Saturday, April 23, 2016

Copenhagen Greenspaces

Our field study last Wednesday took us to five of the major greenspaces in the Copenhagen area, and these greenspaces are each unique in their structure, purpose, and time of creation.


Mimersparken is a contemporary space by the train tracks coming from Norrebro station, and was converted into its current state in 2008 when it was purchased from the Danish State Railways. It's mostly an open park, with half of it taken up by courts for various sports. The other half is lawn, pavement (with piknik-bench-style seats), and an extremely intriguing park.

The primary purpose of this space seems to be for the use of the residents living in the condominiums surrounding the park. There is enough space for children to run around, sports courts for older children and adults, and the colorful park for any kid at heart (my class, as you can see above, really enjoyed it). However, it does seem that it excludes some groups from participating - namely, the disabled and elderly. There are a few ramps here and there, but nothing much for them to do. Additionally, there is a severe lack of trees and shade for sitting under, which can dissuade elderly people from choosing this park as a place to sit outside in. 

This lack of trees is emphasized by the severe flatness of the entire park. Everything is on one level - there aren't even any pots or raised beds with flowers in them, and barely any shrubbery. It feels, overall, very industrial, which can be dissuasive to some.

In the middle of the large lawn, a curve of dirt waggled its way from the courts to the other of the park. Perhaps this was the initial stage of a flower garden? This possibility, combined with some spindly trees along one end, give hope that this park might one day reach it's potential to be an excellent and well-used central greenspace.


Superkilen is the most contemporary of the parks we visited, having been completed in June 2012, and is divided into three main sections: The Green Park, the Black Market (above), and the Red Square. All three have playgrounds incorporated into them, though they look rather different from one another.

The Green Park is a long, narrow lawn with tables for picnicking, a skate park doubling as a basketball court, and a small playground. The playground, however, seems to function doubly as an area for outdoor workouts, with pull-up bars and the like. Further on, the grass turns to rubbery concrete and slopes downward into the Black Market, where a fountain, a collection of slides, and chess tables sit under shade trees. Across the street, the ground turns various shade of red, with various swings and slides and monkeybars scattered around. This is the main playground of Superkilen.

In general, Superkilen seems to fulfill its purpose quite well. It has enough benches and shade for less active people, a skate park and basketball court for those who want to play sports, potential tools for working out, hilly space to run around in, and a variety of playground equipment. The one issue with the design is that a bike path cuts through the space, even through the middle of the Red Square playground, making it potentially dangerous for the small children running around, and disruptive to the pedestrians enjoying the park.

Assistens Kirkegaard

The Assistens Kirkegaard (church yard - or cemetery) contains the remains of many famous Danish individuals, including H. C. Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard, and dates back to 1760. But it's not solely used as a cemetery. It's also fulfills the purpose of a central park, and people stroll by the flowering trees, or run through on their morning jog. Though some may consider this disrespectful to the dead, I see it as actually a different way to honor our passed loved ones.

This cemetery is being used extremely effectively - it is both a place to bury the dead, and also a park. In addition, it is a historical site, since so many famous Danes are buried there. It is beautiful, historical, and practical - what more can you ask from a greenspace?

Botanisk Have

The Botanical Gardens are situated in one of the fortification parks of Copenhagen. These parks are what's left of the old city fortifications, and the lakes and ponds in the parks are remnants from the old moat around Copenhagen. The Botanical Gardens contain a large park with walking paths, formal gardens, the aforementioned lakes, and a glass conservatory for more exotic plants.

The gardens are well designed and there are alternations between open lawns and shady paths below tree cover. Benches provide seating along the path, as well as a variety of gazebos and arbors. Of course, one of the main purposes of a Botanical Garden is the display of plants and thus the education of botany, and the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens do not fail in this aspect. It is part of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and contains the country's largest collection of living plants.

