True story: Two summers ago, I was having dinner outside at a restaurant-cum-jazz club located on the Havnegade, a bustling waterfront promenade in central Copenhagen, when two men stripped completely naked and leap into the harbor for an impromptu swim. Although it was well past seven in the evening, it was still bright as day outside albeit a bit chilly — not exactly take-off-all-your-clothes-and-jump-into-an-industrialized-harbor type of weather. The two men swam and splashed about as a small group of friends remained on the quay standing guard over their belongings. After about 15 minutes or so, the swimmers emerged from the harbor via a ladder, dried off, got dressed and were on their way.
The whole thing was remarkable for being so incredibly unremarkable. No one — not the boaters navigating through the harbor or pedestrians strolling down the Havnegade — really seemed to notice or care. It wasn’t a scene.
I, however, was awestruck, amazed that the harbor was so clean that locals felt it was safe enough to take an after-dinner dip in, bathing suits or not. I thought about an urban waterway near me back home, Brooklyn's famously fetid Gowanus Canal, and how swimming in that could yield a bacterial infection for the ages. But mainly, I thought about how nice it would be if there was a specific destination for these intrepid harbor swimmers to swim to — a floating platform or dock of some sort.
Now there is.
Recently set afloat as part of the Copenhagen Islands project, CPHØ1 is the first of several planned public spaces located smack dab in the middle of the Danish capital’s revitalized and very much swimmable harbor. (The city stopped pumping wastewater into the harbor in the mid-1990s and has since transformed the once-gritty, shipyard-lined waterway it into a recreational hotspot complete with a network of bathing facilities known as the Copenhagen Harbor Baths.) As for CPHØ1, it's nothing fancy — just a simple, 215-square-foot wooden platform hand-built from sustainable and locally sourced materials using traditional wooden boat building techniques. A single linden tree emerges from the middle of the petite floating park.
Per Copenhagen Islands, CPHØ1 — "a simple and iconic metaphor for an uninhabited island" that "represents the first taste of a completely new type of public space coming to Copenhagen" — will move around the harbor each season after debuting in the Slusen, a lock in the Sydhavnen (South Harbor). Next, the floating mini-park will move to the waters off of Refshaleøen, an island-bound former shipyard converted into a buzzy hotbed of restaurants and entertainment venues. Where it goes from there has yet to be decided.
"The prototype island has been used as a resting place for kayakers and swimmers, for sunbathing, fishing and for small events. For example, later this month it will host a lecture series about the future of harbour cities," Aussie-born architect Marshall Blecher recently explained to Dezeen. Alongside Magnus Maarbjerg of local design studio Fokstrot, Blecher is the creative force behind Copenhagen Islands.
"It was developed to introduce life and activity to Copenhagen's rapidly developing harbour and to bring back some of the whimsy that has been lost in its development," he adds.
The beginnings of a 'parkipelago'
While Copenhagen Islands can only claim a single, tree-studded floating platform for now, this unique patch of public space won’t be lonely for long.
While CPHØ1 is more or less a multi-purpose destination, Blecher and Maarbjerg have envisioned a full "parkipelago" for the harbor consisting of numerous artificial islands, each revolving around a specific function: a floating sauna (something we’ve seen before in Seattle), platforms dedicated to fishing and swimming, a floating urban garden, a "sail-in" café and bar, a floating stage for concerts and other events, a mussel farm and more.
Blecher and Maarbjerg hope that a total of nine islands will eventually be spread throughout the harbor. And as the project website explains, while each individual island will float in a separate locale as to showcase different parts of the harbor, they can be linked together as a cluster for wintertime storage and for large-scale events like concerts and festivals that call for a single artificial island.
"The islands will be dispatched on suitable locations around the inner harbor but will also find their way to more forgotten and underused corners of the harbor, catalyzing life and activity," reads the project website.
The Copenhagen Islands also nod to climate change and the increasing need for coastal cities to create vibrant public spaces that are resilient against rising sea levels. (On that front, Copenhagen has already developed ingenious parks that transform into retention ponds during flooding and heavy rain events.)
Blecher and Maarbjerg hope that other cities will take notice of Copenhagen’s public space-generating harbor reclamation initiative and be inspired to launch their own floating parks in lieu of high-end private development.
"Projects like this could help democratise harbours and bring some life back onto the water," Blecher tells Dezeen, mentioning how his hometown of Sydney has cleaned up its own waterfront but regrettably failed to factor in public usage while doing so.
Copenhagen Islands, which is kind of the best thing ever, is funded in part by the Danish Arts Foundation and Havnekulturpuljen, a nonprofit that supports cultural events in and around Copenhagen Harbor.
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