Picking vegetables on the roof of Copenhagen’s green school

14 September 2021

“What did you do in school today?”

“We grew tomatoes, checked our building’s energy consumption and explored the outdoors.”

This could soon be a conversation between parents and kids in Copenhagen, where the city’s first green school is about to be built in the Sluseholmen neighborhood.

The certified eco-friendly structure will put students in close contact with the trees, animals and water around them, offering an immersive experience in environmental awareness.

Beyond maths and grammar

For city officials, the ambition is that studying in a green building will foster the integration of sustainability in the school curriculum, turning activities like gardening and nature observation into subjects along with geometry and literature.

The canal near the green school ©JJW Architects

“The hope is that students and teachers will use the school as a starting point for practical learning activities and an opportunity to investigate nature,” says Urd Nørgård-Nielsen, the green school’s project manager and a Copenhagen city official.

“The building is close to natural areas. One just needs to pass the local floodgate before reaching a vast green section of Copenhagen, so our aspiration is that teachers will take the children out of the classroom to experience the local flora and fauna and then bring nature to the classroom to learn from it,” Nørgård-Nielsen adds.

Playgrounds and trees 

The school’s first stone was laid on 26 August in Sluseholmen, a neighbourhood that in recent years has been attracting many families.

The four-storey structure will host 840 children from 6 to 16 years of age and boasts solar panels, alongside other sustainable aspects that the Copenhagen municipality is hoping to turn into learning opportunities.

“On the rooftop, we’ll build greenhouses so that kids can grow their own vegetables and understand the circularity of nature. There will also be playgrounds on every rooftop,” Nørgård-Nielsen explains.

The green school as envisioned by architects ©JJW Architects

The school will collect rainwater from the roof and use it for irrigation purposes.

“We’ll need water for all the trees and bushes that will be placed on the roof and on the school’s outdoor areas. The water in excess will be collected in external tubes visible to students so they will be able to observe how we store and use it,” the Copenhagen official adds.

Downstairs in the library, an interactive board will display the amount of energy created by the photovoltaic panels and used by the school. It will also show the amount of rainwater collected and used.

The building’s design includes large windows to let in the sun and allow a privileged view of the urban landscape and countryside around it.

Cooling like Mediterraneans

In the warmer months, cooling will be provided by a traditional method that southern Mediterranean areas have been relying on for centuries.

“The sun and heat coming through the large glass windows will be blocked out by sunscreens that will naturally lower temperatures inside,” the project manager explains.

The building will also feature a sports centre that can be used by students as well as local residents.

The school will feature a privileged view of Copenhagen ©JJW Architects

Families reclaiming the city

The school is expected to be ready in January 2024, a much-anticipated date in Sluseholmen.

Like other areas of Copenhagen, the neighborhood has witnessed a demographic boom over the past decade, which, in turn, calls for the construction of daycare centres, schools and other infrastructures.

“Copenhagen is a city expanding with new neighbourhoods that attract a lot of families with children,” says Mayor Lars Weiss.

For many, fleeing the city to raise a family is no longer a necessity.

“In the past, most people moved out of Copenhagen after completing their studies. They would buy a house in the suburbs and have kids. Now, we are witnessing a  different trend: people continue to live in the city with their families,”  Nørgård-Nielsen explains.

The demographic change can be explained in part by the availability of larger home spaces.

“Historically, apartments in the city centre were small. In contrast, buildings developed in recent years have courtyards and much more room to accommodate families, something that’s proving very attractive to them,” the project manager says.

Fostering a generational change

Sluseholmen’s green school will stand out in the city’s landscape not just for its eco-friendly features, but for proposing a new vision and a new path along which to steer young students in the years to come.

“We want to raise a generation that is environmentally aware, a generation that can have an impact on the world’s future and that is aware of its own power to make a difference,” Nørgård-Nielsen says.



Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer