February 29, 2016

How Bjarke Ingels meets the ground

Welcome to Sandy James as guest editor to Price Tags for this week.
And further to her post below, where she references Brent Toderian’s crticism of Bjarke Ingels’s work: “Bjarke needs to learn how to work on the ground plane to mesh his buildings into active streetscapes.”
Here’s an example from one his most famous buildings in Orestad, Copenhagen:


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James can tell you I’ve been an advocate for a pool in False Creek for some time, and every time I have mentioned it among friends, the first remark is ‘ew!’ or ‘I don’t want to go anywhere near that water‘.

How is it possible that we as a city/province/people are comfortable with crap water? (or more specifically, Crap IN our water see here, here, here and here)

There’s plenty of ew out there, but is the solution to never touch the water again, or to consider doing something about the ew!?

I was really happy to see HCMA’s proposal that there be a floating pool in the harbour … I’d never had a chance to draw up my idea, so more than happy that someone local beat me to it. There are plenty of precedents +Pool, Thames Bath, Copenhagen bath by BIG + JDS … and everyone in Basel who floats lazily down the Rhine (which wasn’t exactly clean not that long ago)

The last time I was in Toronto, I was excited to see that there was a huge construction project going on – the Blue Flag Project (I think that was the overall project’s name … I’m struggling to remember the logo on the hoarding) which aimed/aims at making all of Toronto beaches swimmable. As someone who has judiciously swum off of Toronto Islands, and even more judiciously rowed by Ontario place, I can tell you this is a welcome change.

How is this not a thing here? We’re the ‘Greenest’ city, but we have BLACK water?

From the comments in one of the articles about HCMA’s project, with my thoughts:
‘Gross’then we should clean the water.
‘Why anyone would want to swim in Coal Harbour is beyond me’ – well, there’s a nice view, thats a good start. 
‘I don’t think its a smart idea to be building this so close to the floatplane terminal’ – tell that to everyone eating at Cactus Club.

And a comment on one of the facebook posts about HCMA’s proposal stated essentially (I can’t find it specifically) ‘there’s so much gas in the water from the float plane terminal I wouldn’t want to swim there’ – they should stop spilling gas in the water then! After all, any spill that threatens the environmental quality of water, land or air must be reported.

And finally, to plug an event that is happening tonight at the MOV!

What opportunities exist to create innovative, engaging public spaces in one of Canada’s most densely populated and expensive cities? How can a highly livable city surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty be described as “no fun” or have disengaged, unhappy citizens?

Join us for a lively discussion about what’s possible for Vancouver’s public realm, one that engages the water surrounding Vancouver in new ways. At this event presented by HCMA, people will discover the informed research and creative process behind Coal Harbour Deck (on display inYour Future Home), a project that reclaims Vancouver’s water for a new type of urban space. Visitors can have a look at some other initiatives that HCMA is working on to create and enhance public social spaces, and improve Vancouver’s relationship with water. Access to the Your Future Home exhibition is included with admission to this event.

Following the presentation, Mark Busse will facilitate a discussion about how we can, collectively, create new and engaging public spaces in our city as well as a fun activity with a prize for the best audience contribution! Grab a drink from the cash bar, have a snack, dive in to the issues, and let the ideas and conversation flow!

Date: Friday, February 19
Bar open: 6:00-9:00pm
Presentation begins: 7:00pm
Tickets: Access to Your Future Home included with admission: $15 adults; $11 Students & Seniors; Free for MOV Members.

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A not-so-outlandish idea for a great public space on Harbour Green, where a floating boardwalk and dock just never really caught on.



A local architecture and design firm is proposing a multi-use outdoor pool for the area west of the Vancouver Convention Centre, turning it into an urban centre with the one of the most beautiful backdrops in Vancouver.
“It’s really about bringing the community together,” said Darryl Condon, the managing principal of HMCA Architecture + Design.
Their proposal would see Vancouver become home to North America’s first ‘Harbour Deck’. Popular in Copenhagen and Oslo, the area would be centred around an outdoor floating pool at the edge of Coal Harbour – but would also include an oval wooden boardwalking, wading areas, water hammocks, a raised bridge and a four-metre highplatform.


Here are a few precedents on just a kilometre of the Copenhagen harbourfront:



UPDATE: Swimming in and by the sea.

