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The Healing Gardens

The first time I heard of the gardens at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen was in 2022 from a friend whose husband was severely ill and hospitalized there. She praised the opportunity to retreat to the beautiful revitalized gardens to gather her thoughts.

Later, another friend mentioned Erik Brandt Dam and his work as a landscape architect.

His architecture firm was behind the renovation of the gardens at Bispebjerg Hospital,’ she told me.

I have no personal experience with Bispebjerg Hospital – touch wood! – so I write to Erik Brandt Dam to hear if he would show me the gardens.

He agrees, and we arrange to meet in the spring, when the gardens are at their most beautiful.

May 2023

From HÅNDVÆRk bookazine no 9

Erik Brandt Dam (b. 1960) graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture in 1986.

In 1996, he established Erik Brandt Dam arkitekter.

Since 1998, he has been an associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy.

Erik Brandt Dam has received several awards, including one from the Dreyer Foundation for his effort to highlight, integrate and develop our shared cultural heritage.

Bispebjerg Hospital, which was completed in 1913, was designed by architect Martin Nyrop (1849–1921), who also designed Copenhagen City Hall.

In addition to the buildings, he also designed the interiors in the form of furniture, lamps, door handles and so forth.

At the time, nurses and student nurses traditionally lived in the ward or in the attic above it.

At Bispebjerg Hospital, Nyrop designed separate dwellings for the staff.

Landscape architect Edvard Glæsel (1858–1915), who is known for designing park and gardens at the Royal Danish Library and Copenhagen City Hall as well as Bispebjerg Cemetery, the large park Fælledparken and the Tivoli Gardens, was commissioned to design a garden that would promote healing and recovery through access to greenery.

The revitalized Healing Gardens were made possible by a 35-million-kroner grant from Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond.

Erik Brandt Dam arkitekter designed the gardens in collaboration with Charlotte Skibsted Landskabsarkitekter.



I parked my bicycle and ask directions from the first person I meet. Yes, he knows his way around and is happy to help me out. He turns out to be Kristian Antonsen, the hospital director; he points me in the right direction and asks me to give his regards to Erik.

Two minutes later, I arrive at our rendezvous: the open square, first crossroad, at the bottom of the steps across from the administration building. While I wait, I soak up the sun, sitting on the warm Bornholm granite framing the stairs, and watch as patients and relatives go for walks, hospital staff come and go, and the hospital director passes by in a ‘walk and talk’.

Erik Brandt is punctual, and not surprisingly, our rendezvous was carefully chosen.

The spot, where the street has been narrowed to accommodate a small square at the foot of the central stair, is the natural starting point of the huge project that he and his studio undertook in collaboration with landscape architect Charlotte Skibsted. Now, the street facilitates walking, something that characterizes all the transverse streets in the area. The square and the stairs are paved with yellow terracotta, and large pool-like basins have been added, planted and concluded with the same type of granite as the one I sat on, soaking up the warming rays of the sun.

When we first set out, in 2017, Glæsel’s intentions were clearly visible, but it was also clear that minimal maintenance had for many years been the dominant principle. Plant beds and paths had been replaced by wall-to-wall lawn in many places. The streets were wide and paved with asphalt to allow car traffic in both directions. In other words, the original gardens were difficult to recognize. Gardens lead a precarious existence under an ever-shrinking operational budget,’ Erik explains, as he greets the hospital director and Torben Jarlholm-Jensen, business unit manager at the Capital Region of Denmark, Centre for Real Estate (CEJ), who are pausing on the stairs.

They talk briefly about the East Asian cherry trees that were cut down, to the regret of some and the delight of others, to ensure an open view up the axis towards the central square among the hospital buildings, with a scaled-down version of the Gefion Fountain, created in 1901 by Anders Bundgaard and installed in 1986, as the natural focal point.

Torben Jarlholm-Jensen explains that CEJ is currently hiring gardeners to maintain the Healing Gardens of Bispebjerg; gardeners with extensive experience who are willing and able to take ownership of the place.

