Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens bears the work of some of Denmark’s most celebrated architects. T+L examines plans to cement its place as a 21st-century design destination.

Credit: Miemo Penttinen

In one of the world’s oldest theme parks, in the city that recently rebranded itself cOPENhagen (a bid to prove its general friendliness), a minor design revolution is unspooling. Revolution may be a heavy term to throw at Tivoli Gardens—after all, theme parks are by definition lightweights. But Tivoli, a charming and compact amusement park, is not only bang in the center of the capital but also sits at the heart of the culture. Danes feel proprietary about it, having grown up riding its 1914 Rutschebanen roller coaster, listening to its resident symphony orchestra, and eating in its restaurants, which range from a café serving Danish smørrebrød and a Croatian buffet to chef Paul Cunningham’s Michelin-starred The Paul. Whether they’ll feel such warmth toward the massive Kim Utzon–designed Tivoli Hotel & Congress Center about to open up nearby, not to mention Tivoli Edge, a proposed boundary development by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, remains to be seen. What’s happening in this petite magic kingdom is a massive brand extension—a starchitect-led growth spurt that’s about as smooth as a ride on the Flyvende Kuffert, the beloved Hans Christian Andersen–narrated flying steamer trunks ride. Which is to say not fast, fairly up and down, and with hairpin turns. But also some good stories.

Since the park’s inception, design has been at the heart of its brand. Walt Disney famously took his inspiration from Tivoli, but although he borrowed its whimsy, he left the serious design behind. Tivoli is downright visionary. Certain motifs that now read as Danish Modern originated from details contributed to the park by great architects and designers—as a glance at Poul Henningsen’s (of PH Lamp fame) iconic spiral streetlights or Frits Schlegel’s sinuous concert hall will confirm.

And so it continues, as successive generations of avant-garde Danes put their stamp on the place, including Lin Utzon (the late Jørn “Sydney Opera House” Utzon’s daughter), Per Arnoldi, Wilhelm Freddie, Søren Robert Lund, and 3XN Architects. The newest slate of big names brought in under CEO Lars Liebst are drawn from farther afield: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Foster & Partners, Matteo Thun, and Kim Utzon (Lin’s brother). Only one, Utzon, must have come to Tivoli on grade-school field trips.

The big changes got under way two years ago with the opening of the Nimb complex—a cross between a Moorish Taj Mahal and a Christmas tree. Altering the iconic 1909 Bazaar building by architect Knud Arne Petersen (who was also director of Tivoli from 1899 to 1940) made the hordes of abonnine (elderly season-pass owners) nervous. But the renovation by the Italian architect and Memphis Group cofounder Matteo Thun—including a 13-room hotel that’s all hand-finished details and costly traditional materials like Douglas fir and Venetian marble—reassured them. And so it should. I was bowled over by my room, with its oiled-oak floor, silver wallpaper, and Philippe Starck bathtub, all atop the Michelin-starred restaurant Herman and an on-site dairy. Completing the picture is the Andersen bakery, which, in a typically Tivolian cross-cultural mash-up, is a Japanese store with Danish pastries that’s named, of course, after Hans Christian himself.

A less successful project, the proposal by London’s Foster & Partners to put a glass-towered hotel and condos on the Tivoli Castle site, was legislated out of existence the year before Nimb opened. “I was disappointed,” Liebst says. “The politicians couldn’t see the potential of the project to be a contemporary landmark and to brand Copenhagen as both a modern capital and a tourist destination.” But it wasn’t only the politicians who objected. Though the present law against too-tall developments in the inner city hadn’t yet passed, the tower’s height caused a populist uproar and, lo, at 262 feet tall, the terrifying chairoplane, Himmelskibet, remains the highest structure in Tivoli.

There’s no danger of the equally glass-walled, though recumbent, Tivoli Edge—a planned arcade filled with stores and cafés—rising above its station. “The way the city meets the sky is a very sensitive matter,” says its lead designer, Ian Bader. “Our project is a low-rise development that makes the blank, unfriendly western edge approachable, allowing some of the magic of the park to be palpable from the exterior without diminishing its mystery.”

