Israel’s Square – the shifting identities The location of Israel Square is rich in opportunities and stretches between two worlds: the bustling covered market where thousands of people pass every day and the lush H.C. Ørsteds Park, where the people of Copenhagen enjoy the green space in the middle of the city. Israel’s Square is placed on top of the historic ramparts, which used to surround the city of Copenhagen, and was in the 1970’s rebuilt into a parking lot with Northern Europe’s largest underground parking garage. This identity did not involve any aesthetics or invitation to activity – but it was about to change.
In 2008 the City Council in Copenhagen agreed on a major renovation of the square in order to establish an open space that would unfold, open up and encourage the citizens of Copenhagen to engage in outdoor life and activities on a site where the only boundaries of engagement are those of the mind. The car park is gone and Sweco Architects have created a ‘flying carpet’ square that now interconnects with H.C. Ørsteds Park and enhances the coherence between the square and its surroundings. The ‘flying carpet’ nickname comes from the folded and soft waved surface floating 30 cm above the ground.
The new Israel’s Square The square has wings, as the southwest and northeast corners fold up and create sitting areas whilst covering the ramp from the underground parking garage. As opposed to the wings of the square, the surface runs downward as a waterfall in the southwest corner into H.C. Ørsteds Park and thereby blends with the trees that stretch into the square. Across the square, water trickles in a small creek, which continues into H.C. Ørsteds Park, where it ends in stairs created of three oval vessels completing the waterfall. Depending on the purpose, the light of the pylons on the square can be changed from a dimmed, scattered light to one focused on specific areas during events. Along the edge of the square, small LED-lights are installed to give the illusion of a flying carpet and a hovering surface.
To create a space, that invites everyone, different features have been created on the surface of the square:
• Round holes in the square, which are filled with grass and trees and surrounded by benches thus creating green, urban hangout spots
• Areas, which invite the citizens to several activities: ballgames, skating, and playing.
• Stairs in the corners which can be used as an observation post from where you can see the activities on the square, the pulsating life of the Market place, and the beautiful green areas of H.C. Ørsteds Park.
In this way, Israel Square has been designed to be a square for every citizen and visitor to explore urban life.
Sweco Architects and subcontractor COBE have worked intensively on the transition from the square to H.C. Ørsteds Park. The square extends approximately seven meters over the park, but without touching anything since it “hovers” over the greenery. Instead of cutting down the existing trees, the holes in the square have been designed to integrate the trees into the square. These trees, together with a number of newly planted trees, make the park seem to continue into the square creating a gentle transition. Access between the square and the park is via a spiral staircase, which widens as it nears the ground in H.C. Ørsteds Park.
The challenges in the process
NIRAS was involved in all engineering disciplines in the full process from idea competition to the transformation of Israel Square into a coherent urban space. The project included several engineering challenges:
• The interaction between the square and H.C. Ørsteds Park needed to be built without damaging the existing trees.
• The square was built on top of a parking garage that could only tolerate a certain load. This led to limited space for drainage pipes, etc.. Furthermore, access to the parking garage had to be possible throughout the construction.
• During the construction phase, building activities on Nørreport Station required increased planning logistics.
• Zahle’s School is located within the project area. Therefore, school traffic crossed the area during completion. The schoolyard is now a part of the square itself.
Morten Kabell (Red-Green Alliance Party), Mayor for Technology and Environment in the City of Copenhagen, believes that the square will help enhance the quality of life and sense of community in Copenhagen. “Nine out of ten Copenhagen residents want a vibrant, diverse, urban lifestyle. The new place adds to this. It’s wonderful that we are creating room for playing and hanging out right in the center of the city as an alternative to the outdoor cafés and commercial activities that characterize the city center. Here it doesn’t cost you a penny to have fun,” he said in an interview with the national daily, Politiken.