The hospital director is happy to note that more than 80 guests from around the world will visit one of the coming days for a tour of the gardens. Erik adds that he personally has three guided tours this week alone.

The Healing Gardens of Bispebjerg are clearly considered a success, and even though hospitals are run quite differently now than they were in 1913, it is easy to argue for their relevance. The gardens are open not only to patients, relatives and staff but also to the public, and the revitalization has made them more accessible to wheelchairs and even hospital beds.

While we talk about the beautiful red-brick masonry and the larger bricks used in the garden walls, I notice a crane in the distance, involved in the construction of the large new Bispebjerg Hospital, scheduled for completion by 2026.

Like the original Rigshospitalet, Bispebjerg Hospital was constructed as a cluster of pavilions in accordance with a concept conceived by Florence Nightingale. This building plan aimed both to reduce the spread of contagion and to provide access to the healing factors of light, air and calm, recreational settings. I push the thought of the new hospital to the back of my mind, while Erik explains that ‘the garden walls create a space in space; these spaces were the landscape architect Glæsel’s focus. Inside the gardens, he established a path system that allowed the eye to wander. We re-established the paths and planted rows of sculpted trees and boundary hedges as a way of enhancing the experience of a space-in-space that was so characteristic of Glæsel’s gardens.

The paths and hedges bring out the intention of the architecture and highlight the mutual relationships among the buildings. It lets you sink into a safe, predetermined order that does not demand any intellectual engagement but is purely sensory.

A natural order that did not come about by accident but by design.

The centrally placed pool with running water originally had carps, but they had to be relocated because contemporary safety standards only allow a water depth of 30 centimetres, which is insufficient for fish of that size, I am told.

Fish or no fish, the sound of trickling water is refreshing, and the scent of narcissi spicy and sweet.

Behind the pool and ‘grotto’ stands one of the newest works of art in the garden, Christian Lemmerz’s bronze statue Lazarus from 2017.

The architecture and garden plan are symmetrical, not in the form of identical designs on both sides of the central axis but as designs of equal weight in different articulations.
As we move towards the grotto, on the left, we glimpse a glass pavilion that the dermatological ward uses for light therapy for patients with preliminary stages of skin cancer.

To the right, we placed a pergola that will become overgrown with white rambling roses over time,’ says Erik.

In Glæsel’s original plan, the plant beds had tiny foot paths through the planting, which was replaced several times a year.

We used the original plans for inspiration but took a more contemporary approach with perennials that come back, year after year.

We pass multiple plant beds, one more beautiful than the other, some in full bloom, others on the cusp.

We look at replanted lilacs and listen to birdsong. Here and there, a patient or a visiting relative has found a relaxing spot in the sun or shade on one of the 52 wooden benches distributed along the central axis and throughout the gardens.

The benches do not claim to be new or unique; they are solid quality with classic references and could have been made a century ago – or tomorrow. They were designed specially for the Healing Gardens by Erik Brandt Dam’s firm.

The benches are a good illustration of Erik’s approach to architecture and landscape architecture.

He explains that he is not just interested in the garden, the park or the buildings in themselves but in their interaction with the surrounding society.

He is interested in historical settings and references but aims to activate them in a way that is relevant today. As he puts it, there is little value in having beautiful old porcelain sitting at the back of the cupboard if you cannot use it to serve contemporary dishes.

Clearly, his goal is not to build a monument to himself but to create relevance.

We conclude our walk in the garden next to the palliative ward.

Along both pepper vine-covered external walls, a trellis has been re-established; that, too, fits in naturally, although it was put in just two years ago.

In the middle of the garden, new maple hedges delineate new sections. As the hedges grow taller, they will form semi-private spaces, where patients can spend some time alone with families or perhaps even draw their last breath. ‘There is no other hospital that offers its dying patients such a sensuous departure from this world; in a way, you’re never as close to life as when you’re dying,’ says Erik. On the way out, he shows me how a mistletoe from an old tree that was felled has been grafted onto a new apple tree.

Outside the garden, along the street leading back to the main square where we met, Glæsel’s cherry tree avenue has been re-established, the trees are in full bloom.

Since only some of the herbaceous borders are in bloom, and the pepper vine is yet to come into its colours, a nice bonus reward for writing this article is that I have to return several times in order to see the gardens at their peak.

After finishing this article, I receive a message from Erik with a link to a press release from the City of Copenhagen:

‘For the sixth consecutive year, a new architectural project that creates quality and value for Copenhagen and Copenhageners has been recognized with a special award. The Audience Award 2023 goes to the Healing Gardens of Bispebjerg.’

Først gang jeg hørte om haverne på Bispebjerg Hospital, var i 2022 fra en bekendt, hvis mand var alvorligt syg og indlagt. Hun roste i høje toner muligheden for at kunne trække sig ud for at samle tankerne i de smukke, revitaliserede haverum.

Siden talte en anden bekendt om Erik Brandt Dam og hans virke som landskabsarkitekt.

Det er hans tegnestue, som har stået bag renoveringen af haverne på Bispebjerg Hospital”, forklarede hun.

Bispebjerg Hospital har jeg ikke noget forhold til, heldigvis fristes jeg til at sige, mens jeg banker under bordet og skriver til Erik Brandt Dam for at høre, om han vil vise mig haverne.

Det vil han gerne, og vi aftaler at mødes, når de står som smukkest i foråret.

Erik Brandt Dam (f. 1960) er uddannet arkitekt fra Arkitektskolen Aarhus i 1986.

I 1996 etablerede han tegnestuen Erik Brandt Dam Arkitekter.

Siden 1998 har han været lektor ved Det Kongelige Akademi.

Erik Brandt Dam er flere gange prisbelønnet, blandt andet af Dreyers Fond for sit arbejde med at synliggøre, integrere og udvikle den fælles kulturarv.

Bispebjerg Hospital, som stod færdigt i 1913, er tegnet af arkitekt Martin Nyrop (1849-1921), som også har tegnet Københavns Rådhus.

Han tegnede foruden bygningerne også inventar i form af møbler, lamper, dørhåndtag osv.

På den tid var der tradition for, at sygeplejersker og elever boede på selve afdelingen eller på loftet ovenover.

På Bispebjerg Hospital blev der opført separate boliger til de ansatte.

Landskabsarkitekt Edvard Glæsel (1858-1915), som blandt andet er kendt for at anlægge haven ved Det Kongelige Bibliotek og parkanlæggene omkring Københavns Rådhus, Bispebjerg Kirkegård, Fælledparken og Tivoli, fik stillet opgaven at anlægge en have, som skulle fremme heling gennem adgang til det grønne.

De revitaliserede Helende Haver er blevet til med støtte fra Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, som har doneret 35 millioner til projektet.

Erik Brandt Dam Arkitekter har i samarbejde med Charlotte Skibsted Landskabsarkitekter tegnet planerne for haverne.


Jeg har parkeret cyklen og spørger den første, jeg møder, om vej. Jo, han er kendt i området og kan godt hjælpe, han hedder Kristian Antonsen og er hospitalsdirektør, han peger og beder mig hilse Erik.

To minutter senere er jeg fremme på aftalte sted: den åbne plads, første tværvej, neden for trappen over for administrationsbygningen. Mens jeg venter, soler jeg mig på den varme bornholmske granit, som afrunder trappemuren, og følger med i patienter og pårørende, som går tur, sygehuspersonalet, som kommer og går, og sygehusdirektøren, som passerer i en ‘walk-and-talk’.

Erik Brandt Dam ankommer præcist, mødestedet viser sig ikke overraskende at være nøje udvalgt.

