Dispatch from Denmark: Community Spaces Part Four (Conclusion)

June 29, 2022

Gehl’s final principle is blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. This encapsulates many different ideas. Most prominently is the idea of the implementation of nature in urban spaces, and making the outdoors more accessible year round. Gehl suggests that those who interact with the natural environment to a higher degree often feel more compelled to care for and value their environment. He suggests that this explains why the fight for climate change is far more passionate in Nordic countries.

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Blurring indoor and outdoor areas is not a complicated process.

The most prominent example is outdoor seating in Danish cafes and restaurants. Initially outdoor seating was thought to be reserved for the summer months, yet the number of outdoor seating in cafes and restaurants in Denmark has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

For public spaces, arcades and colonnades are simple ways to create a protective barrier and thereby a transition space between indoor and outdoor spaces. They also initiate more socialization, as they allow more people to enjoy a space without a feeling of overcrowding.  

“Protected from wind, and sometimes the sun, spaces between buildings have their own microclimate, which is sometimes remarkably different from the surrounding climate.”
David Sim, Author "Soft City"
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The Fort Common relies on the weather to realize success.

Similar to Copenhagen, Victoria’s winters are cold, dark, and rainy. Consequently, the Fort Common does not work to its full ability in the winter, and is thereby closed. The Fort Common struggles in its ability to blur the line between the indoor and outdoors. Although customers from the surrounding businesses are encouraged to use the Fort Common for its seating, there is no seating specifically set out for customers of specific restaurants.

Instead, seating is centered in the middle of the Fort Common courtyard, where customers are more likely to be disrupted by unpleasant weather patterns. Along with a long edge of seating, the Fort Common does not have any arcades or colonnades. This is understandable, because there is no edge seating that needs to be covered. If seating was offered in the edges of the space, paired with arcades,  the transition between the indoor spaces of the restaurants to the outdoor spaces of the Fort Common would be softer.

On the other hand, if we look at Torvehallerne, we see greater success given its design and ability to blur the line between the indoors and outdoors.

Although these spaces are still used in the winter regardless, glass structures provide customers with a space which looks out into the natural world, while also protecting them from harsher weather. The outdoor seating is heavily fortified by arcades and heaters, and is still a pleasant place to sit when it is cold out.

Torvehallerne was built in Copenhagen, and was therefore taking into account the cultural dynamic it should adhere to. Transition spaces meant to encourage outdoor seating year round are welcomed in Copenhagen, and therefore were a smart investment when designing this public space. Similarly, Fort Common was also designed with its cultural landscape in mind.

Ultimately, Canada is still behind when it comes to certain aspects of constructing urban spaces, namely using outdoor spaces in winter. 

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Both the Fort Common and Torvehallerne exhibit elements of Jan Gehl’s three principles of design.

The Fort Common more strictly follows his ideas behind enclosure, whereas Torvehallerne is better at blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. Both do not directly adhere to Gehl’s principle of walkability. This is not due to poorly designed space, but rather a lack of necessity for long distance walking to occur within these spaces.

Victoria architects are beginning to show signs that they are adapting their mindsets when it comes to designing spaces for people. They are learning that people should be a top consideration in their projects. It will be interesting to see how both these spaces evolve overtime. 

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Will the Fort Common adhere and expand upon Gehl’s principles in the future?

Will we see its success have an effect on other potential Victoria public spaces? Will it stray further away from Danish principles, and take influence from another part of the globe?

Only time will tell...

We hope you enjoyed these insightful contributions from Manon Damant while she concludes her studies and stay in Denmark. Perhaps we'll be able to catch up with her and garner more interesting posts upon her return to Canada next month.

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