Copenhagen Metro can be seen as a single design project - be it a complicated, ambitious and well-integrated design project - that has pulled together different design skills in electrical and mechanical engineering for the systems that control the driverless trains; advanced civil engineering for the construction of the tunnel system; engineering or industrial design in the trains themselves; architecture and construction engineering in the elevated tracks, the stations, and the canopies over the tracks and of course landscape and urban design and planning in the setting of the stations and tracks above ground along with graphic design and typography to give the whole complex transport system a strong and clear visual identity.
There have been a few mistakes and some things have been changed … for instance fixed glazed barriers along the edge of platforms with doors that line up with the carriage doors have been added for safety as the number of passengers has increased or the changes that have been made as the ticketing system has moved on from clip cards to the credit-card style Rejsekort or to passengers using travel passes on their smart phone which effects how groups of people move into and through the lobby and escalator areas and determines the number of ticket machines and scanners needed and their position.
Often, of course, what initially determined design options might not be that obvious now. Compared with many metro systems, the stations in Copenhagen are further apart so, in what seems to be a counter-intuitive piece of logic, the trains can be smaller and run closer together. That’s simply because there is a greater distance between stations for the train to get up to an efficient speed and still keep within safety margins if the train in front should be held up by people taking longer to get on or off. Slower trains are more efficient if they are longer whereas faster and more regular trains can be shorter. Having made that decision, the size of the train with a standard unit of three carriages then determined the design of the station.
In Copenhagen for the below-ground stations there are a sunken rectangular box built in concrete and the same length as a train and its width is the width of the single central platform between the two tracks. The main entrance and space for tickets and so on are below ground, reached by external uncovered steps down from the pavement and the roof at pavement level, over this space, has distinctive triangular glass pyramids to throw natural daylight down through the construction to the platform below … although electric lighting is also needed because of the depth below ground of the platform level and because intermediate landings and the escalators cut across the space and block some light.
Just to focus on one interesting design problem and solution, the layout of the escalators at the main below-ground stations seems to be particularly good … well designed in terms of managing the movement of people in a safe and relatively rational way … relatively rational because it makes sense for regular users but can be confusing initially for visitors.
Escalators are inset from the outer walls and have glass sides to allow as much light as possible to get down to the platform from above. A common arrangement in other metro systems is to have pairs of escalators side by side with one going up and one down and with the same arrangement repeated at either end of a long platform. In the Copenhagen system, within the tight space of the box, there are two escalators going down at one end and two moving up at the other. To go down you start at the outside edge of the space and go down to a landing where you move towards the centre and double back with two escalators together side by side going down to the centre of the platform … if it was laid out the other way, with the two upper escalators together, the lower flights would be on the outside against the track. Passengers familiar with the layout use the landing to swap to the right side for the platform they want to use below. The escalators also act as a barrier along the centre line of the platform separating out people taking trains in different directions. There is the same arrangement at the other end of the station with two sets of escalators rising up to the ticket hall. The only slight problem for the passenger is if they get off a train from doors towards the middle of a train when it may take a couple of seconds to work out which pair of escalators are going up and which pair are coming down.
The Metro has been constructed in phases. Essentially the starting point was the 1992 Ørestad Act needed to organise the construction programme, acquire land and give the development a legislative and financial base.
Work started in 1994 and the first section opened in October 2009 to run from Nørreport to Vestamager. Almost immediately after that, in May 2003 the extension of that line out from Nørreport to Frederiksberg opened.
A crucial line was constructed out to the airport and that opened in 2007 giving the metro plan it’s distinctive inverted Y arrangement with the junction at Christianshavn and two lines running down through Amager with one to the west serving the new town of Ørestad and the other to the east following the coast of Amager to the airport. Both the southern lines emerge from tunnels south of Christianshavn and continue as raised section above street level. In the opposite direction, beyond Fasanvej Station, the rail is again elevated. The Metro has major interchanges with the suburban rail service at Nørreport and Flintholm.
The next and certainly the most complicated addition in terms of construction will be the Cityringen - City Circle - where work began in 2009 and is due to be completed by 2018. That leaves a relatively short spur out to the North Harbour that is to be opened in 2019 and a line out the South Harbour to be completed by 2023 with the possibility of further lines. This Cityringen will establish further major transport interchanges for the Metro at the central station, at Kongens Nytorv and at Østerport with links to suburban and regional trains.
Bella Centre Station
the elevated track between Bella Centre and Ørestad
the interchange with suburban train services at Flintholm
As the Metro expands signs and colour coding will presumably become more important so people unfamiliar with the system or distracted by the press of people around them don’t find themselves heading in the wrong direction on the wrong line. This is a more general design problem that effects not just the lost individual but the system starts to clog up if people freeze and start looking at maps or guides or start asking people for help while blocking a crucial area at the top or bottom of staircases or blocking exit doors … in those instances bad design can actually foul up the smooth running of the operation and be dangerous. In those cases designers and planners try and avoid problems but it’s quite a challenge to design something to deal with the amazing ability for some humans to be lost, short-sighted, stupid and selfish all at the same time. As with the extensive remodelling of the transport interchange at Nørreport station, good design often works best when people do not realise just how much they are being directed and manipulated by a successful design.
Architects for the Metro were Wilhelm Lauritzen Arkitekter, Nille Juul-Sørensen and KHR Arkitekter
Design for station furniture and fittings by Knud Holscher
Engineering by Rambøll A/S, Grontmij I Carl Bro A/S and Cowi.