Nørrebro is one of the 10 districts in the Copenhagen Municipality, and the city district with the highest population density. Historically, it was predominated by working class, but as a result of regeneration and revitalization programs and the provision of new social housing from the 1970s to today, it has been transformed drastically in terms of its demography to become a truly “multi-ethnic” and “multi-class” city. In 2013, almost 30% of the inhabitants were immigrants and their descendants, with almost 20% of them coming from non-Western countries. Larsen and Møller (2013) note the presence of a large group living on “social transfers” that might be characterized as a “trash-proletariat” alongside “middle-class” residents with predominantly “left-wing attitudes”, as well as a recent history of violent clashes and riots between police and resident groups, including squatters and Hells Angels.
With such a profile, it is perhaps unsurprising that Nørrebro would be an attractive site for intervention by local art collective Superflex, a group founded in 1983 by Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen. Superflex is well known for projects in aid of disadvantaged groups and social causes, from the 1997 Supergas biogas unit developed to supply energy for basic cooking and lighting needs for rural families in the ‘Global South’ (prototyped in Tanzania) and the 2003 Guaraná Power, a soft drink developed with a farmers co-op in response to livelihood-destroying activities of multinationals operating in South America, to the 2004 Free Beer project involving a collaboration with students to provide to the public typically proprietary knowledge necessary for the brewing of beer (an open-source beer recipe). Commissioned by the City of Copenhagen and RealDania, Superkilen was an urban design project for Nørrebro, developed by Superflex in collaboration with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Topotek1.
A permanent kilometre-long “park”, Superkilen consists of 3 areas, a “Red Square”, a “Black Market” and “The Green Park” cutting across the neighbourhood. It was designed using a participatory methodology, which the artists explain as follows, “The people living in the immediate vicinity of the park relate to more than 50 different nationalities. Instead of using the designated city objects used for parks and public spaces, people from the area were asked to nominate specific city objects such as benches, bins, trees, playgrounds, manhole covers and signage from other countries. The objects were either produced in a 1:1 copy or bought and transported to the site.” 5 groups even travelled to Palestine, Spain, Thailand, Texas and Jamaica to procure 5 of the objects in Superkilen. The result is an instantiation of the concept of a “global village” or “museum of civilizations”, which intends to support the area’s diversity through inclusion of cultural symbols and objects, 108 in total, including neon street lighting from Qatar, a picnic table from Yerevan (Armenia), a South African barbecue or braai, a manhole cover from Tanzania, a gate from Karachi (Pakistan), a bench from Ethiopia, soil from Palestine, a cedar tree from Lebanon, and so on.
Written by Leon Tan
Ambitious in scope and scale, the project is commendable for its inclusive approach to urban design as well as its successful realization in 2012. Given that the visual landscapes of most globalized cities in the world rarely (intentionally) reflect the area’s ethnic and cultural composition, Superkilen stands out as a provocative and inspiring experiment, whose courageous supposition, that the experiences of inhabitants can be transformed or positively remediated through the intentional (co)design of the visual dimension of everyday city life, seems well-considered and executed.