Copenhagen Green

Earlier in the Summer an outdoor exhibition of photographs opened on Nytorv in Copenhagen, the large square in front of the old 18th-century town hall, but on the 18th August it was moved to the other end of the Walking Street onto Højbro Plads where it will remain until 30th October.

On Nytorv there was more space and, ironically, fewer trees so the large display panels formed interesting groups and spaces and the square is slightly quieter so there was more chance to look carefully at the photographs and read all the accompanying text and information. On Højbro Plads the space is slightly more constricted and the exhibition spills out of the square to the south and along the edge of the canal with its views over to the Parliament buildings.

The aim of the exhibition is to “strike a blow for the good city life and for the city’s green and sustainable places.” Photographs selected show 100 sites around and just outside the city and show all seasons … so from well-used public spaces like Frederiksberg Have (Frederiksberg Gardens) and the Søerne or lakes, that arc around the city centre to the west and north, to less well-known areas of green and planting like Kineserbyen (or the Yellow Town) and roof-top vegetable gardens of Østerbro and from the Spring blossom of Bispebjerg Kirkegård (cemetry) to the Winter frost covering Pinseskoven forest.

The photographs are stunning, particularly at the size they are printed, but the information and back stories of the long labels are also interesting and important … for instance there is one photograph and panel about the history of the distinct dark green paint used in the city for gates, doors, windows and benches. There are also clear location maps for finding the places profiled.

One obvious link in the photographs is that many if not most show the citizens of Copenhagen using, enjoying and having fun in these open spaces from an amazing air view of two boys playing football on the urban sports area of Plug N Play to a young woman quietly sitting on a bench in the sun reading in Holmens Kirkegård (Holmen’s Cemetery)

It was worth spending as much time as possible looking at the photographs and reading the information panels but I have also bought the book that accompanies the exhibition because, as I have only just moved to the city, there can't be many better ways to get to know the place than by using the book as a “bucket list” for places to visit and explore over the coming seasons.

In fact, to show the diversity and beauty of these open green spaces in the city I took a camera with me on Friday when I walked from my apartment up to the shops at the triangle by the lakes to buy an electric plug … a distance of well under 2 kilometres along a single main road in the city … and just took a couple of steps away from the pavement to take the photographs.

If you wonder why a post about green spaces in Copenhagen has a place in a design blog then consider the English phrase “by design”. We use the phrase “designed by” x or y or z all the time. By design is a useful phrase that implies that something is deliberate and thought through carefully, either by designed intervention or by carefully-considered leaving alone, but generally we use the phrase when the designers are unknown or work anonymously in a large department. The green spaces in Copenhagen are testament to well-established and generally very successful urban design and planning in the city.

Good design is often about knowing when to leave something alone or, even more difficult, knowing how to work hard to make it look as if no one has done any work at all.

The first photograph is a bit of a cheat in that I took a view of Kastellet on Friday but this photo taken in March shows the windmill rather better. The railway cutting is the main commuter line into the city from the north. Just north of the railway is Østre Anlæg Park with remains of part of the 17th-century outer defence of the city and the lake is the remains of the moat that was beyond the rampart - the heron daintily tiptoed by as I focused the camera clearly trying not to disturb me. North again the road is flanked by the cemeteries of Garnisons Kirkegård and Holmens Kirkegård and then there is Sortedams Sø where people stroll, parents push prams and the fit and want-to-be-fit of Copenhagen pound their way round whatever the season.

Copenhagen Green - 100 green things to see and do in CopenhagenSusanne Trier Norden and Poul Arnedal, for Foreningen By&Natur (June 2014)

There is also a terrific web site with the photographs and text but also maps and route directions ... you can simply browse from your armchair or plan a tour or start from where you are, if you are in Copenhagen, and look for nearby places and use the map and route directions.