Love the idea of the Coal Harbour deck – though I think the lack of opportunities to touch, jump and swim in the sea is somewhat exaggerated.  Within easy distance of Burrard and Georgia, there are four named beaches, and a really big (heated) outdoor swimming pool at Second Beach.



Then there’s Kits Pool – 130+ metres long – though not my any stretch the biggest outdoor saltwater pool in the world  For that, you go to Chile, and the resort of San Alfonso del Mar:


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Vancouver is a young city. While this means we don’t have our own Arc de Triomphe (though some seem to imagine we do), we are lucky that if we let ourselves, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants.
I wrote about Design Thinking the other day, the great thing about this is that, somewhat like the scientific method, it establishes a systematic way of thinking which sometimes demands creativity, and at other times introspection, it involves the sharing of ideas, and the ability to learn from others.
What it does not involve is reinventing the wheel because you didn’t notice that someone else already did.
We get to see the runaway effects of a city growing increasingly unaffordable when we look at London. [see: There are now only 29 (yes, twenty-nine) homes in London deemed ‘affordable’ for first-time buyers]
We get to see how to design bike paths by studying the Dutch or the Danish.
We get to see how the city can build affordable housing by looking at Vienna (or Singapore).
We get to see how to deal with foreign money by looking at Singapore (or Sydney).
We get to see the effects of the conversion of streets to highways by looking at Miami or Pheonix and realize that Vancouver is fundamentally not really all that unique:


From the beginning of urbanized America, streets functioned to provide mobility in many ways:

People walked to work, trolley, horse-drawn then powered moved workers from factories and offices to home. Trains played a role in commutes. Bicycles incited a pedal power mobility craze for a while.
Then the automobile came along. By the 1950s, roads became the sole domain of automobiles. The automotive industry even created the term “jay walking” and launched a campaign to demonize people on foot. Sidewalks shrunk and beautifully landscaped medians were torn out to create more lanes for automobiles.
Trolley lines were ripped out and replaced with buses. But buses were devalued and branded as last ditch transportation for the unfortunate. Only the sedan was fit for the upwardly mobile middle class American. Crosswalks were diminished. Those brazen enough to move around on two feet were seen as merely an impediment to moving more cars faster.
Government loans encouraged suburban single family homebuilding, giving rise to the super highway, and when highways weren’t enough, surface streets – even the most picturesque and historic – were overhauled to turn them into another layer of de facto highways.

(Anything seem familiar in these? … if not, as Gordon has written, Motordom 2.0 is around the corner)
We get to learn how to install a bike share by looking at New York City (or Paris, or Montreal) … and get to see what happens when you have a combination of bike-share and helmet laws by looking at Melbourne.
We get to see why limits of pollution are a good idea by looking at Beijing’s air quality (or this last week, Salt Lake City), even if we don’t read the Governator Arnold’s words last month, and why putting all our stock in LNG isn’t the best idea:

I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.

And we get to look at things like fare gates in transit, and see if you install them, you have to make provision for the fact that when you put up a barrier, you put up a barrier, and some people won’t be able to deal with this fact. Again, in this we’re not unique, John Graham’s comments yesterday show one solution, but I can’t imagine its a cheap one.
The point of this is that in some ways, Vancouver is exceptional, we have an environment that many people would kill for, mountains that many dream about, and are generally pretty nice people. We are not, however, really that different from anywhere else except for the number of Learners permits on Lamborghinis …

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Ian Robertson picked this up from Co.EXIST:


Google Wants To Make Silicon Valley As Bike-Friendly As Copenhagen


In theory, the heart of Silicon Valley—towns like Mountain View and Santa Clara—should be the ultimate place to bike. It’s usually 72 degrees and sunny; it’s mostly flat. But it’s also a classic example of suburbia designed for cars, bisected by 10-lane freeways and extra-wide streets filled with speeding cars. Google is hoping to help turn its home turf into something more like the bicycle paradise of Copenhagen, minus Copenhagen’s snow and bracing Baltic wind. …
But after Google did everything it could to promote biking internally, from showers and changing rooms to locker space, the company realized that surrounding communities would also have to change if more people were going to start to ride.
Unsurprisingly, they tackled the problem with data. “Rather than looking at what bike infrastructure is there, they looked at the user experience, which makes sense for a successful tech company,” says Colin Heyne, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, which partnered with Google and Alta Planning to create Google’s Bike Vision Plan for the area.



