Kristian Villadsen: ”We need cities where it is easy to do good”


We need to create cities where the most comfortable and simple lifestyle is also the healthiest and most sustainable, says Kristian Villadsen, partner and director at the renowned Danish architectural firm Gehl Architects. At the GDI Retail Summit and here in this interview, Villadsen reveals how the city's retail sector can reinvent itself after Covid-19.

Kristian Villadsen

GDI: You co-defined a set of “Street Design Guidelines” for Shanghai: What are they about?

Kristian Villadsen: The Shanghai street design guideline was the first example of a major Chinese city recognising streets as public spaces and recognising the importance of the (retail-) use of the ground floors in relation to the streets – a quality driven definition. Before, the categorisation of streets in Shanghai was done from curb to curb and car capacity – a quantity driven definition.

For a similar project for a European city, where would you see the main differences?

In Europe, a large part of our interior city streets date back centuries (pre-car) and have been defined by mix-used buildings, often with retail as a natural base. This does not mean we have no need for quality driven guidelines, but simply means that we often have a different urban fabric to start with.

From your perspective as an expert, what does it take for a city to become a “good” and liveable place?

We need cities where it is easy to do good. Most people choose their lifestyle based on what is most convenient, easy and accessible in their everyday lives. So, we have to create cities where the most convenient, easy and accessible lifestyle is also the most healthy, sustainable and livable – it is as simple as that. How this is done, we can discuss in September.

In an increasingly online-dominated world, what will be the function of brick and mortar retail in an ideal city?

I think we will see a more experience and recreational driven retail environment, one with focus on quality, tactility and sustainability.

What long-term effects do you expect the Covid-19 pandemic to have on city design?

We have just had a look at the short term effect on public life during the pandemic, this gives a good indication on the major impact on the retail environment and an idea of what is needed in the future to re-invent retail.