Østre Anloeg

The Ostre Anloeg park lies behind the National Gallery of Denmark, and is another of the fortification parks surrounding Copenhagen, and was designed by the same landscape architect who designed the Botanical Gardens - H.S. Flindt. It, like the Botanical Gardens, has many excellent walking paths through open lawns and under shady trees. This park is much larger than the Botanical Gardens, and therefore allows for even more ability for wandering.

On one side of the park, some basketball-soccer hybrid courts are hidden among the trees, providing a place for recreational sports. But the courts don't reveal themselves immediately when you walk into the garden - they are not the main focus, like they were in Mimersparken.

As we walked along the path, we  suddenly stumbled upon a large school group of small children reenacting viking battles. They were running around a large model of a viking ship and up the nearby paths, shouting and waving their wooden swords. However, the reason why we were so startled by them was that we couldn't hear all their battle cries until we were right near to them. The park is modeled with so many gentle hills and curves that each turn reveals something new. There is no point from which you can see the entire park laid out before you. In this way, pedestrians are able to wander with a sense of being in the middle of nature, and not in the middle of the city of Copenhagen.

These five greenspaces are all very different from one another, with different purposes, though some are able to fulfill their purposes better than others. However, they all provide spaces of peace in the middle of Denmark's capital city, places where people can come and relax, stroll, play, and exercise.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Significance of Versailles

A discussion of French gardens invariably brings up the name Versailles. Everyone know of this grandiose palace of King Louis XIV, and when I was planning to go visit Paris for a weekend last year, I can’t even count how many times I was told to go visit, and how many times I had to disappoint people when, on my return, I told them I hadn’t been able to.

But why is Versailles so special, so important? Of course, it is a beautiful palace with beautiful gardens, but there is something more, something that makes it significant in the history of gardens and in the history of France. And most of this “something more” stems back to King Louis XIV himself, and his intentions when building Versailles.

Firstly, and most obviously, Versailles was built to show off the King’s power. The King, in 17th century France, was considered to be directly chosen by God, and thus, in essence, nearly divine, and through the plans of the palace and the garden, it is evident that King Louis XIV took this very seriously. When Louis made his plans to build Versailles, his architects were at a loss, since the site was entirely a marshland. By creating this masterpiece on a supposedly “unbuildable” piece of land, Louis was showing that he had power over nature (and thus, in a sense, was equal – or above – God).  He continued this comparison with the divine buy placing statues of Apollo throughout the garden – and since Apollo was the sun god, and Louis the Sun King, the appropriate connection can be drawn. One of the fountains shows Apollo’s mother turning into frogs the villagers who had refused to serve them water, and another, at the far end of the garden, contains a statue of Apollo rising from the water on his chariot.


Through this, Louis was also showing off his massive wealth.  The Apollo fountains were just two of 1400 total in the garden, which in total used seven times more water in one day than the city of Paris. Because of this, the fountains were only turned on as the King and his courtiers walked through the gardens, and off again once he had passed by. From the fountains, to the rest of the gardens, to the palace itself, Versailles is a grand display of royal wealth.

If the King is this great, then that must mean that France is pretty great too, right? At least, this is the logic that Louis hoped people followed when they saw the majesty of Versailles. As the King, he was, in a sense, the human representation of his country, and so if the King’s main palace is so grandiose and elegant, that reflected upon the state of France as well.

Finally, the underlying purpose of Versailles was that of a gilded cage – a place to keep all the King’s courtiers under one roof and Louis’s watchful eye, under the pretext of accessibility and protection. To keep them there, he entertained them with theaters, concert halls, pleasure gardens, and fireworks. But this was not only a physical control – it was psychological as well. Louis encouraged gossip amongst the courtiers, discussing this lord or that lady, and in this way kept them busy creating petty intrigue amongst themselves, and not plotting against him. He also turned every aspect of his day – from getting dressed in the morning, to dinner in the evening – into a highly involved ritual for all the nobles, thus making his courtiers focus on the small, inconsequential things, instead of the actual, larger matters of state.

In this way Versailles became the social and political center of Louis XIV’s France: a stunning garden and palace, with an infinite host of meanings and purposes. And even today, it continues to hold significance in the history of France and of gardening.