Skiing for everyone
Urban Mountain in Copenhagen
A strange group is gathering there outside the construction site. It is early September, late summer. The wind is blowing hard, with sun breaking through the clouds. The women and men are wearing brightly coloured winter clothing and carrying skis on their shoulders. Their steps swing a bit, ski boots forcing them to walk quite strangely as they run across the car park. What is happening here, on the industrial estate on the northern bank of the Øresund?
The skiers are going skiing. They are already testing the slopes on the steep roof of the new waste incineration plant. Without snow, but on a synthetic turf structure, grassland and silicone. Even if it is artificially created, the mountain calls! Copenhill is the name of this worldwide unique attraction, which lures tourists and locals, architecture fans and winter sports enthusiasts, school classes and old snow hares to the island of Amager. Unlike alpine skiing, the journey here is relatively easy, at least for all Danes. Copenhill is only ten minutes by bicycle from the Free State of Christiania, and only 15 minutes by car from Copenhagen Central Station. "This is the fastest we Danes have ever been able to reach the slopes," says Christian Ingels with delight. His eyes are twinkling, he has pushed his sunglasses high up in his head. The tinted goggles sparkle in the sun. The father of this curious project was practically brought up on skis and describes himself as a true winter sports fan. In 2009 he and his great cousin, the architect Bjarke Ingels, won the competition to come up with a future use for the roof on the new waste incineration plant. "Copenhill is created by skiers for skiers," he says, emphasising the vision. Ten years later, the time has come. The project, which at first sounds like a twisted joke, has been implemented. Copenhagen now has a ski slope.
"This is the fastest we Danes have ever been able to reach the slopes,"
Carsten is at the summit with his snowbike. He and his friends Tobias and Eric have been invited to test the slope. Above them blue sky, below them a gigantic colossus of concrete and steel, in front of them the pleasure of the 450-metre descent. Like Christian and many other Danes, the man in his mid-forties has been a skiing enthusiast since childhood – after an accident he switched to a snow bike. On three runners, arranged like a tricycle, he swings onto the piste and glides down the slope in fast turns. The plastic mats that skiers descend on produce almost the same noise as freshly pressed snow in the morning. For the most realistic snow feeling possible, the boards are treated with silicone instead of wax – a strange idea for the skiers and snowboarders, but the way to achieve an authentic experience on the slopes. "You quickly get used to it", explains Tobias, an enthusiastic snowboarder who has descended the piste many times before. It is more irritating that you don't see a white surface, but a green one, he laughs. The two of them put on their gloves and get ready for the next descent.
Just like in the mountains, there is a drag lift and a Magic Carpet on Copenhill to get the speed freaks up the hill. There is a freestyle park, a slalom course, a children's beginners' area and a ski school with shop. Special offers for school classes help to make the sport accessible to as many people as possible – and to win over new ski enthusiasts.
At the summit a restaurant waits for hungry people. Like in the mountains, the edge of the piste goes downhill steeply, for a full 85 vertical metres to be precise. Unlike in the mountains, however, it is impossible to fall off. On the route, ski jumps, and rails await the more daring, and the wide, curved run is bordered by the lifts on one side and an artistically planted picnic and fitness area on the other. The Berlin landscape architects from Topotek1 have designed a varied roof landscape as a surround, which is open to everyone. They interpret Copenhill as a public park with space for 1,500 people. There is no entrance fee to enjoy the view or take a morning uphill run – Copenhill is open to everyone and is considered a public park. On the piste, 150 skiers can romp around, try things out and train at the same time. "I am absolutely thrilled," exclaims 25-year-old Tasha. "It's really great that you can do a few moves right here in Copenhagen now – and all year round too!" The long journey to Austria, where the experienced skier has been working as a ski instructor for several years during the winter season, is now a thing of the past. The young Danish lady is now happy to give lessons in her hometown. With an elegant sweep, she places her boards parallel to the slope, pushes off and rapidly picks up speed, only to disappear in a thick cloud. A huge trunk rises into the sky in the middle of the slope. The plant's many large chimneys eject thick white clouds, sometimes at intervals and sometimes constantly. This is clean steam: the only remnant of the processes that take place under the sweeping sloping roof – and a nice effect on the slope. After all, the inner-city, artificial mountain does not simply serve as a hiding place for an unpleasant matter, on the contrary. The creators are concerned with creating a new awareness. Who knows exactly what happens to the rubbish that we throw away so carelessly in everyday life and wait for it to be picked up by the refuse collection service. At this place you can be reminded of it and enjoy an extraordinary experience at the same time. Behind the idea is a hedonistic understanding of sustainability, which is why there will never be snow cannons on the artificial mountain.
