Orestad: Laboratory for the City of the Future?

Residential Buildings in Orestad South as Seen From the South

By Caspar Lundsgaard-Hansen

Orestad is a new borough on the island of Amager in the south of Copenhagen. It represents the first extended public-private partnership in Danish city planning. Furthermore, Orestad was not only conceived as an extension to an ambitious and growing European capital but also as a laboratory for the city of the future. I wonder though if the urban experiments have been successful.

On the one hand, Orestad is supposed to boast a world-class infrastructure – containing fully functional public transportation, clever car park strategies, direct links to local recreation sites and a coherent city and landscape planning. These tasks, as well as the demands for distinct environmental sustainability, seem to be fulfilled to a fairly convincing degree.

Area in Orestad City (with Metro Tracks in the Front)

On the other hand, this does not make for a desirable and livable area. After two visits (one in July this year, one in spring 2010) I have mixed feelings about the future development and evaluation of Orestad. The following aspects could prove to be critical:

1)    The area is very large (3,1 million square meters) – maybe too large for a city as small as Copenhagen. And too large for a World hit by a massive economic downturn. So to say: Orestad is – in terms of scale – the European Dubai. Just a little too much, too fast, too optimistic (e. g. a great number of dwellings in the famous ‘8 House’ by BIG are still unsold).

2)    Not only the area is large but also the single plots. The spatial structure thus reminds me of modern residential developments on the edge of town. Not suburbia, of course, but the huge prefab-building developments like Berlin-Marzahn. I have the impression that large plots have the tendency to contribute little to what could be described as an “exciting and stimulating urban density” provided by the old-fashioned European city.

3)    Moreover, also the shopping facilities are ‘large’: people shop at Field’s, a terrible shopping mall in the centre of Orestad that has absolutely nothing to do with what I hope the future will look like. I used to think that the Charta of Athens is a thing of the past. Not so much in Orestad though, at least not concerning purchasing your daily goods. Anyhow I almost died of thirst on my walk from Field’s to the northern end of Orestad; there were no little shops or kiosks between Field’s and the northern end of the area.

Residential Buildings in Orestad South as Seen From the North

These three remarks certainly do not conclude the list of (potential) problems. Anyhow, I think that these three observations suggest:

1)    Plan in accordance with the overall size of the city and take into account unexpected changes in superordinate dimensions.

2)    Do not hesitate to move a little closer, it won’t hurt; smaller plots might help in general.

3)    Aim at a smaller-scale mixing of daily uses (and routines, habits etc.).

To conclude the article I would also like to point out to certain aspects I liked in Orestad: there is some stunning architecture to be found on the edge of farmland (especially BIG and Lundgaard & Tranberg), Orestad has so far experienced a rather impressive influx of international companies, the nearby airport is the most stylish I know, and I personally nevertheless would not exclude to live there. That says it all, I assume.

Tietgen Dormitory for Students in the North of Orestad

All photographs by Caspar Lundsgaard-Hansen.

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