Jan Gehl, Hon. FAIA (born 17 September 1936) is a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist. He is a founding partner of Gehl Architects.
Gehl received a Masters of Architecture from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1960, and practiced architecture from 1960 to 1966. In 1966 he received a research grant from the institution for "studies of the form and use of public spaces," and has since been a lecturer and professor there, and a Visiting Professor in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Mexico, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Norway. He is a co-founding partner of Gehl Architects.
As a "young architect working in the suburbs," Gehl married a psychologist and "had many discussions about why the human side of architecture was not more carefully looked after by the architects, landscape architects, and planners... My wife and I set out to study the borderland between sociology, psychology, architecture, and planning."
Gehl first published his influential Life Between Buildings in Danish in 1971, with the first English translation published in 1987. Gehl advocates a sensible, straightforward approach to improving urban form: systematically documenting urban spaces, making gradual incremental improvements, then documenting them again.
Gehl's book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Copenhagen's Strøget carfree zone, one of the longest pedestrian shopping areas in Europe, is primarily the result of Gehl's work.
Gehl participates in and advises many urban design and public projects around the world:
- In 2004 he carried out an important study in to the quality of the public realm in London, commissioned by Central London Partnership and Transport for London, and supported City of Wakefield and the town of Castleford in developing and delivering better public spaces, as part of an initiative known as "The Castleford Project".
- In 2007–08 he was hired by New York City's Department of Transportation to re-imagine New York City streets by introducing designs to improve life for pedestrians and cyclists. The DOT used Gehl's work to "directly inform" the implementation of their new urban planning and design policies and projects.
- Gehl has been influential in Australia and New Zealand as well, where he prepared Public Life studies for the city centres of Melbourne (1994 and 2004), Perth (1995 and 2009), Adelaide (2002) Sydney (2007), Auckland (2008), Wellington (2004), Christchurch and Hobart (2010)
Gehl credits the "grandmother of humanistic planning" Jane Jacobs for drawing his attention to the importance of human scale. “Fifty years ago she said – go out there and see what works and what doesn’t work, and learn from reality. Look out of your windows, spend time in the streets and squares and see how people actually use spaces, learn from that, and use it.”
Awards and distinctions
- 1992 Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University
- 1993 Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize – for exemplary contributions to Town Planning and Territorial Development, International Union of Architects
- 1998 EDRA Award, Environmental Design Research Association, USA
- 2007 Honorary Academician, The Academy of Urbanism, UK
- 2008 Landscape Institute Award, Landscape Institute, UK
- 2009 NYC Award, New York City, USA
- 2009 Civic Trust Award for Brighton New Road Civic Trust, UK
- 2011 Prince Eugen Medal for outstanding artistic achievement in architecture, Denmark
- Honorary Member of American Institute of Architects
- Design Futures Council Senior Fellow
- [email protected] "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". www1.hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
- NYC Award presented to Jan Gehl
- Gehl, J (1987) Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space, translated by Jo Koch, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. (ISBN 978-87-7407-360-4)
- Gehl, J. and Gemzøe, L. (2000) New City Spaces, The Danish Architectural Press. Copenhagen. (ISBN 978-87-7407-293-5)
- Gehl, J. and Gemzøe, L. (2004) Public Spaces, Public Life, Danish Architectural Press. (ISBN 978-87-7407-305-5)
- Gehl, J. et al. (2006) New City Life, The Danish Architectural Press, Denmark. (ISBN 978-87-7407-365-9)
- Gehl, J. (2010) Cities for People, Island Press. (ISBN 978-1597265737)
- Gehl, J. and Svarre, B. (2013) How to Study Public Life, Island Press