On one side of the building, someone takes every step with deliberation. Powerful hands look for a hold in small indentations. Bit by bit a climber approaches his goal. On the outer façade made of shiny sheet steel elements there is a dizzying climbing wall with a height of 85 metres for experts and professionals. Once at the top, a view as far as Sweden awaits. The Danish star architect, Bjarke Ingels, is known for surprises. In Copenhagen, he playfully combines uses that were previously mutually exclusive: waste disposal and recreation. Fun and sustainability. Here, sport, nature, city and people come together – it is a vibrant place for the inhabitants of and visitors to Copenhagen.
Lighting up Nørrebro
Between the lines
Much more than just a skate park: Superkilen is an urban park for all ages, for friends, families and singles, for rich and poor, for people from the neighbourhood and residents of other districts, for Copenhageners and tourists. Superkilen belongs to everyone.
The September sun warms the shiny anthracite asphalt, the meadows glisten from the nighttime rain. Under a tree, a young woman sits on a bench with her thermos flask and reads a book. Next to her a bicycle is waiting to take her to the office. Behind them, fathers and mothers with their children, entrepreneurs, employees, pupils and students rush past the Superkilen Park on the two-lane cycle path: they are on their way to work, to school, to university. A female cyclist with glasses and blond ponytail pulls out towards the bank and says 'hi' to the woman reading. The girlfriends chat and have a cup of coffee together before cycling on. Then things get loud: a school class storms onto the square with their scooters. Three elderly gentlemen play a game of chess on one of the tables unperturbed by them. The day begins.
Superkilen is situated like an archipelago in the new in-district, Nørrebro, a mixed part of the city which is home to many different cultures. As a place of transit, the park invites you to linger permanently: movement and rest find equal space here. As a subsidised urban renewal project, the elongated area connects the main roads of Nørrebrograde and Tagensvej and shows off many faces. A clear highlight is the black zone with the white stripes, which prominently flanks the intersection at the nice Mimersgade – where a residential street separates the red zone from the black one.
The entire complex is as colourful as the district itself, with street furniture from all over the world: swings from Baghdad, rubbish bins from Ireland, basketball baskets from Mogadishu, bicycle stands from Almere, a barbecue from South Africa. There are benches from Brussels, Ljubljana, Miami, Porto, Kuwait City and Zurich. A Moroccan fountain splashes over there, next to it a Japanese giant octopus is enthroned as a children's slide. Manhole covers from Gdansk in Poland, Galway in Ireland and Paris are concealed on the ground. And the earth under the dark grey hill, on which the white stripes meander irritatingly over the warm asphalt ground, comes from Berlin. The transfer of memorable elements gives the urban park its identity. All small and large nationalities are represented. You can discover something new here every day, go on a journey and above all: feel at home in community.
A group of young girls meet next to the boxing ring from Thailand and use the outdoor fitness equipment from Alanya in Turkey. Toddler’s slide, teenagers’ smooch and those who are hungry meet at the barbecue. The skaters practice their tricks, while around the corner a couple of dog owners sit down on a bench. Japanese tourists pose for each other on smartphone photos. With over 22,000 posts, Superkilen is a popular hashtag on Instagram: the white lines connect people from all over the world. In the evening, neon signs from China, Taiwan and Moscow light up. They greet from far away in the rhythm of their homeland. And bring foreign faraway places to the middle of the Danish capital.
"We are here, it's beautiful here, and we are doing well!"
How coexistence can lead to cooperation
The parks and squares created by Topotek 1 are never boring, but always play with a pinch of humour and provocation. The team of Martin Rein-Cano and Lorenz Dexler, together with the Bjarke Ingels Group, literally "refurbished" a problem district in Copenhagen – seven years later their second caper is being carried out: the Copenhill ski slope on the Amager Bakke waste incineration plant. A conversation with the landscape architect, Martin Rein-Cano, about participation, real places of chance encounters and the ground as the fifth façade.
Superkilen is a highly frequented and popular place in Copenhagen beyond the city limits. How do you design such an urban park for everyone?
