Obtaining the right residential mix

It is possible to develop and renovate housing projects so that they are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. We examine two such cases in Denmark and California.

Ellebo gardens



Michael Keinath

T: +1 415 796 1934

By Michael Rothenborg and Andrew Somerville, November 2017

At Ellebo in Ballerup, north of Copenhagen in Denmark, Ramboll and head architect Adam Kahn are helping to bring economic, environmental and social benefits to the 276-apartment estate in a major renovation project. One of the main features is what is known as winter gardens. 

A well-known concept in the UK, the winter gardens consist of rooms facing the inner courtyards. They are perfect to grow plants or relax in, and more importantly they provide an isolated buffer between the apartments and the external part of the balconies and therefore minimise the large heat loss typical of this type of 1960s construction. 

Along with a major improvement in wall and roof insulation, the winter gardens also significantly reduce residents’ energy bills. 

“But you have to consider the indoor climate too,” explains Christian Bodekær Thomsen, Project Leader and Design Engineer, Ramboll. 

“Otherwise there will be problems with mould or humidity. When we use class A energy windows for example, we have to optimise the ventilation at the same time.” 

More diversity 

All the new balconies will face the green communal area in the middle of the estate – a good way of bringing the residents closer together. This green area will also have new climate adaptation measures to collect rainwater and minimise the risk of sewerage leaking into the basements. 

On top of the four blocks of buildings, Ramboll and partners are also building new penthouses with a higher rent. This is part of a plan to attract a diverse mix of people to Ellebo. 

A recent scientific study from the Danish Kraks Fond, Institute for Urban Economic Research, has documented that efforts to raise living standards and the reputation of social housing actually work, thus helping to reduce unemployment rates, among other things. 

Sustainable redevelopment

On the outskirts of San Francisco, Ramboll is involved in another redevelopment that is not just environmentally but also socially and economically sound. The project is at Hunters Point, once home
to a thriving shipyard and the iconic Candlestick Park baseball stadium (where the Beatles played their final concert), but for decades the area was virtually neglected. 

However, for the last eight years Ramboll has been part of a project that aims to modernise without compromising the unique heritage. 

The goal is to develop a mixed-use planned community including homes, commercial and retail premises, educational institutions and recreational facilities. 

“Historically, this is an area for people on low incomes and minority groups – that is, a part of the city that has been chronically under-served,” says Michael Keinath, Principal at Ramboll in the USA. “It is a huge reinvestment in this part of the city where we need housing. 12,000 new units and houses, 4 million square feet of research development areas, as well as huge shopping areas in a part of town where there is no retail.” 

Community involvement is crucial

A project of this size is not without challenges, not least because some of the land is contaminated. 

“How do you structure a 30-year construction period with tonnes of equipment on a site with radiological material and in close proximity to people who are already living there?” asks Michael Keinath. 

The answer has been to undertake detailed modelling and risk assessments of the site to determine how 30 years of heavy construction will affect people and more importantly, how to put in safeguards to protect them. 

“The key to a successful re-urbanisation project like Hunters Point is public engagement on all levels,” says Michael Keinath. “Ultimately it is people, not buildings, that make a neighbourhood.”

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