The Finger Plan

Peter Bredsdorff (1913-1981)
Plan for Copenhagens development Se kort

By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006

Greenery between the fingers 

In 1947 when the town planners were to name their great, new plan for the urban development of Copenhagen, it wasn’t hard: the Finger Plan. Just look at the pictures! The group of young architects and town planners who were to design a development plan for Greater Copenhagen had discovered that the contour of the plan rather exactly matched the shape of a hand. 
At a time when many big cities in Europe grew aimlessly in all directions, eating into the surrounding environment, the Danish town planners conceived their brilliant idea: Copenhagen was to grow outwards in five fingers towards the surrounding towns. In return, there was to be no urban development in the green areas between the fingers. 

Nature at the front door 

The Finger Plan was also an answer to the accelerating car traffic in the years following World War II. That is why the skeleton in the fingers were commuter train lines ending in Koege Bugt, Taastrup, Ballerup, Farum and Holte. The wedges in between the fingers were to be green areas so that the populations of the new suburbs would have the shortest possible distance to open landscape. The green areas would not be built on, but would remain fields, woods and recreational areas. The palm of the hand - the old part of Copenhagen - was still to be developed as the natural centre of the city. 

Growing web 

Ever since, this simple plan has been the governing ideal for the development of Copenhagen. And in contrast to many other grandiose town plans, the Finger Plan has actually been implemented. Even though some of the fingers are webbed, and some of them have nearly grown together! Many people believe that it is thanks to the Finger Plan that Copenhagen has avoided some of the traffic congestion that is known from other big cities. And then it is the only piece of Danish town planning that is widely known outside the country. 

The Finger Plan. Drawing from Dansk Byplan laboratorium.
Map of Copenhagen's radial roads and ring roads. Vejdirektoratet.

Did you know?

The film director Susanne Bier has made a microplay film called the Finger plan. Sofie Gråbøl plays a school teacher who will teach a third class in the Finger Plan, but find it difficult to justify to the students why they should hear about Copenhagen's town planning history instead of the Spanish civil war. The film lasts four minutes, and the manuscript is written by Anders Thomas Jensen.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Architecture, 2006

The aim of the Report on the Copenhagen Region’s green areas from 1936 was to safeguard the region’s open-air areas, to protect landscapes and views from construction and to establish excursion routes and trails. The report was also given an urban planning function, which formed the basis for the subsequent development plan – the Finger Plan. The Finger Plan ensured that urbanisation took place along a number of main thoroughfare corridors, which stretched like fingers across Zealand from the “palm” of Copenhagen – the city centre. Between the “fingers”, green corridors were kept clear all the way into the city centre. Although the idea of parkways (traffic corridors through natural areas) is American, it has been transplanted into Danish reality. 

Together, the Report and Finger Plan have regulated and ensured urban growth, housing patterns, industry, transport corridors, infrastructure, water supply, drainage and climate. These two plans afforded the city a discernible plan, and modern democratic outdoor life is ensured in its recreational landscape, concentrating on movement corridors, water courses and coasts offering quite different possibilities for artistic and architectural experiences than just nature. The plans also regulated the conservation of coastal, marsh and meadow areas, and the construction of public seaside parks.
The Report and the Finger Plan afforded post-war urban development and the growth of bicycle and motorised traffic an architectural structure of major and long-term significance. Robust planning with an irrefutable pedagogy that has given the city a perceptible form, and which continues to characterise the entire capital region’s development.


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