The rise of the urban living room

A new kind of public space is appearing in cities. Open and designed for sharing, these are places where everyone is welcome – a smart and inclusive response to the challenges of growing urbanisation…

A man steers a large sofa on a raft along a river, with crowds of people, buildings and trees on the bank.

Home from home

“The change in people’s attitude to doing more things in urban spaces is interesting,” says Dan Stubbergaard, founder of Copenhagen architecture firm COBE. “The territory of private space that’s normally outlined by home where you have your own living room and couch has changed. Now people prefer to move their couch. Sometimes literally, to the harbour to hang out! Or to find a couch elsewhere.”

See transformation as a resource

“Architects need to do more than nice designs, we need to participate, engage in society and debate – especially now when we have to make a significant change in the way we use resources. Instead of starting from scratch, we need to turn our building trash into treasure by finding new potential in what we already have. It’s the idea of turning an old grain silo into housing and a public space.”

A building can empower change

“Placing a new cultural building in an area with social challenges is a game changer,” says Dan. “A library where the elderly can meet up, parents gather, the homeless spend some time and kids hang out after school. Or a kindergarten that becomes a cultural hot spot in the evening and locals come together. These spaces become a new kind of local beacon – the common urban living room.”

Not just passing through

“There are themes and ideas that come into play if you want to develop cities where people live well,” says Dan. “For example, seeing infrastructure like bus stations as amazing public spaces and not just a way to get from A to B. Make it a place where you can sit in the sun and suddenly that ‘dead’ space becomes a vibrant urban space.”

Design for new ways of living

Much of COBE’s work has been in Copenhagen with the city and Danish state-owned urban development company By & Havn. “Creating a sense of place is key,” says By & Havn CEO Anne Skovbro. “For that we need to understand everyday life and how upcoming trends affect it. We saw a lot of families moving to the city, and single, elderly people. We need to translate this into new urban neighbourhoods.”

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Photographer: Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST, Thomas Krarup