Det enorme projekt, han og hans tegnestue i samarbejde med landskabsarkitekt Charlotte Skibsted har stået for, starter nemlig naturligt her, hvor vejen er blevet gjort smallere ved at etablere en forplads neden for den centrale trappe. Vejen er nu mere egnet til færdsel til fods – noget, som kendetegner alle de tværgående veje i området. Pladsen og trappeforløbet er blevet brolagt med gul tegl, og store bassinlignede kummer er tilkommet og beplantet og afsluttet med samme type granit som den, jeg solede mig på.

Da vi gik i gang i 2017, forstod vi umiddelbart Glæsels intentioner, men det var også tydeligt at se, at ønsket om mindst muligt vedligehold, i mange år, var det princip, driften af haverne havde været underlagt. Der var blevet nedlagt bede og stier og anlagt megen væg-til-væg græsplæne. Vejene var brede og asfalterede, med mulighed for biltrafik i begge retninger. De oprindelige haver var med andre ord svære at få øje på. Det er vanskeligt at være have i et driftsbudget, hvor øvelsen altid er at spare”, konstaterer Erik, mens han hilser på hospitalsdirektøren og Torben Jarlholm-Jensen, enhedschef for drift og teknik i ejendomsadministrationsselskabt CEJ, som gør ophold på trappen.

Der udveksles lidt om de japanske kirsebærtræer, som måtte lade livet undervejs til nogens fortrydelse og andres glæde, under alle omstændigheder til fordel for et åbent vue ad aksen op mod den centrale plads mellem hospitalets bygninger, hvor øjet naturligt fanges af en lille udgave af Gefionspringvandet, udført i 1901 af Anders Bundgaard og opstillet i 1986.

Torben Jarlholm-Jensen fortæller, at de er i gang med at ansætte specifikke gartnere til tage sig af Bispebjergs Helende Haver, gartnere med mange års erfaring, som kan og vil tage ejerskab.

Hospitalsdirektøren glædes over 80 internationale gæster, som kommer på besøg til rundvisning i haven en af de kommende dage. Erik supplerer med, at han bare i denne uge har tre rundvisninger.

Der hersker en tydelig tilfredshed med Bispebjergs Helende Haver, og selvom hospitalsdrift er noget ganske andet i dag end i 1913, er det let at argumentere for relevansen, både fordi haverne i forbindelse med revitaliseringen er blevet lettere at tilgå med kørestol og hospitalsseng, og fordi de ikke bare er til rådighed for patienter, personale og pårørende, men i lige så høj grad for det omkringliggende samfund.

Mens vi taler om det smukke gamle murværk i rød tegl og havemurernes noget større munkesten, kan jeg ikke undgå at se en kran i det fjerne, som bygger på det store nye Bispebjerg Hospital, der skal stå færdigt i 2026.

Ligesom det oprindelige Rigshospital blev Bispebjerg Hospital bygget i overensstemmelse med et pavillonsystem udtænkt af Florence Nightingale. Det vil sige en række adskilte bygninger, dels for at forhindre smittespredning, men også for at give adgang til sol og luft, stilhed og rekreative omgivelser som helbredende faktorer. Jeg skubber tanken om det nye hospital i baggrunden, mens Erik forklarer, havemurene danner rum i rummet, det var de rum, landskabsarkitekt Glæsel i sin tid forholdt sig til. I haverne anlagde han et stisystem, som tillod øjet at vandre. Vi har genetableret stierne, plantet stammehække og afgrænsende hække og derved styrket oplevelsen af rum i rum, der var karakteristisk for Glæsels haver.”

Stiforløbene og hækkene tydeliggør arkitekturens intention, man får øje på, hvordan bygningerne relaterer til hinanden, og det er, som om man synker ind i en tryg, forudbestemt orden, som man ikke behøver at forholde sig til intellektuelt, men bare kan sanse.

En selvfølgelighed, som ikke er opstået tilfældigt.

Det centralt placerede bassin med rislende vand var oprindeligt fyldt med karper, de er flyttet, fordi vandstanden på grund af gældende sikkerhedsbestemmelser ikke måtte være mere end 30 cm, og det rækker ikke til fisk af den størrelse, forstår jeg.

