The bench below is from Prague. It stands, however, in Copenhagens Nørrebro district. It ended there because of a rare example of collaboration. German landscaping company Topotek 1, danish architecture company BIG Architects and danish artist group Superflex. And this collaboration was incredibly bountiful. The main idea was to ask the people, who live in this multicultural neighbourhood, what do they miss from their homeland, or what they think is missing around. The outcome is the collection of objects from more than a hundred countries. Morrocan fountain, boxing ring from Thailand, bench from Florida, swing from Baghdad, playground octopus from Japan and much more. The whole are is 750m long and is divided into 3 sections. Red square, black market and green park. Red square is focused on playing, sport and activities. Black market is more of a traditional square with fountain and chess tables. Green park is a long area with greenery and picnic areas and benches.
I had an opportunity to visit the area on my way to airport in Copenhagen. I knew some things about this piece of architecture and when I have seen it with my own eyes I realised two things. One of them positive the other one negative. I will start with the latter.
The place looks quite run down. In one of the interviews about the neighbourhood, they have mentioned it as a ‘socially challenged’ neighbourhood. The area was opened at 2012, so it has been few years. The colours of red square are washed down and they no longer scream with brightness, but that is acceptable. The worse is that few of the objects were already damaged and some of them had to be taken down. And probably because everything was so bright and diverse and new at the opening, there were also lot that can be damaged. It still looks fine. But after five years…I would have guessed at least ten if I did not know. And that makes me sad, the people do not see the true value behind all these. We all pay taxes, so in the end we all pay for this. And somebody had to design the area, somebody build it, somebody assembled the object, somebody cleans the area. And people who vandalise it harm it all.
On the other hand. People always want public spaces and greenery. At least in country from where I come from. Everybody complains that there is not enough public spaces and parks and tress. These people, however often confuse public space and public life. It is not that hard to create public space. These, in the end, usually just stay like that. Spaces, empty spaces. The true challenge is to create public life. And in the case of Superkilen it worked. The day we visited there were so many people. Lots of kids swinging and sliding at the playgrounds, group of skaters doing sick tricks at the red square. As usual in Denmark, many cyclists and joggers. Young and old. Many different people were brought here to enjoy the nice afternoon. Most of them smiling and enjoying both the sun and the area. Maybe it does not look like that from the photos, but I did not want to take a photo of other people, so I always waited until the object was empty. So maybe the state of the area also means that it has been used extensively and not damaged, at least to some extent.
To all of us, this should be a lesson in diversity, but also in collective responsibility for our surroundings. If we want to have nice public space, we have to both use it and protect it. By using, the public space gets alive and lighten the city. The world is a scene for us and the architects are the ones who made the stage to frame our lives.