When was the last time you saw a carpenter carrying a ladder on a bike while drinking coffee, or woman carrying two purses on handlebars, or a newspaper chain guard, or a pink bike-parking facility on the street? Danes are known for pragmatic design and keep efficiency at the core of their bicycle culture. Riding bikes is good fun in Denmark, so no surprise that one third of Danes use a bike on a daily basis.
The Danes have a longstanding reputation for design based on principles of practicality and simplicity. The 20th century Danish Modern movement advanced these ideals. They pioneered sustainable woods (teak), enduring metal (stainless steel), and they turned recycled wood scraps into plywood, which led to some of the most iconic pieces of modern design. Legendary designer Nana Dietzel told me once that there was a reason for their pragmatism: Danish designers mostly came from backgrounds in cabinetry, not architecture. They are makers, not theorists.
While Danish Modern faded as a movement in the latter part of the 20th century, the Danes have resurfaced as international leaders in design of the contemporary “livable” cities movement—Copenhagen is the poster child. Danish city planner/designer Jan Gehl is as widely respected for his city design as Arne Jacobsen for chair design. We witnessed this Danish practicality and attention to detail in design examples seen on the streets:
- Separated and protected lanes for bicycles and pedestrians
- Ubiquitous bike carts to haul kids and instruments
- Covered bike-parking areas to protect from weather
- Train cars earmarked for bikes
- Bikes with racks for carrying almost anything: children, ladders, plants, etc
- Public bike racks done artfully and efficiently for storage
- On street storage for large bike carts
- Street signals that solve basic safety issues
- Tile wedges to lessen curb bouncing
As pragmatic as they may seem with their common sense design approach, it is their resourcefulness, humor and style and that make them especially relevant. And filmmakers like Mikael Colville-Andersen and Copenhagen Cycle Chic are making biking more than a practical option.