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In a city that by most measures of urban quality is one of the most successful in the world, how does Copenhagen explain Ørestad?

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Ørestad is the urban finger that extends south of the city, five kilometres long, 500 metres wide, no older than 1993. Its spine is the M1 extension – a Metro light-rail line parallel to Ørestad Boulevard around which the project is organized.

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Ørestad Syd luftfoto

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It began with ambitious intentions:

“It is the intention to give full artistic freedom concerning architectural form, so that the new city quarter of Ørestad will boast state-of- the-art within architecture and art during the building years.” – Masterplan competition stipulations for Ørestad

That should have been a warning.  Like so many similar projects in Europe (or inspired by European masterplanning) – La Defense in Paris, Danube City in Vienna, Pudong in Shanghai – the results are dismally anti-urban.

Finger PlanØrestad was to be an addition to the 1947 ‘Finger Plan’ (right) – corridors of suburbanization, separated by green zones, connected to the city by rail, that allowed for controlled expansion of Copenhagen.  And though it resulted in a degrading of inner Copenhagen’s tax base, it also encouraged urban renewal along the harbour’s industrial zones – a process still continuing.  The hope was that the new urban quarter of Ørestad would usher Copenhagen out of financial crisis and create a testing ground to display the city’s new ideas in architecture and city planning.

The Danish Parliament passed the ‘Act of Ørestad’ in 1992 and funded a new metro line connecting to the airport and the tunnel/bridge to Malmö, Sweden, intended to make Copenhagen a focal point of Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Only this process would be different from the traditional state-led planning that characterized post-war development; the impact of globalization and market-oriented ideology led to a stronger role for private investors and an intent that infrastructure, particularly the Metro extension, be paid in part by the rise in land values and sale of adjacent sites.

Unfortunately, reality intervened.  From Failed Architecture:

… the Ørestad Development Corporation (owned by the Minsitry of Finance and the City of Copenhagen) was faced with substantial challenges, as the development of the metro didn’t go as planned. …  Massive cost overruns in the metro construction, disappointing ticket sales, larger debts than foreseen, a severe lack of interest in the building plots around the metro line – subsequently forced the Ørestad Corporation to serve according to harsh market terms opposite to the initial urban planning ideas …

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In particular, it allowed the development of a huge inward-facing shopping mall:.

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Ørestad was intended to have a vibrant public realm; this was the opposite.  “The large shopping mall was allowed to turn in an inward-facing direction, without the slightest attempt to create life in the surrounding streets”

The Ørestad project started with an overwhelming array of optimism and ambitions, glossy project folders and flashy websites presented an image of the development as becoming the opposite of a dull and monotonous place, full of vibrant urbanity. But if we look at the built environment of Ørestad today we see that large parts of the urban areas are disjointed with “architecturally indifferent and totally oblivious objects.”

There was worse to come.