Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 29 2013: Our First Full Day in Copenhagen

Leega Tran and Flora Carn

On our first official class in Copenhagen, Denmark, we had two guest lecturers. Bianca Hermansen, from Behl Architects, had a different perspective on sustainability and urban design compared to lectures we were used to. She pointed out that Denmark’s biking culture has to do with behavioral changes. She said, “People don’t change behavior when told to, people change when the context compels them to.” To change Copenhagen’s mentality of bikes and encourage bike ridership, the city invested in bike lanes through small changes in the street infrastructure. Now, biking is the way to travel, as 61% of Copenhagen bike for its convenience, regardless of social or economic class. Bikers can also use cargo bikes to drive their kids or friends around! We definitely noticed the investments in bike lanes when the class rented bikes. During our bike ride to Stroget , wider street lanes, abundant bike lanes, separate traffic lights for biking, asphalt ramps on curbs, and the priority bikes seem to have over cars made biking easier.
Mikael Koch, from the Green Building Council Denmark gave an informative lecture on how architectural designs, such as the type of material, the orientation of the building, the technology within the buildings, can simply green the building and make it more energy efficient. We also learned that new buildings or renovated buildings have to adhere to green building codes. This is very different than the U.S. because U.S. cities generally safety codes and sustainable buildings is becoming a trend, but not yet a basic necessity.
We also stopped by a plaza for lunch and noticed it was very popular. Similar to other successful streets and plaza we saw in Stockholm and Malmo, the street got enough sunlight, buildings were around four to five stories tall – not enough to block sunlight and many shops and restaurants with interesting storefronts to attract people to the area.

We then walked over a bridge to a highly populated swimming spot directly across from our hostel. Even though the weather was overcast, there were hundreds of people in their swimsuits with beer, wine, frisbees, and friends. The swimming area consists of an area insulated from the actual harbour by wooden walls and a short fence. There is a lifeguard tower, a high wooden dock consisting of steps that had a never-ending line to jump off the top (15 feet high), and a rectangular area where many people were swimming laps. There were families with small children, couples in their 20s and 30s, and people of all other ages all gathered to cool off in the harbour.
According to denmark.dk, this canal water was so polluted by sewage, oil spills, and industry only 15 years ago that swimming in it would have been impossible due to the health risks. The Copenhagen municipality worked to improve the water quality by designing waste treatment plants to remove salts and heavy metals, and modernized the waste system. Another sustainable design that improved the water quality were storm water management systems. The municipality built reservoirs that can store the rainwater if there isn’t enough space in the sewage system. Walking further along the waterfront we saw many more people just lounging with food and drinks and enjoying the sun. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday, July 27, 2013

On Saturday we spent our last full day in Malmo before having to depart to Copenhagen on Sunday morning. Prior to leaving Malmo, the class was able to spend one final day together on Friday at the Western Harbour which is dubbed the "Miami of Sweden". The weather was beautiful and very appropriate for the visit of the western harbour that was very remisnicent of California beaches today. The interesting thing about the western harbour is the industrial background that it has prior to its current development. All of the commercial and residential development is relatively new and is intended to accommodate the increasing Swedish population. The diversity of Malmo was very apparent in comparison to Stockholm and it created a different perspective of Sweden not noticeable before.

Saturday was our last chance to enjoy the town of Malmo and due to the nice sunny weather, it was very easy to enjoy the city as it was intended. Many students returned back to the Western Harbour for the beach-like feel that it projected. Students were able to have their bicycles for the final day in Malmo which allowed easier navigation throughout the city. The city is not huge in scale but the differences in biking and walking are visible and having a bike in a city like Malmo makes it easier to get around in.

On Sunday morning we left Malmo and headed to Copenhagen in Denmark, which is located right across the water from Malmo. It was a short trip, about a 40 minute train ride, and arrived at Copenhagen's central station around 12:30. Copenhagen's central station was built in 1847, and is the largest railway station in Denmark, it is also very unique because it was originally built out of wood, and has interesting architectural design.

From the train station we began our walk to the hostel, and got a brief tour on the way. During the walk  we saw the Tivoli gardens, which is a famous amusement park and garden in Denmark. Apparently it is the  most visited theme park in Scandinavia, and the second oldest amusement park in the world. Eventually we arrived at our hostel, Danhostel, which is located right next to the water, and got settled in. After about 30 minutes of getting situated we went on a brief walking tour through Copenhagen's city center, and ate some lunch.

