On track for the cycle-friendly city of the future
Our cities are becoming smarter, one of the front runners being Copenhagen. Steen Savery Trojaborg, CEO of DISSING+WEITLING architects, reports on how the spirit of the city is coloring his work – and influencing it internationally as well.
‘Smart cities’ utilize innovative digital infrastructure, promote mobility and accessibility in the urban environment, and champion eco-friendliness and resource conservation. The goal of such intelligent cities is to make urban living more efficient and above all more enjoyable.
Copenhagen’s climate-neutrality concept is big on sustainability – it is bidding be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Part of this plan is its cycle strategy. Since 2015 Copenhagen has been hailed the world’s most cycle-friendly city – cycling here is a natural feature of everyday life. This is mainly because the city makes it easy for its dwellers to get from A to B on two wheels. These plans are underpinned by targeted infrastructure schemes – ranging from intelligent stop lights to several cycle bridges. Particularly well-known is the 235-meter-long steel “Cykelslangen” or “cycle snake” linking the Fisketorvet shopping mall with Bryggebro bridge in Copenhagen’s harbor district.
It was designed by the architects of DISSING+WEITLING, whose office can be found in heart of this city committed to the biking life-style. In CORPUS, CEO Steen Savery Trojaborg explains how the orange bridge embodies Copenhagen’s strategy for the future and thus shines out beyond the city’s limits.
CORPUS: Mr. Trojaborg, Copenhagen plans to be carbon neutral by 2025: Is Cykelslangen part of these ambitions?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: The project is actually a part of Copenhagen’s bicycle strategy: In simple terms, to be the best bicycle city in the world. What is special in Copenhagen is that we have so many designated bicycle lanes and also that of all the people who live and work here 50% use the bicycle as daily transportation. So you can say that is very healthy for our city.
CORPUS: Cykelslangen is by far not the biggest bridge you have realized, but it is quite special. How did you start working on this project?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: We won a tender held by the city of Copenhagen. The idea of a bridge connection already existed, but we could develop it into something better and more functional. During the process the meaning of the bridge changed: instead of only being a connection between two places, the idea was to create something the city and its people could benefit from. If a project is especially good for the city, Copenhagen’s administration can change the financial plans for this project, instead of letting former plans stop a good idea. We worked closely with the city architect and even were presented with the "Raise the Bar" prize 2013 by the City of Copenhagen.
CORPUS: Could you describe what makes Cykelslangen outstanding – as a construction and for the people who use it?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: With Cykelslangen the aim was never to build something extravagant or iconic – but the project went viral and now we call the Bicycle Snake a “non-iconic iconic bridge”. We wanted of course to do something functional and beautiful, but we were completely unprepared for the success the bridge had. I think one of the reasons for its popularity is a craving many people in large cities have for living this kind of easy-go bicycle life. The combination of the design and the fact that a city would actually pay for something like this is something a lot of people around the world think is rather unique.
CORPUS: You also realized the 8km long bicycle pathway in Xiamen, China – could you profit from your experience with Cykelslangen?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: In both cases of course we had to focus on architectural aspects, but also on the act of riding a bicycle – and how you can enjoy it. It is a very physical thing. The parametric design is key: All the curves and gradients have to be right. The city architect of Copenhagen says that people on the bicycle snake are always smiling. Because you are on land, then you go over water – and it feels good, it feels safe. In China safety was a big issue and it was very important that we already had the knowledge we could bring in. What’s special to mention is that in Copenhagen everybody knows how to ride a bike. We use the bicycle in our daily life, most of the time to go to work – in Xiamen, most people use the bicycle paths on the weekend. There the bicycle pathway is the first of its kind. You need to have a network before the behavior changes, but it is a good start.
CORPUS: Was it hard to adapt the Xiamen bicycle pathway to the cities conditions?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: We definitely had to make sure to combine the different levels of Xiamen. In Copenhagen everything is on the ground level – even Cykelslangen just takes you from one ground level to the next. In Asia life takes place on so many levels. You could not extract the Copenhagen model and stay on the ground level, because it would not be safe to ride the bike there. We connected the bicycle path to a whole system of staircases, bridges, buses, and elevators. There is so much life on that second floor level. It is rather futuristic. The first time I tried riding the bicycle pathway in Xiamen I really had to get used to the cars driving and honking below – but then it felt safe.
CORPUS: Finally let’s take another look at your city – is there something you would like to change?
STEEN SAVERY TROJABORG: A In Copenhagen we have the problem that we have to handle a lot of rainwater. How can we handle all the water and make Copenhagen a greener City? How can we use greenery and diversity as part of the city? These aspects are very important. Looking around I see all these areas between buildings that are not really used. It is very formal; there is no connection to the environment. It is a very primitive and simple thought, but I hope that we get to the point where people could use all these green areas as small gardens. You also need a certain density in a city – if you don’t have that, people cannot use bicycles in the city as daily transportation. I like projects like Cykelslangen with a dual purpose: It does not only take you from one place to another but it does something for the city.
CORPUS: Mr. Trojaborg, thank you for the interview.
Biography in brief
Steen Savery Trojaborg studied architecture at the School of Architecture of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. As a member of the Danish Association of Architects he started his career at CBA architects + planners in 1981 before switching to DISSING+WEITLING in 1984. Becoming a partner in 2002, he has also been Managing Director of the 40-strong office team since 2011. Trojaborg has realized numerous construction projects and been involved in various bridge ventures – for which DISSING+WEITLING is internationally renowned. These range from the Cykelslangen cycle bridge to large road bridges like the Queensferry Crossing that opened in 2017.