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The Harbour Bath at Islands Brygge
The Harbour Bath exemplifies what I consider the most successful urban development in Copenhagen ever. Kalvebod Brygge (opposite side) and Islands Brygge made one of the most industrialised areas in Copenhagen.
Now it has turned into one of the most attractive public spaces in town. A truly radical turnaround!
This section of the harbour was the most heavily industrialised and polluted with factories and coal import taking up the piers and larger areas on both sides. After the industries had gone, the city took over these areas and started the process of cleaning up, eventually removing cranes, silos, smaller buildings and diverse infrastructure.
Initially, the city was not in a financial position to be picky about the projects and investors. So, on the opposite side of the water (Kalvebod Brygge), a conventional development took place from the mid-1990s. The lots were sold to private investors for individual projects, offices, hotels and more offices. Attractive, public spaces had only little priority.
And the result caused harsh critique and public dislike, already before completed. It is windy, shady and empty. And moreover, these commercial buildings, mostly offices, don’t show any gesture of interest to the surrounding spaces and bypassers.
In that same period on this side, the old, worn-out working-class neighbourhood went through a publicly subsidized renovation and improvement, leading to rapid gentrification. Prices skyrocketed and younger families replaced the old residents, typically industry workers, many of them unemployed.
Harbour bath as an eye opener
An existing, local initiative to improve the public spaces in this neighbourhood were early to acknowledge the potential of the strip along the water. So they successfully worked to keep it open as the public park you can see today.
During the late 1990s, the general public slowly learned here, that things were under transformation. The noise and the smells disappeared with the industries. And the water was cleaner for each street sewer, that the city added for wastewater treatment.
When the water quality was finally good enough, and the first harbour bath opened in 2002, it was an eye-opener for most Copenhageners to see lots of people actually jumping into the harbour.
The present Harbour Bath, designed by Plot, replaced the original one already in 2003. The new design added more attitude, encouraging fun activity and jumping from the stepped platform, shaped like a ship’s bow.
Plot = JDS + BIG
Danish and now very famous Bjarke Ingels worked at the architecture office OMA in Rotterdam with Belgian Julien De Smedt. As partners, they opened an office, Plot, in Copenhagen in 2001, and they caught a lot of attention immediately. As partners, they designed the Harbour Bath as their first realised project in 2002 – 2003.
Later the two founders divided Plot into each their company, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and JDS Architects (Julien De Smedt). And JDS designed the Kalvebod Waves project, across the water.
During the summer, the Harbour Bath is open with lifeguards during the day for anyone for free. It’s the go-to swimming spot for families, as two basins are low depth for kids. The water is seawater from the harbour, which is not separated, treated or heated in any way.
If you visit in the winter, you’ll most likely realise, it has turned into a winter swimming club. Since there are no lifeguards during the winter, you need to be a member to join the fun. But then you’ll also have access to a couple of mobile saunas placed on the pier, next to the bath.
Every single time I pass, it pleases me much to see it’s popularity, despite the inhospitable winter temperatures. Water temperatures will typically hit 0 °C (32 °F) in winter, and peak at 20 °C (68 °F) in summer.
What happened next…
Continue this story by reading my post about the Kalvebod Waves on the other side of the water.