They looked to famously bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen for inspiration. Despite the fact that Silicon Valley was designed for life with cars—and Copenhagen had the advantages of centuries of life on a more human scale—they say that the differences aren’t as big as they might appear.
“It’s important to keep in mind that Copenhagen was not built for bicycles, either,” says Heyne. “In the ’70s, they were very much a car culture. When they put in their first pedestrian streets to go through the heart of downtown, there was a huge backlash. People weren’t ready for it, and people didn’t think it was going to be a success. Now that is the most prized real estate in the city.”
“It was a conscious decision they made,” says Poskey. “So certainly if they made that decision, we can too.” …
Google plans to give $5 million in matching grants to cities in the area that want to start building out a better bike network. But even the matching grants don’t come free: The money is offered as a community benefit, contingent on Mountain View’s approval of Google’s North Bayshore redevelopment.
“I think what needs to happen is for cities to take Google up on this challenge and start addressing those gaps in the low-stress networks, to see how well it works, and then they’ll have a good model to follow,” says Heyne. “And maybe that will inspire other companies, or other cities to take the same approach.”

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The Green Wave: How Can Vancouver Create Copenhagen-Like Bicycle Infrastructure?


Although the City of Vancouver is off to a good start, to really achieve greenest city status, much more bicycle infrastructure is required. How can we involve people in achieving Copenhagen-like improvements?


September 8

6 pm

Musette Caffè Chinatown – 75 East Pender Street  | Map

See more Bike Café topics

Admission: Free

Moderator: Dr. John Irwin

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While we are celebrating the one millionth cycling trip across the Burrard Bridge (any moment now), Copenhageners are celebrating the opening of a new bike bridge – Cirkelbroen (circle bridge).



Five circular bridge platforms spanning Christianshavn Canal (map here) connect the Christiansbro area with Applebys Plads, part of a continuous boardwalk along the inner waterfront.

Here’s how Olafur Eliasson’s bridge works:


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Continuing our exploration of Ørestad – the most ambitious urban development in Copenhagen since the war.  (The first part is here.)

In 1994, the winning architectural competition by a Finnish-Danish architecture studio (KHR Arkitekter) divided the area into four districts, “focused on integrating a highly-dense and modern city with the surrounding natural environment … ”

Ørestad North (University District) is the most developed of the four, and given its proximity to Copenhagen, the most integrated.  It also accommodates a University of Copenhagen campus and Danish Radio, including a new state-of-the-art concert hall by Jean Nouvel.

“In all, the entire project would cost almost three times as much as budgeted, making the DR Concert Hall one of the most expensive concert halls ever built.”    (You can read the unfortunate story here.)


To the southwest is ‘Downtown’ Ørestad, where the original vision began to be undone.

The Ørestad Public-Private Partnership had created a dependence between the partners and the state, with costs and ambitions at stake.

The Ørestad project developed in a top-down and non-participatory way.  … the government gave an ‘exceptional status’ to the development because of its (inter)national importance, ruling out local influences.

This may have been productive on a management level, but had a very negative effect on the judgement of the project in the public opinion.  …

When politicians hand over too much power to private parties they lose the opportunity to take local interests into consideration. This undermines the local democratic process and can be a negative effect of the public-private partnership.

– The Story Behind Failure: Copenhagen’s Business District Ørestad


Curiously, the references to traditional Danish ways of building cities were kept, particularly in the master plan for downtown Ørestad City commissioned from architect Daniel Libeskind – even as the project increasingly departed from the intent.  CityLab told the story back in 2011 :

… the coalition developing Ørestad – By and Havn, the Copenhagen port authority, and development corporation NCC – had quietly replaced Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 plan for Ørestad Downtown with a smaller-scale plan by COBE architects.

If the first plan, designed by a world-famous architect, represented the ambitions of Ørestad, the second represents the reality.

Libeskind’s internationally recognized brand would have defined the project. His “downtown,” inspired by a medieval city, was composed of a jumble of narrow streets designed to create a sense of urbanity and keep pedestrians free from the area’s blistering winds. Two 20-story towers would have served as beacons for the development, mirroring taller buildings elsewhere in Ørestad City. It was to be nearly car-free. …

Ultimately ‘Downtown’ became a massive complex of exhibition halls and towers.


