On what was once a dumping ground for city waste a short bicycle ride away from Copenhagen’s city center will soon be a new environmentally friendly neighborhood where every building is made entirely out of timber. Called Fælledby, the neighborhood, which will include about 2,000 homes to accommodate an expected 7,000 residents, is meant to show an alternative to the carbon-heavy construction materials of steel and concrete, and to serve as a template for how to live alongside nature—and without cars—even in a city.
Designed by Danish architecture company Henning Larsen, Fælledby (which was briefly referred to as Vejlands Quarter) has been approved by the city after the design was first unveiled in January 2020. It’s the winner of the Urban Design category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.
Building and construction are responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, but using all timber rather than steel and concrete can curb that. One cubic meter of wood stores about 1 ton of carbon—about as much CO2 as is emitted by a 3,000-mile car ride. Every building in Fælledby (including housing, a school, a daycare center, an elderly home, and shops) will be made of prefabricated timber panels from certified sustainable sources.
Henning Larsen wanted sustainability beyond building materials, too, so the neighborhood design also focuses on access to nature, walkable communities, and preserving biodiversity. More than 40% of the nearly 45-acre site will be left undeveloped for local flora and fauna. The neighborhood’s design features three “islands,” or radial clusters of buildings, linked by footpaths.
“Key to this is the idea that it’s designed with people in mind—not cars, which has been scale and driver for much of urban planning in the modern era,” says Signe Kongebro, the Henning Larsen partner in charge of the project, over email. “That’s why it looks so different. It looks more like the types of developments you would have seen centuries ago, before cars took over.” One main road for cars runs into the development, and ideally parking will be available in below-ground garages.
Thanks to that design, everything a Fælledby resident needs in a day is within a 15-minute walk, and nature and wildlife can flourish in all the space between the buildings. The project will be done in phases, beginning with housing in the northeastern neighborhood; in total, it’ll take about 10 years to complete the full project, though it will be open as it undergoes construction.
Kongebro hopes Fælledby can be a model for a new way to build neighborhoods that preserve local biodiversity, even in urban areas. “This project is a political statement in the sense that it is in opposition to the dominance of car-driven urban planning,” she says. “It looks the way the future will look—green, humanist, sustainable, and accessible.”