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Danish City Reclaims Harbor Site

Exterior rendering of a central library, situated atop a 1,000-car capacity automatic parking garage
A central library, situated atop a 1,000-car capacity automatic parking garage, is being built on reclaimed land within the harbor.

The city of Aarhus, in Denmark, is redeveloping an industrial harbor site into a pedestrian-friendly area so that residents can reclaim the harbor as part of the city center.

February 18, 2014—For those with access, technological advances over the last century have fundamentally altered almost every aspect of life. This includes the role that libraries, traditionally the preserve of print, play within cities. The city of Aarhus, in Denmark, is responding to the evolving needs of its residents and undertaking a DKK 2 billion project to reclaim an industrial section of its harbor to transform it for the city’s residents. A central library—called “Dokk1”—that includes Europe’s largest and most advanced automatic parking system is included in the project. Both the library and the 1,000-car capacity automatic parking lot will be located on reclaimed land within the harbor, at the location where the Aarhus River meets the Kattegat sea area.

“In Aarhus, even though we are very close to the water you have to go to the south of the city or north of the city to go down to the water,” says Marie Ostergard, the project leader and partnership developer for the project for the City of Aarhus. “This new project will bring access from the city center down to the waterfront.” In addition to the public library and parking garage components of the project, the city is also building a city park and residences nearby.

The 33,000 m2 building complex for the library is a concrete and steel building that is located atop the parking garage. Steel trusses enable the beveled upper levels of the building to cantilever approximately 15 m over the lower concrete levels, creating office space that will be available for rent. The central volume of the building will be a glass-enclosed library and exterior terraces, while the ground floor of the building will remain open, with cars and a rail line operating through this space. Cars will be able to drive directly under the building and into one of 20 elevators that will transport driver-free cars down to 12,000 m2 of automatic parking basement storage. The ground floor will also contain dedicated walking routes for pedestrians, as well as a rail stop.

The project is completely reimagining this section of the harbor, and the site for the new library is being created with sand pumped from a nearby jetty that is being removed. In total, 288,000 m3 of sand will be excavated and 114,000 m3 added as the harbor line is refashioned, according to Lars Pedersen, the project director for Copenhagen-based engineering firm Ramboll Group A/S, and the central client advisor on the project. The remainder of the sand will be distributed in other areas around the harbor.

City of Aarhus, in Denmark, is reclaiming an industrial section of its harbor

The city of Aarhus, in Denmark, is reclaiming an industrial section
of its harbor to transform it for the city’s residents. The project is
reimagining the harbor line where the Aarhus River meets the
Kattegat Sea, creating reclaimed land from sand pumped from a
nearby jetty that is being removed.

A layer of clay more than 50 m thick underlies the harbor but is not strong enough to support the building, Pedersen says. As a result, 2,000 concrete piles were placed in the foundations under the basement, according to the city’s website for the project. These piles extend up to 36 m into the clay that underlies the site, Pedersen says.

The foundation is rimmed in sheet piling walls, but the basement is effectively a large, empty concrete box because of the space needed by the automated parking system machinery and storage racks, according to Pedersen. The lack of interior concrete floors, which would have helped support the sheet piling laterally, meant that more than 1,000 drilled ground anchors measuring approximately 30 m long had to be placed, Pedersen says. The construction pit needed for the building’s foundation was excavated in four layers, with anchors placed and tested at each stage, and ultimately measured 100 m by 100 m and 8 m deep.

The fully automated parking system that will be installed in the basement will be able to process 540 cars an hour if cars are being sent into and out of the basement at the same time. If the cars are being delivered in one direction—either into the system or out of the system—that capacity jumps to 800 cars an hour, Pedersen says. Unlike residential or office parking, the public aspect of the parking garage necessitates a large volume of turnover because many of the visitors will likely leave their cars for only an hour or so. It is expected that the cars will be returned within two minutes of drivers inserting their parking tickets into the system, he says.

The DKK 550 million (US $100 million) automated parking system is being fully funded by the Copenhagen-based philanthropic foundation Realdania as a demonstration project for the country, so the cost for parking is anticipated to be the same in this parking garage as other downtown locations, Pedersen says. This is despite the fact that this particular system costs approximately 70 percent more than a typical 1,000-car parking garage, he notes. The automated system needs only 8,200 m2 of space, while a typical garage with a similar capacity would need 30,000 m2 of space, but the cost of building the parking garage within the harbor on reclaimed land added significantly to the final cost, Pedersen explains.

The library, rather than another cultural institution, was selected as the flagship element of the development because it supports the city’s goal of providing free access to knowledge for every resident, Ostergard says. It is conceptualized as a “media space” and will be a location for people to borrow books as well as hold formal or informal meetings, attend events, hear lectures, or visit a café. A branch of the municipality’s citizen’s services office, which is a citizen's point of communication with public services—including guidance on health insurance, changing doctors, applying for schools, or receiving a driver's license or passport—will also be located on the premises.

The vision of the library’s architect, Aarhus-based Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, was to create an open, but covered, urban square for residents, Ostergard says. “An open square, open for everyone—a democratic space, but covered by a roof,” she explains.

The library is concrete and steel, with robust industrial finishes to tie it into the history of the site as an industrial shipping area. “The mix [of industrial and modern] is something that should be cherished,” she says. “I know it surprises a lot of foreigners when they see the materials and how it’s built, but it also creates a canvas that can be updated as the decades pass and furnishings, and uses, of the space evolve,” she says. It also gives the community a space that can be used heavily by the community in whatever manner they wish, she notes.

The city and foundation wanted the library to function as a “hinge” between the city, larger development, and the water, Ostergard says. To accomplish this, the architects created “a building that didn’t have a direction: a 360-degree viewpoint building [that] doesn’t have a north, south, east, or west direction; it has a shape that sort of turns around itself.” With the open interior of the structure, visitors will be able to view the horizon from every side of the structure, orienting themselves inside the structure based on the exterior views, she says. Two refined, wooden interior volumes—one an auditorium and children’s theater space, and the other a children’s space for play—will provide space where noise and events can be contained without affecting the remainder of the library.

In connection to the library project, a new light-rail line will be built along the harbor’s edge. This line will be elevated slightly from the existing rail line that operates along the route to provide the harbor line with a sea barrier that anticipates sea level surges of 2.5 m above the typical sea level baseline, Pedersen says. To protect the city from flooding along the river—which extends from the harbor into the center of the city—locking barriers will be placed at the mouth of the river.

The gates will be closed should the waters rise approximately 1.5 m over the current average daily water line. Once closed, pumps located along the river will pump the water back into the sea at a rate of 18 m3/sec. Currently, structures that protect against a 2.5 m water level increase are “standard in this area of Denmark,” Pedersen says. “If we were at the west coast of Jutland in Denmark, it would be quite different, but we are on the east coast and it is an inner sea,” he explains. As a result, storm surges are less severe, he says, and experts anticipate that 2.5 m protection above the current normal baseline level of the sea will be sufficient protection for the next 100 years.

Sustainability and energy conservation for the future have also been important considerations for the development. The shape of the building has been optimized so that the upper, beveled level shades the lower levels and terraces during the summer months, while in winter the low angle of sunlight will be able to reach deep within the building and library volume. Seawater cooling will be used to save energy within the building, cooling the mechanical room as well as the upper level floor, according to the website. Atop the roof, 3,300 m2 of solar cells will generate energy.

Access to the Dokk1 building is anticipated to be ready by 2015. The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2016.



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