Den rislende lyd af vand er dog, fisk eller ej, vederkvægende, og duften af pinseliljer krydret og sød.

På bagsiden af bassinet og ‘grotten’ står et af havens nyeste kunstværker, Christian Lemmerz’ bronzestatue “Lazarus” fra 2017.    
Arkitekturen og haveanlæggets symmetri betyder ikke ‘helt ens på begge sider af aksen’, men med lige tyngde, artikuleret forskelligt.
Vi bevæger os med ryggen mod grotten og ser mod venstre, hvor der anes en glaspavillon, som hudafdelingen benytter til lysterapi for patienter med forstadier til hudkræft.

“Til højre har vi placeret en pergola, den vil med tiden bliver overgroet af hvide slyngroser”, forklarer Erik.

“Bedene var i Glæsels oprindelige plan anlagt med små trædestier mellem beplantningen. En beplantning, som blev fornyet mange gange om året.

Vi har hentet inspiration i de oprindelige planer, men indrettet mere nutidigt med stauder, som kommer igen år efter år.”

Vi passerer bed efter bed, det ene smukkere end det andet, nogle i fuldt flor, andre lader vente på sig.

Vi ser på genplantet syren og hører fuglefløjt. Her og der har en og anden patient eller pårørende fundet hvile i solen eller skyggen på en af de 52 træbænke, som er fordelt i midteraksen og de forskellige haverum.

Bænkene bryster sig ikke af at være nye eller særlige, de er gedigne og har klassiske referencer, de kunne være fremstillet for 100 år siden eller i morgen. De er tegnet specielt til de helende haver af Erik Brandt Dams tegnestue.

Bænkene er en meget fin illustration af Eriks tilgang til arkitektur og landskabsarkitektur.

Han formulerer selv, at han ikke kun er optaget af haven eller parken i sig selv, eller bygningerne i sig selv, men af deres interaktion med omkringliggende samfund.

Han er optaget af historiske rammer og referencer, men ønsker at sætte dem i spil i en nutidig relevant sammenhæng. Han bruger billedet, at det har begrænset værdi at have smukt, gammelt porcelæn stående bagerst i skabet, hvis man ikke kan servere moderne retter på det.

Tydeligvis ikke optaget af at bygge et monument over sig selv, men af at skabe relevans.

Vi runder af i haven, som støder op til palliativ afdeling.

Langs begge vildvinsbegroede ydermure er genetableret et espalier, også det falder naturligt og selvfølgeligt ind, til trods for at det er opført for bare to år siden.

Midt i haven omkranser nyplantede hække af navr små pladser, som, når hækkene vokser til, bliver til næsten private rum. Her kan man være i fred med sine pårørende og måske endda tage sit sidste åndedrag. “Ingen andre hospitaler kan tilbyde sine døende patienter så sanselig en afsked med denne verden, på en måde er man aldrig så tæt på livet, som når man skal dø”, siger Erik. På vejen ud viser han, hvordan en mistelten fra et gammelt træ, som er blevet fældet, er podet på et nyt æbletræ.

Uden for haven, langs vejen på vej tilbage til forpladsen, hvor vi mødtes, er Glæsels kirsebærallé reetableret, de står i fuldt flor.

Fordi ikke alle staudebede er sprunget ud, og fordi vildvinen lader vente på sig, er en ikke ringe sidegevinst ved denne artikel, at jeg er nødt til at komme tilbage over flere gange for at se haverne, når de står smukkest.

Da sidste punktum er sat, tikker en meddelelse ind fra Erik med et link til en pressemeddelelse fra Københavns Kommune:

“For sjette år i træk er et nyt byggeri, som skaber kvalitet og værdi for København og københavnerne, blevet hyldet med en særlig pris. Vinder af publikumsprisen 2023 er Bispebjergs Helende Haver.”

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