian Instant Trees), a Danish company that helps the planting of trees in public spaces.
Blecher hails from Australia, but could pass off as Scandinavian with his hip haircut and tidy beard. “The prototype uses reclaimed materials wherever possible, and we have plans to install mussel- and seaweed-growing beds to the underside of future islands in order to provide a little bit of a habitat for fish and sea creatures,” he says of CPH-Ø1’s radical construction techniques.
CPH-Ø1 is just the first in a series of nine man-made islands – incidentally, “ø” means “island” in Danish – that will eventually make up the Copenhagen Islands project, an initiative that Blecher co-founded with designer Magnus Maarbjerg to create more public spaces throughout the city. “Some will be floating garden spaces, one will feature a diving board and another will even have a café,” Blecher explains. When the entire archipelago – or “parkipelago”, if you will – is complete, the movable islands will even be able to slot together to form a large floating structure for special events.
The next island, which will be constructed adjacent to CPH-Ø1 and completed later this year, will include a public sauna and a small forest with trees; an expansion on the lone SITAS linden tree that juts out of the initial prototype. Future islands will also be launched in abandoned parts of the harbour in a design-led effort to revitalise them.
This visionary project epitomises three major tenets of Nordic design: craftsmanship, simplicity and a connection with nature. The creators hope that locals and visitors alike can either swim or take a boat to the floating islands, where they can picnic, stargaze or simply enjoy the salty breeze. The initiative is a fresh and sustainable way of approaching inner-city leisure, and it makes perfect sense in a place like Copenhagen, which has set itself the lofty aim of becoming the first ever carbon-neutral metropolis by 2025, and looks set to realise that goal.
Such ground-breaking initiatives aren’t just limited to the inner city. Change is also afoot in Nordhavn, a historic industrial harbour area straddling the Øresund coast in the north. Home to cruise docks, a shipping container terminal and various warehouses and manufacturing hubs, Nordhavn is currently in the middle of a multi-decade, government-led scheme to transform it into a sustainable waterfront district. Upon completion, it will house 40,000 residents in energy-efficient apartments, alongside office spaces and public squares.
It’s here that you will find the BOD, an affectionate acronym for Building on Demand. When construction on the project is completed at the end of this year, the roughly 50m² structure will stand as the first 3D-printed concrete building in Europe having met the European Union’s strict building codes, and comprise various workspaces that can be rented by companies in the area. While the BOD may be rather small, the size of a modest apartment, the goal is to create an initial blueprint that can be applied to future 3D-printed structures in the Danish capital and beyond.
“Concrete is the biggest sinner in [generating] carbon dioxide. We produce very limited waste, as we only print what is necessary”
The BOD is the brainchild of Jakob Jørgensen, the founding partner of Danish printing company 3D Printhuset. The cheerful designer reveals that instead of building the entire structure out of concrete, he also made use of donated gypsum, crushed tiles and fly ash, a by-product generated from coal-based thermal power plants. As a result, he was able to save roughly 2.5 tonnes of concrete during the construction process.
“Concrete is the biggest sinner in [generating] carbon dioxide. We produce very limited waste, as we only print what is necessary,” he shares, stressing that 40% of global waste is derived from the construction industry. “We believe that green construction can actually be economically viable and competitive in the future.”
Over in the quickly developing Ørestad City in the south – roughly 8km away from Copenhagen’s city centre and home to the airport as well as lots of new construction – is a new and eco-friendly 1,500m² sports complex. Its eye-catching wooden façade and sloping green roofs stand in contrast to the large, concrete buildings in the area. Known as Ørestad Streethal, the building was constructed by local design company Nord Architects and is characterised by angular lines and a sprawling lawn that encircles the entire structure.
Opened just last year, the multi-purpose centre is divided into five zones consisting of adaptable spaces. It features heated and unheated sections that cater to different activities (yoga and dance classes take place in the heated section, while basketball games occur in the unheated area), and is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Large windows lining the building’s perimeter let the light in on sunny days and allow users to gaze out into nature even when inside, seamlessly connecting the indoor and outdoor environments. And in a radical and typically trusting Danish move, the building is completely unmanned by staff, allowing users to come and go at all hours of the day as they please.
But its most organic aspect undoubtedly lies in how it was designed: through co-creation with the local community via pre-construction surveys and architect-led workshops. “The building is a response to the needs and desires of users in that part of Copenhagen,” reflects Johannes M Pedersen, a partner at Nord Architects, on the project’s focus on social sustainability. “It stands out as a small tree or flower between huge [concrete] buildings, structures and streets.”
Morten Gregersen, another partner at Nord Architects, emphasises that architects bear perhaps the greatest responsibility when it comes to constructing new buildings that are as eco-friendly as possible. “Architects do generally have an enormous impact on the final result of a building’s ecological footprint,” he says. “Early-stage [design] concepts like geometry and orientation set the sustainability factor in terms of [what materials are used in the construction process], as well as overall energy consumption.”
While Blecher, Jørgensen, Jakobsen and Gregersen’s primary goal may be greening Copenhagen, they realise that their cutting-edge work has potentially global ramifications. “We are proud to work and live in a city that takes its responsibility towards sustainability seriously, and want to inspire radical alternatives for climate-resilient urban development,” Blecher declares.
Jørgensen also hopes that his work will continue to push boundaries, not just in terms of sustainability, but on a creative level too. “I believe that people really want to see more exciting shapes in the urban space, and hopefully we can be part of that solution,” he says.
Clearly, these visionary architects and innovators are creating a whole new blueprint for sustainable living, one that will hopefully carry us all far into the future.
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDERS SCHØNNEMANN
Singapore Airlines flies to Copenhagen six times weekly. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
SEE ALSO: A local’s guide to Copenhagen, Denmark
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine