Growing up in Australia makes it easy to take parks for granted. Our “boundless plains” are such a fixture that they’ve been written into our national anthem. I grew up by the beach and this usually satisfied any need I had for public recreation – besides, my nearest park’s most exciting feature was a 1.5 metre length of reinforced concrete piping that children could crawl through.

When I was 20 I moved to Copenhagen. I lived in an apartment for the first time and the blistering cold of winter kept me inside for much of my first few months in the city. The ice began to thaw around Easter, and as temperatures began to clamber into double figures the Danes began to clamber into their swimwear. I remember sitting in the King’s Gardens on a grey, overcast April afternoon only to find myself surrounded by sunbathers. For the Danes, the park was an opportunity to break free of the shackles of winter.

Superkilen and the wider Copenhagen area. Photograph by Iwan Baan.
Neon lights from Russia and Qatar feature in the park. Photograph by Mike Magnussen.

“By transforming public procedure into proactive proposition we curated a park for the people by the people – peer-to-peer design – literally implemented.”

Culturally, parks serve different functions depending on where in the world they’re located, but the most frequented tend to pivot on the idea of fostering a community. In Copenhagen’s highly multicultural Superkilen neighbourhood, where the residents represent more than 60 nationalities, a project aimed to distil many of these functions into a single location by inviting residents to submit design features, such as play equipment and amenities, based on parks from their home countries or towns.

Back at the start of the decade, Bjarke Ingels’ firm BIG Architecture teamed up with Danish art collective Superflex and landscape architects Topotek1 to create an important park for the city. Part art project, part architectural experiment, Superkilen is the product of, arguably, at least 60 different definitions of what a park should be.

“Rather than a public outreach process towards the lowest common denominator or a politically correct post rationalization of preconceived ideas navigated around any potential public resistance – we proposed public participation as the driving force of the design leading towards the maximum freedom of expression.”

A Japanese octopus playground is a major drawcard for Superkilen's younger residents. Photograph by Iwan Baan.
Sports facilities are a prominent feature of the park. Photograph by Torben Eskerod.

Extensive community engagement preluded the design of Superkilen – which was completed in 2012 – including trips to the home cities of numerous local residents. “By transforming public procedure into proactive proposition we curated a park for the people by the people – peer-to-peer design – literally implemented,” said Ingels.

A walk around Superkilen reveals a Japanese octopus playground, neon signs from Qatar, a Jamaican sound system, a boxing ring imported from Thailand and tables for playing backgammon and chess. There may be no concrete pipes, but there really is something for everybody.

Details

Location
Copenhagen, Denmark

Designer
BIG, SuperflexTopotek1

Year
2012

Author

Samuel Davison is Editor at Right Angle Studio. He has written extensively on cities for a range of international publications. He also publishes This is the Same Ocean, an annual journal of photography. His photographic work has been shown around the world and he was the 2016 winner of the Independent Photography Festival’s Grand Jury Prize.

Photos courtesy of BIG.