Public Space: Putting a Soul into Copenhagen’s Problem Child Superkilen

by Valentin Schipfer

Together with ideas from 62 different nations Copenhagen turned a former undefined, urban strip into a vivid, permanent, open-air exhibition. Where riots got out of hand in recent years, youngsters play basketball alongside elderly chess players now. The district, also called Nørre-bronx, is one of the capital’s poorest quarters. A group of (landscape) architects and artists (BIG, Superflex, Topotek1), recognizing the extremely diverse cultural mix of residents as an asset, decided to create a new spatial identity. A mono-functional transit space became a contemporary place fostering identities.With a list of all the nationalities living nearby and the financial support of the city council, an experiment was launched. Five groups of people were picked to go their chosen countries (not necessarily their homeland) to find objects that represent them in a way. These items symbolize a part of their cultural identity and are some of the most special in the park.They range from a massive replica of a Jamaican sound system, and a Thai boxing ring, a dentist’s sign from Qatar, a set of high swings from Afghanistan to a black octopus playground from Japan. Young girls even desired to have some soil from Palestine in the park. It sits now atop one of the park’s highlights – an artificial hill in the Black Market that stands out as different in colour to the native Danish earth.

The land was spilt into three sections by roads and squares, so the team came up with a trio of distinct areas: what they called, Red Square (in bright red rubber), Black Market (located near the former tax authority building) and Green Park. Red Square is designed as the heart of the project, as a place for sport and social functions, such as concerts and markets. For example, among many other items one can train on fitness devices from Muscle Beach in L.A. there. The Black Market is the meeting place where children can play and families can have barbecues. Green Park is a more traditional area for sunbathing and picnics, and has a sunken hockey pitch and basketball court.

A year after opening, the park is busy. There are some small problems, but with Superkilen there are a lot of experiments which deliver real challenges. The difficulty in repairing and maintaining such diverse objects is definitely a challenge for the city council. Even though putting in a nice park doesn’t solve the struggle of the residents, the park changes the area.

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