Urban Scandinavian Childhoods

In the United Kingdom we live in a risk adverse society, especially when it comes to children in our cities. This is worrying as 60% of urban dwellers in 2030 will be under the age of 18 and our young people are the future, so what are we doing to create child friendly cities?

On a recent trip with university I visited three cities in Scandinavia, Copenhagen, Malmo and Helsinki. Paying particular attention to how schemes were designed with children in mind, I have written up my thoughts on a few projects that I visited.

Copenhagen: Kalvebod Wave

Contemporary, functional and playful; the undulating wooden boardwalks bring life to one of Copenhagen’s greatest assets, its waterfront. Designed by JDS Architects the wave has brought public life to this otherwise forgotten part of the city.

The wave, completed in 2014, creates an enclosed area of the harbour for activities to take place in the water as well as integrated seating and social space.

As far as children are concerned the wave creates a very exciting and engaging place. It not only connects children with the water and nature, through swimming and other water based activities, but it is by design, playful. Copenhagen is a flat city, but the Kalvebod Wave creates a dynamic waterfront which becomes a gigantic piece of play equipment. Steep slopes constructed of timber present a challenge… can you run all the way to the top? … can you run all the way back down? One ramp towers above all and finishes with a nerve-racking steep decline into the harbour.

This project creates exciting and unusual risks and challenges which allow children to develop their ability to asses risk. It also reaches out to a wider group of people, the scheme is beneficial to and creates a place for people of all ages.

Malmö:Stapelbäddsparken

This park at the centre of the city has been created from the old shipyard slipway, 3000 square meters of concrete bowls, jumps and ramps have become a social hub for young people across the city. 

The park is split, to the south is the skate park and the north is left more wild, nature has been encouraged to reclaim the former concrete forms of the ship yard, pioneering species soften the concrete edges. The encroachment of nature on the hard landscape has enabled traces of Malmö’s former shipping industry to be retained whilst bringing life back to the coastal communities.

Whilst the park is primarily for skating it includes artificial boulders for climbing and moveable metal art pieces. The skating area has been designed collaboratively with the identified end users meaning that it caters for a range of different skateboarding styles, including: street, bowl and pool.

Malmö: Sollekplatsen

Sollekplatsen is one of many playground in the city. It is a themed playground and allows children to explore the ‘solar system’ by climbing through unique and exciting play apparatus. The notable feature is the large bridge that is constructed from a wooden walkway and rope netting. As you run through the bridge the whole structure lifts up and down. 

The entire park is open on all sides, protected only by the children’s own assessment of risk and in some places strategically placed earth mounds.

Helsinki: Amos Rex

In Finland’s capital Amos Rex is a popular and ambitious art and design museum. In 2013 it announced plans to expand, sub-terranean. The museum’s new roof is a key public space for the city and JKMM Architects designed a playful and functional roof space.

Large protruding forms emerge from the ground with translucent windows to bring natural light into the annex below. The interlocking concrete pieces that make up the surface of these forms create a fun challenge to climb and run over. Different gradients some too steep to scale are created and open for children, and adults to ascend and slide down.

The landscape is very hard, constructed mostly of concrete, but is still playful and is an exciting way for children to experience risk and challenge at a young age in an urban environment.


These examples demonstrate how cities and children can work together and in some cases show how children, nature and cities can coexist. Children need nature, nature need children and cities need both.

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