Calling Tivoli’s west side unfriendly is like calling the emperor poorly dressed—a bit of an understatement. Across Bernstorffsgade and beyond the Central Station is a wasteland of urine-stained sidewalks and by-the-hour hotels. According to Bader, “Tivoli is an extraordinary environment, a wonderful cultural resource, part of what makes Copenhagen so unique.” Tivoli Edge, he says, “is intended to promote that spirit.” Unfortunately, thanks to red tape and, yes, the economy, it’s not going to pull this off until at least 2012.

What will very soon be possible, however, is to stage an enormous Tivoli-themed conference while staying in a Tivoliesque hotel as interpreted by Kim Utzon, arguably Denmark’s greatest living architect. While the 402-room Tivoli Hotel, which opened in July (to be followed, in October, by the Tivoli Congress Center) is inspired by Tivoli, it is not actually in the park, but rather “within walking distance”—past the station and its unsavory streetscape, to the site of the old rail yard at Kalvebod Wharf. (Thankfully, there’s a shuttle bus.)

The relationship between the old and new entities is symbiotic—Danish hotel group Arp-Hansen takes the risk and the profit; Tivoli gets a fee for the name and the brand extension. It’s a big step in world Tivolization, and a necessary one, since Tivoli is a nonsubsidized, for-profit concern.

In the service of maximum exposure, the off-central location of its new satellite could work in Tivoli’s favor. Just a hop across the railway tracks lies the buzzy Flæsketorvet (meatpacking district) of the up-and-coming neighborhood Vesterbro. One can imagine that a hipster who dines at the Flæsketorvet’s trendy seafood restaurant Fish Bar and goes clubbing at the nearby Karriere might easily be found the next night at Tivoli, catching a band at the open-air stage. What U.S. institution has such mercurial boundaries?

“Tivoli is an interesting role model for the U.S.,” says Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ Ian Bader. “Here we tend to focus on specialization, extracting the maximum in one respect only—a mall, for example, can be so banal. But Tivoli is playful, allowing different things to happen simultaneously.” Liebst is hoping this fluidity means that guests of the Kalvebod complex will want to visit Tivoli. To encourage them, he has an extra trick up his sleeve for its opening season. Copenhagen’s always disappointing symbol—the tiny Little Mermaid that resides in the harbor—is in Shanghai all this year for the World Expo. But look! As if by magic, there she is in the Tivoli Lake! Descendants of her sculptor, Edvard Eriksen, have lent Tivoli a copy. So Liebst wants Copenhagen to be both modern capital and tourist destination? What with its glamorous hotels, towering carousels, architectural experimentation, and now Denmark’s ultimate cultural cliché…you don’t even need to leave Tivoli.

Kate Sekules is a writer based in Brooklyn.


Nimb Hotel 5 Bernstorffsgade; 45/8870-0000;; doubles from $385, including breakfast.

Great Value Tivoli Hotel 2 Arni Magnussons Gade; 45/4487-0000;; doubles from $241.


Nimb Brasserie Nimb Hotel, 5 Bernstorffsgade; 45/8870-0010; dinner for two $65.

Nimb Herman Nimb Hotel, 5 Bernstorffsgade; 45/8870-0020; dinner for two $153.

The Paul Glass Hall Theater, Tivoli Gardens, 3 Vesterbrogade; 45/3375-0775; dinner for two $114.

See and Do

Tivoli Gardens 3 Vesterbrogade; 45/3315-1001;


Located in the Tivoli Gardens, Hotel Nimb is housed in Danish architect Knud Arne Petersen's striking, 1909 Moorish-inspired structure, which features a central onion-dome tower, decorative minarets, and arched colonnades illuminated at night by thousands of tiny bulbs. Crystal chandeliers hang from the high ceiling of the lobby, and Matteo Thun's costly 2008 redesign of the hotel's 14 suites (each outfitted with a fireplace and sitting room) emphasizes neutral colors and incorporates elements such as Douglas fir woodwork and Venetian marble. The onsite restaurant, Herman, received in a Michelin star in 2009 for chef Thomas Herman's innovative mingling of international and traditional Danish fare.

The Paul