Normally, participation tends to take place on a programmatic level: citizens want a playground, green spaces or new car park. In the case of Superkilen, the basic idea was to involve the users directly in the planning. Most of the residents are not Scandinavian socialised, we have involved them in the design process by allowing them to suggest objects from their cultural circle for this area. We call this approach hedonistic participation. People identify with the object as part of their own culture.
And according to which criteria were the artifacts and street furniture selected and assembled?
On the one hand we set up a website together with the city to collect the suggestions. Sometimes we went from house to house with interpreters and spoke directly to the residents. The Moroccan well, for example, is a proposal from a Moroccan family. So, the ideas came from different sides. We curated them, but we also helped choose them ourselves: the streetlamps and manhole cover, for example, but also the black slide from Japan and the barbecue areas. With a team of five people, we travelled to their respective homelands and picked up the objects there directly. We were in Jamaica, for example, and brought back the loudspeaker from there. We also travelled to Thailand, America, Spain and Palestine. One object is the ground itself, which you brought from Palestine to Copenhagen.
You hardly see the earth from Palestine at all, but identity has a lot to do with the ground. Two ladies had suggested this idea. We then actually packed the earth into a sack in Palestine near Jerusalem and shipped it to Copenhagen. I find it interesting: for some people the ground is dirt, for others the holy earth.
Superkilen is divided into three areas: one zone is red, the other green and in the middle, there is a black zone: what role do these colours play?
The green results from the park landscape with its green meadows. We find red as a signal colour in the rather grey Copenhagen to be a good contrast. It stands for visibility and otherness as an emancipatory statement: "We are here, it's beautiful here and we are doing well! There is a story about Black Zone. This place was called the black market because of the drug trade there. We thought that if the place is already called black anyway, it must be black and recoded the negative image to turn it into something positive. Do the white lines have a meaning?
On the one hand, we like to work with graphics: something that traditionally plays an important role in landscape architecture, if you only think of Roberto Burle Marx. On the other hand, we see the ground as a kind of fifth façade. Approaches and experiments in this regard can already be found in our previous projects. In addition, there is the landscape design box of tricks surrounding optical illusion: you try to create an enhanced effect in gardens and parks by means of certain perspectives and games of scale. For example, a miniature of a garden pavilion makes the park property appear larger than it is. At that time, we had experimented with contour lines in a parallel project in Berlin and then transferred them to Copenhagen. There was a real topography in front of us due the hill, which we wanted to play with. From the green garden in the rear area with the overgrown hill, a transformation to the solid, asphalted section is created. The traffic routes adopt this transition, trace the contour lines and continue to the black zone.
How does the urban park change with the seasons?
We have planted more than 100 different woody plants from all over the world: Japanese ornamental cherries, which bloom amazingly well in spring. Maples that change colour in autumn. Chinese palm trees, which even survive the Scandinavian winter, and araucaria trees from Chile, which do not change. This brings together a great variety that you would not otherwise put together in gardening. The contrast should be the same for the vegetation as for the objects. And it will become even more present over the years. In 2019 another landscape project of yours was inaugurated in Copenhagen, also with an unusual approach. What is the idea behind the concept for the Copenhill ski slope?
We had entered the competition back then together with BIG. The central question for our design was, how can we manage today to make the city mix again? In our view, the lack of mixing leads to autistic places that have nothing to do with each other and border on pure traffic areas. In this respect, both projects, Superkilen and Copenhill, represent creative approaches on how to mix things for us. In Copenhill's case, it is more of an additive principle: two uses happen on top of each other that have nothing in common. We wanted to give a new quality to a non-place within the city. The mixing of different groups and interests by creating good meeting places: could this be a way to summarise your philosophy? Absolutely. Asking someone for directions or the time on the street again, such situations can enable and encourage good public places. The autism of the cities is the actual death of the cities. So that coexistence can be transformed into cooperation. This is exactly our aim. For this a city needs real places of random encounters. Superkilen was the first place ever to be awarded the Aga Kahn Prize for Islamic architecture. People come there from other parts of the city, which I find rather unusual for an open space. I believe that reservations are quickly dispelled when you observe yourself. And through observation, trust is created.
One Ground for your home
The structured façade of the new Copenhagen waste incineration plant turns the building designed by the star architect, Bjarke Ingels, into a new tourist attraction in the Danish capital and provides the inspiration for the light, typically Scandinavian oak engineered wood flooring with contrasting dark elements.