Once we all reorganized we walked around the city center for a while longer, then some of us split up to go on a canal tour on a boat through Copenhagen's waterways. This was a really interesting experience, because we able to see parts of Copenhagen you wouldn't be able to see on foot, and learned a lot about the historical aspects of the city, such as how Copenhagen used to have a very large Navy, which was eventually taken over by the English. We also saw many historical as well as modern buildings with extraordinary architecture, such as Copenhagen's Opera House, which was designed by the architect Henning Larsen. Another fun fact we learned is that the Denmark flag, called the "Dannebrog," is considered to be the oldest flag in the world!

Finally, after the boat trip we headed back to the hostel, and everyone went their separate ways to enjoy  the Sunday evening that we had off.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Malmö: An International City

by Alicia Brown and Jessica Bracht

On Wednesday we said goodbye to Stockholm and took the train to the southernmost part of Sweden, to a city called Malmö. Located right between the North and the Baltic seas, Malmö has for centuries been a destination for people from countries all over the world, due to its ports and industry, and more recently has become somewhat of a beach town. More than 100 languages are spoken from a population of 300,000 and counting, and one of the factors driving Malmö's ever-increasing growth is its efforts in becoming a sustainable city.

Upon arriving in Malmö we walked from Central Station to our hostel. After stopping a few times to find the right streets we found ourselves at the Stortorget plaza, a very central part of Malmö. The Stortorget Plaza is a huge area cluttered with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is a main focus point and meeting area for all of Malmö. Because of its central location it is the perfect venue to host a variety of festivals and events that attract the attention of citizens and tourists alike.

Currently the plaza is hosting an International Food Fair bringing foods from all over the world to one location. Holland, Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Italy and Australia are a few of the countries participating in this event. Each place sells goods like foods and desserts, meats and cheeses, soaps and kitchenware that are all representative of their county. The festival is a limited event and is only in Malmö from July 24 – July 28, lining up perfectly with our stay here. The festival provides the opportunity for all visitors to taste food from around the world in one spot. We, for example, have tasted paella from Spain, bratwurst from Germany, pastries from Italy and curry from Thailand. 


Beyond providing a great variety of food choices the festival is socially and economically sustainable. On an ordinary day the plaza is well traveled by citizens going to and from work and tourists visiting Town Hall and the surrounding parks. But in adding the festival the Stortorget plaza is transformed into a hang out place, a lunch and dinner spot and a shopping center; an attraction that cannot be missed, bringing business to the shops, cafes and restaurants that permanently line the square. The city of Malmö benefits economically by hosting the festival in their central plaza. Socially, the festival brings together a wide variety of cultures through the food they sell and the people it attracts. Walking around the plaza is a very diverse population, all of whom come together to celebrate foods from all over the world. The plaza is transformed into an international meeting spot for people to gather and learn about each other’s culture. Festivals such as this one are important because of the opportunity to try new foods and meet new people. In order to move towards a more sustainable world everyone needs to work together to change their habits and mindsets to make the necessary changes from harmful environmental practices to more environmentally conscious ones.

Another place that has succeeded in bringing together the social and environmental aspects of sustainability is the Western Harbor. Malmö has invested heavily in redeveloping its beachfront in an old industrial district, and it shows. Much like Hammarby in Stockholm, the Western Harbor is Malmö's largest sustainable development project. All the environmental efforts are particularly impressive, such as the storm water management strategies, the energy efficiency of the buildings, and the pedestrian and bike paths, but we believe one of the biggest sustainable successes of the area lies in its ability to bring people together to an enjoyable and interesting place.

Malmö is constantly showcasing its diverse population, which it does here in the design of its houses. Several of the houses we passed had very distinct themes from other countries, including the high, peaked roofs of Holland and the simplistic, symmetrical style from Germany.

German style architecture and design

Another of the interesting features we noticed in the Western Harbor were its public spaces, which encouraged people to meet and interact. The extensive beach front is punctuated with parks, piers, restaurants, and even an amphitheater that is formed from the hills, where music comes from the ground. In a place of such high diversity, attractions such as these are particularly important because they bring people together and help reduce conflict and tensions between all the various ethnic backgrounds that live in the city.