Wood Architecture Meets Nature in New Community in Copenhagen

©. A beautiful place out in the country?/ Henning Larsen

Henning Larsen's design for Fælledby is "a model for sustainable living."

It looks so bucolic and lovely, with such lovely renderings.

Just beyond the Copenhagen city center, Henning Larsen’s proposal for Fælledby transforms the former dumping ground site into a model for sustainable living, balancing human priorities with a strong commitment to the natural surroundings. Designed to accommodate 7,000 residents, the Fælledby community will be entirely timber construction, with individual buildings featuring birdhouses and animal habitats integrated within the building facades. Fælledby explores a living model with nature at its core, simultaneously crafting a new neighborhood to accommodate the demands of the growing city and increasing local biodiversity.
Site of project corner of amager

Site of project/ Google maps/Screen capture

The renderings make it look like it is off in the country somewhere, but in fact it is just beyond the Bryggebroen bicycle bridge under the label Havenestaden, a big piece of land that hasn't been a dumping ground for a long time, and is now a bit of country in the city. Fælledby is occupying a portion near the south end. Some commenters at Dezeen are outraged about this: "All green NGOs are against this project in Denmark. Amager Common is like Central Park NYC, but just in Copenhagen."

Entry to site

© Henning Larsen

“Deciding to build in the natural landscape around Fælledby comes with a commitment to balance people with nature. Specifically, this means that our new district will Copenhagen’s first built fully in wood, and incorporating natural habitats that encourage richer growth for plants and animals,” says Signe Kongebro, Partner at Henning Larsen. “With the rural village as an archetype, we’re creating a city where biodiversity and active recreation define a sustainable pact between people and nature.”

Sections through building

© Henning Larsen

It's a beautiful, but clearly controversial, project. And it's not entirely timber construction, unless they are building the underground parking out of Cross-Laminated Timber, which I doubt.

Planning the community

© Henning Larsen

Feargus O'Sullivan described the site in CityLab a few years ago, writing that the Red-Green alliance of politicians wanted to scrap the project.

It might seem incredible that land like this is being considered for development at all, but for centuries Amager Fælled was considered Copenhagen’s dirty backdoor. Due to the city’s habit of dumping sewage there, the entirety of Amager was once referred to as Lorteøen, or “Sh*t Island”, while the wetland itself was a dumping ground until the 1970s and only opened to the public in 1984. The area nonetheless teems with life, with deer roaming through its grasses and wading birds gorging on the insects that flourish around its ditches and ponds.
Habitat preservation is maintained

© Henning Larsen

But according to Henning Larsen, they are doing everything they can to preserve and encourage the preservation of the natural environment.

Developed in collaboration with biologists and environmental engineers from MOE, the scheme preserves 40 percent of the 18.1 hectare project site undeveloped habitat for local flora and fauna. Green corridors draw the surrounding landscape into the masterplan, dividing Fælledby into three smaller enclaves. These corridors allow residents increased and direct access to nature, but more importantly, allow the animal species of Amager Fælled to move freely through and within the area.
Nature is everywhere between villiages

© Henning Larsen

It's a tough call. This looks nothing like the other big new development in the area, Ørestad. It's only taking up a small portion of the site that is already partly occupied with a hostel. It was, as they say, a dump. But dumps have a way of evolving into parks. In Toronto, rubble from building the subway and office buildings in the sixties was dumped in the lake to build a new outer harbor that was never needed; trees and birds and nature took hold in all the mess and now it is Tommy Thompson Park, "Toronto's urban wilderness." Amager Fælled is an urban wilderness now.

Nature is wholly integrated within Fælledby’s landscaping and architecture: nests for songbirds and bats are built into the walls of houses, new ponds in the center of each of Fælledby’s three communities offer a habitat for frogs and salamanders, and community gardens create new flowers to attract butterflies, to name a few. Narrowed roads and underground parking within the plan reduce vehicle traffic and visibility, making nature the focal point.
Center of village

© Henning Larsen

Wood construction, cladding, and the almost traditional design make it feel more natural, too.

Compared to alternative materials such as steel or concrete, timber captures and stores CO2 during its growth – as a building material, it actively removes CO2 from the environment as it is produced. Fælledby is the latest in a resurgence of timber construction throughout Scandinavia, as the region sets a global example for sustainable contemporary architecture.

Critics at Dezeen are not convinced. "This project is greenwashing on a big scale. Most of the animals living at Amager Common will no longer live in this habitat or at all in Copenhagen, if Henning Larsens' plan is going to be." But the Danes do such clever and beautiful greenwashing; look what they did with the local incinerator.

Village detail

© Henning Larsen

But I will give the last word to Signe Kongebro of Henning Larsen:

“Like the traditional rural village, the Fælledby masterplan stands for itself within an open natural landscape. This gives an opportunity to create a setting that is uniquely sensitive to sustainability and natural priorities,” explains Kongebro. “We see a potential to build a new city that speaks to the sensibilities of younger generations, to create a home for people seeking a solution on how to live in better harmony with nature. For us, Fælledby is a proof of concept that this can indeed be done.”