The early-evening sunlight streams through the huge window, fanning out between the seats and sculptures, drawings and plans. Beyond the metre-high windowpane, a freighter churns its way through the blue-green sea, while on the horizon the whirling rotors of a wind generator trace a translucent circle. Sailboats glide back and forth. “Our mission is to bring a breath of fresh air to businesses and institutions,” says Rosan Bosch. Her eyes flash briefly, as if she’s demonstrating that her battery pack is fully charged. “And we happen to be in exactly the right place for doing that.”
Breaking down borders is this 44-year-old designer and artist’s specialty – an approach that works especially well in Copenhagen, a city that prioritizes movement and flexibility over hierarchical structures and tradition. Bosch has designed several schools, libraries and university buildings, and even jolted the developers of Lego with an office where they have to use slides to move between floors. “The desire to learn,” she says, “is one of our most basic instincts.”
Her schools look anything but ordinary. In place of traditional classrooms, they feature open learning zones, rest platforms and flexibility. Bosch, who relocated to the Øresund Region years ago from Holland, favours solutions that are playful and experimental. “My first job in Denmark was designing creative office spaces for the Ministry of Economics,” she relates. “I got the job even though I was a complete unknown at the time.” That’s Copenhagen in a nutshell: People are keen to approach things differently than before.
Increasingly, Copenhagen is becoming a kind of research laboratory, a city that defines itself as a prototype for a new urbanism. In numerous surveys, Copenhagen has been consistently rated as having the highest quality of life of any city in the world. A quick stroll along the city streets and you understand what the fuss is about. The cafés and bars are packed, people bask outside in the sunshine, groups of joggers and cyclists zip past, the harbour is full of paddlers. Skateboarders, women in head scarves, bearded hipsters and senior citizens all rub shoulders in the city’s public squares. Brand new buildings like the Royal Danish Theatre or the “Black Diamond” – the name bestowed on the massive library by locals – attract hundreds of visitors daily, and the classic designs of Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Louis Poulsen are in evidence everywhere.
Copenhagen is exactly the right place to bring a breath of fresh air to businesses and institutions.
“People ought to like the city they live in,” says Camilla van Deurs, an expert in public spaces, landscape architecture and master planning in the office of legendary urbanist Jan Gehl. Aged 78, Gehl is one of the prime movers behind Copenhagen’s transformation. As a university lecturer, city government adviser and visionary, he worked for decades to get his ideas implemented. He envisioned a city for pedestrians and cyclists, and it appears his ultimate goal has been realized. These days, Gehl and his staff are busy exporting his success formula around the globe.
Aided by social scientists and anthropologists, van Deurs and her colleagues have amassed thousands of statistics specific to Copenhagen. Where do people like to spend time, and for how long? How do people react to different kinds of sidewalks? When do they feel safe, and where? “The detailed knowledge we have accumulated allows us to offer solutions tailored to specific problems. And many of our proposals aren’t expensive,” explains the 37-year-old, exuding an optimism that has nothing to do with naiveté. In Copenhagen, she explains, areas have been connected that previously had nothing to do with one another. As the city grew, it simultaneously drew closer together. Greenbelts were created, and formerly troubled neighbourhoods were improved through citizen-sponsored initiatives. Of course, Copenhagen boasts sights that more than justify a visit to the city in their own right: Rosenborg Castle, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek or the new Den Blå Planet aquarium. But what really makes the contemporary city so uniquely captivating is its densely interwoven network of greenways and water, public spaces and attractive architecture.
Copenhageners have discovered epicurean culture, and have a burgeoning interest in wine and fine food.
Copenhagen’s cityscape is not the only thing that has undergone drastic change, however. So have the attitudes of its residents and its epicurean culture. “We have become surprisingly receptive to fine food and wine,” says Peter Dupont. The 40-year-old is one of four founders of the Coffee Collective, a showcase Copenhagen company specializing in gourmet coffee. It currently has two locations in the capital’s centre: one on trendy Jaegersborggade in the Nørrebro neighbourhood, the other in the indoor market at Israels Plads. “It’s a development that would have been impossible without Noma,” continues Dupont. In his view, Noma – named the world’s best restaurant several times – has almost single-handedly vaulted Copenhagen onto the global culinary map. Nordic cuisine has long since taken up an elevated position in the gourmet cooking world, and Copenhagen has become a foodie mecca.
These developments were not lost on the Coffee Collective’s founders, who recognized in them the nascent tenets of their own business model: green, fair and using only the very best beans available. Too fine for espresso machines, their specialty coffees have to be painstakingly brewed with filters. This preserves the delicate aromas, the product of an unusually slow roasting process. “Our coffees have a sweetness and purity that you don’t come across very often,” explains Dupont. But his ultimate goals are much higher: “As far as coffee goes, we’re just scratching the surface of the potential flavour experiences.” Copenhagen is clearly the perfect place to savour such experimentation.