The gap between rhetoric and reality is well-illustrated in this promotional video from 2010. Though in Danish after an English intro by Libeskind, the renderings tell the story: just look at the barren public spaces and the hostile way the buildings meet the ground.


Whatever Ørestad was intended to be, it had no serious intention of being this:

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We were meant to meet Simon Sondergaard.  When we were lost and looking confused, he (typical Copenhagener) came over to graciously give us directions.  Turns out he was the managing director of Cykelven (English interview here) – “a socio economic company than brings a fully equipped bike repair shop on wheels to your office and repair your bike while you work.”

He’s also involved in Buddha Bikes, a bike shop that recincarnates old bikes that would otherwise be thrown out, kind of like Vancouver’s “Our Community Bikes” on Main.

So here’s Simon’s comment on why he loves Copenhagen:

Having lived in Copenhagen for a decade+, the bike culture really got under my skin. And it is about much more than the many cool, beautiful and practical facilities and infrastructural items being present. The culture of taking the bike in Copenhagen, is really a question of social attitudes and a lot about emancipation. We are all free and equal on the bikelane – more so than in most other situations.

And I would dare claim, that this has a profound impact on copenhageners attitude toward one another and the city they have in common, as well as being a reproducing product of a well-known danish attitude towards values of social equality, democracy etc.

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In a city that by most measures of urban quality is one of the most successful in the world, how does Copenhagen explain Ørestad?



Ørestad is the urban finger that extends south of the city, five kilometres long, 500 metres wide, no older than 1993. Its spine is the M1 extension – a Metro light-rail line parallel to Ørestad Boulevard around which the project is organized.



It began with ambitious intentions:

“It is the intention to give full artistic freedom concerning architectural form, so that the new city quarter of Ørestad will boast state-of- the-art within architecture and art during the building years.” – Masterplan competition stipulations for Ørestad

That should have been a warning.  Like so many similar projects in Europe (or inspired by European masterplanning) – La Defense in Paris, Danube City in Vienna, Pudong in Shanghai – the results are dismally anti-urban.

Ørestad was to be an addition to the 1947 ‘Finger Plan’ (right) – corridors of suburbanization, separated by green zones, connected to the city by rail, that allowed for controlled expansion of Copenhagen.  And though it resulted in a degrading of inner Copenhagen’s tax base, it also encouraged urban renewal along the harbour’s industrial zones – a process still continuing.  The hope was that the new urban quarter of Ørestad would usher Copenhagen out of financial crisis and create a testing ground to display the city’s new ideas in architecture and city planning.

The Danish Parliament passed the ‘Act of Ørestad’ in 1992 and funded a new metro line connecting to the airport and the tunnel/bridge to Malmö, Sweden, intended to make Copenhagen a focal point of Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Only this process would be different from the traditional state-led planning that characterized post-war development; the impact of globalization and market-oriented ideology led to a stronger role for private investors and an intent that infrastructure, particularly the Metro extension, be paid in part by the rise in land values and sale of adjacent sites.

Unfortunately, reality intervened.  From Failed Architecture:

… the Ørestad Development Corporation (owned by the Minsitry of Finance and the City of Copenhagen) was faced with substantial challenges, as the development of the metro didn’t go as planned. …  Massive cost overruns in the metro construction, disappointing ticket sales, larger debts than foreseen, a severe lack of interest in the building plots around the metro line – subsequently forced the Ørestad Corporation to serve according to harsh market terms opposite to the initial urban planning ideas …


In particular, it allowed the development of a huge inward-facing shopping mall:.


Ørestad was intended to have a vibrant public realm; this was the opposite.  “The large shopping mall was allowed to turn in an inward-facing direction, without the slightest attempt to create life in the surrounding streets”

The Ørestad project started with an overwhelming array of optimism and ambitions, glossy project folders and flashy websites presented an image of the development as becoming the opposite of a dull and monotonous place, full of vibrant urbanity. But if we look at the built environment of Ørestad today we see that large parts of the urban areas are disjointed with “architecturally indifferent and totally oblivious objects.”

There was worse to come.

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