Copenhagen, like many cities around the world, is preparing itself for a new era in dense urban living. After all, over half of the global population now lives in cities. Copenhagen in particular is expecting 100,000 new inhabitants by 2025, a statistic that’s motivated the city to develop two new compact living centers: Orestad and Nordhavn.
The Nordhavn district is being built along out-of-use shipping docks, and once completed it will have parks, apartments, and offices. It’s also going to need people (it’s being designed to accommodate 40,000), which is why this year the City and Port Authority put out a peculiar request for proposal for local architects. The challenge? Turn this run-of-the-mill, gridded parking garage into a neighborhood attraction by designing a new facade. “It’s like asking for a second layer to the car park,” says Kathrin Susanna Gimmel, a partner at Jaja Architects, who won the competition. “We thought it was very exciting because you’re not restricted by some things, like a building needing to be insulated.”
Illustration: Jaja Architects
Free from the usual constraints, Jaja Architects designed Park ‘n’ Play: a new outfit for the not-yet-built parking garage that’s part playground, part gym, part Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The main event—the playground—is on the roof, so the firm designed a set of staircases that snake upward around the garage’s exterior, creating a loud visual language seen from blocks away.
“One of the design challenges was how to make people aware that something is happening on the rooftop,” Gimmel says. “How do you bring them up there, since the activity on the ground floor and the top floor are not connected?” It’s a feature adapted from the zig-zagging escalators on the exterior of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. “Moving up the stairs is an experience of itself. There’s this really amazing view over the harbor and over the city,” Gimmel says.
Even before the City and Port Authority awarded the commission to Jaja, the actual structure of the parking garage was set in stone. The city has built garages in the past, and saw what worked and what didn’t. Somewhat surprisingly, they also saw people using them for exercise. Copenhagen is a flat, coastal city, and the ramps in garages provided a rare incline for working out—almost like the seats in an American football stadium. Jaja decided to encourage that behavior by including clocks in the stairs for tracking time, and with painted graphics on the ground that can be helpful for Crossfit-like workouts.
That functionality is great, but Park ‘n’ Play still needs to be pretty. Plant boxes are woven throughout the facade, and the north, south, east, and west-facing walls all have a different species of climbing greenery, to optimize growth in different amount of light. Under normal circumstances it would take the plants 25 years to creep up to the top of the building; because of the staggered pattern of the plant boxes, these will only need a few. Planting on a grid structure had another added benefit for the Jaja team: “We did not wish to conceal the parking structure entirely,” Gimmel says, “but to keep and enhance the beauty of the structure.” So, you know, people still know where to go park.
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