Denmark has always had ambitious goals for the planning of its cities. Its reputation for providing innovative and sustainable solutions is firmly acknowledged worldwide, making it the perfect paradigm for every urban planner. Town planning and urban development put a human-centred emphasis on the creation of livable contexts and landscapes. Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and urban planner who authored the influential book “Life between Buildings” in 1970, is closely identified with the human element of Danish architecture. His views have had a significant impact on the creation of sustainable urban environments all around the world.

Given the well-known challenges to urban planning, Danish cities have always had a robust approach to unconventional ideas. One such project is the development plan for Vridsløselille, designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects – Perkins and Will. The municipality of Albertslund and Freja Ejendomme chose Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and BOGL to reimagine Vridsløselille. The scheme was selected alongside another project by COBE to create a collective vision for the area’s future development.

What makes this simple urban design so unique and radical?

The history of Vridsløselille is what sets it aside from a mainstream redevelopment project. In the western suburbs of Copenhagen, Vridsløselille was once a state prison. It operated with this function from its opening in 1859 to January 2016 and then served as a particular departure centre for rejected asylum seekers with prison sentences until February 2018. It was designed according to the so-called “Philadelphia System”. This technique included complete isolation of the prisoners around-the-clock to give convicts the time and chance to confess their sins and make peace with God. This character of the infrastructure already marks a dictated silhouette on the project, and reimaging a Vibrant Community on the same site was the challenging part for the Architects. 

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Aerial view _©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

Ideology for reimaging 

The 160,000-square-metre Vridsløselille district will be a natural extension of Albertslund and its main thoroughfares. The adaptable scheme will attract city life to the area where green parks and residential complexes are intertwined, forming a solid synergy while allowing for various building typologies, urban qualities, and shared facilities. The new urban area in Albertslund will create new connections and destinations by focusing on activated green spaces, urban farming, and movement and sports facilities. Significant links, sightlines, and local identity will be preserved and amplified. The primary goal is to lay the groundwork for a healthy and social lifestyle by providing a diverse range of common areas and green spaces.

“Our vision for Vridsløselille is to create a new neighbourhood with a green heart for all citizens, an area that strengthens the social, climatic, and landscape cohesive force in Albertslund. We will preserve as much as possible of the existing prison building and integrate some of the complex’s secondary buildings to enhance original qualities. Some old wings will be torn down but rebuilt with a deep respect for the original geometry, marking the existing star-shaped complex as the show’s star. In this way, we aim to encourage participation and sharing by converting some structures into common places for everyone to enjoy.” 

Kristian Ahlmark, Partner and Design Director at Schmidt Hammer Lassen

“Vridsløselille is a unique place, forming its own ‘universe’ in a modernistic city. It has been inspiring to transform the area by creating a distinctive identity that reaches out to the rest of Albertslund. We have used the existing site’s history, walls, and old gardens to create a new meeting place for the whole city.”

Jens Linnet, Design Lead Landscape and Creative Director at BOGL.

Spatial Planning: Five districts divisions 

The design is branched into five different districts with their own identity and direct access to nature.

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Districts_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

District 1: Skovbyen

The Northern District houses urban villas among two forest clusters.

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Skovbyen_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Skovbyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Skovbyen Axo_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

District 2: Bevægelsesbyen 

Terraced, multi-storey houses with semi-public squares and intimate urban spaces are the Western District’s main character.

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Bevægelsesbyen_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Bevægelsesbyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Bevægelsesby Axo_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

District 3: Grobyen 

With community and interaction as the central role, the South-Western District contains residential units up to 7 floors. It is the largest district with the maximum population. 

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Grobyen_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Grobyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Grobyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

District 4: Portbyen 

The Southern District comprises the railway infrastructure and housing up to 10-storey buildings.

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Portbyen_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Portbyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Portbyen Axo_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

District 5: Havebyen

The Eastern District is identified by more intimate Renaissance gardens.

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Havebyen_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Havebyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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Havebyen Plan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

Focal point

The classic star-shaped prison facility was designed in response to the unique curio from the past, and it is encircled by trees that initially served as a security barrier. The “Loop,” a new primary pathway around the site connecting the various districts with the current prison building, will be used to open up the region and create new ones.

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Plan of Vridsløselille Prison from 1859_leksikon
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Plan of Vridsløselille Prison from 1859_leksikon

Zoning Concept

The story of Vridsløselille is characterized by the grim conviction of solitary confinement. The 160-year-old penitentiary is currently undergoing significant urban and environmental changes. The site will be entirely rethought by designing an integrated settlement with a strong emphasis on nature, mixing different housing typologies for a more diversified population, and tying the area to bicycle and pedestrian links.

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Masterplan_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
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The Loop_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
New Trees_©Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

The efforts of Schmidt Hammer Lassen and BOGL were to manifest an entirely new aura for this campus’s users and make it a meaningful thought process for future design fraternity.

References:

Online Sources:

Schmidt Hammer Lassen (2020). Vridsløselille, Albertslund/ Denmark. https://www.shl.dk/vridsloselille/

Fængsel (1859). < https://leksikon.org/art.php?n=945>

Christele Harrouk. Schmidt Hammer Lassen and BOGL to Transform a Former Prison Site in Denmark.04 Dec 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Oct 2022. https://www.archdaily.com/952523/schmidt-hammer-lassen-and-bogl-to-transform-a-former-prison-site-in-denmark

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