The Danish government wants to embark on a huge land-reclamation project that will see the creation of nine new islands, 10km south of Copenhagen.

Islands are nothing new to the Danes, of course – their country contains 391 of them. But this is one of Europe’s smallest countries with an area of just 43,000km2. Consequently, finding new land to develop calls for creative solutions, such as the Holmene project, which aims to enable sustainable growth within the confines of a geographically restricted area.

 City of islands
Image: Urban Power

The word "holmene" translates into English as islets (small islands) – nine of which will be reclaimed from the sea off the Greater Copenhagen coast, and built up so they're 5.5m above sea level.

The project will see the creation of 3.1 million square meters of new land, 700,000m2 of which will be reserved as nature areas, and 17km of new coastline. Denmark already has around 7,300km of coastline. That’s almost 1.5m of coast per head of the population.

 Copenhagen’s expansion plans: how it could look in 2040
Image: Urban Power

One of the islands will be home to Northern Europe’s largest waste-to-energy conversion plant. Bio-waste and waste water from the 1.5 million or so residents of the Greater Copenhagen region will be turned into clean water and biogas.

There will also be other green technologies, including windmills, which will contribute to ensuring an annual reduction of at least 70,000 tons of CO2 through the production of 322,000 MWh of fossil-free energy. That’s an amount equivalent to the power consumption of 25% of the population of Copenhagen city, maintaining the country’s commitment to green energy and environmental concerns. In addition, 18km of cycleways will be constructed.

Building for the future: step by step

The key driver for creating the new landmass is to provide space for commercial development and growth. There will be space for as many as 380 businesses, which will contribute more than $8 billion in economic activity to Denmark’s GDP.

The head of Denmark's employers' association, Brian Mikkelsen, told TV2 news that the islands could spur the emergence of a ‘European Silicon Valley,’ according to Deutsche Welle.

But in addition to being a base for business, the islands will play an important role in the area’s recreation and natural utility. Each island will be surrounded by a green belt, which the project’s architects, Urban Power, say will mean “attractive transitions between land and water”.

The ambitious project is not the first time Denmark has created new land from old. When the iconic Øresund Bridge was built to connect Denmark to neighbouring Sweden, the island of Peberholm was created from spoil dredged up in the construction process. The bridge is almost 8km long, but runs for another 4km underground – the final stretch is a tunnel that starts in Peberholm.

 Peberholm in the foreground, with the Øresund Bridge and Sweden in the distance.
Image: Nick D/Creative Commons 4.0

The Holmene project has the backing of the government, but still requires formal approval from the Danish parliament, or Folketing. Construction has therefore yet to start, but is expected to get underway in 2022, with a completion target of 2040.

The idea to create a group of nine smaller islands, rather than one single landmass, was developed by Urban Power.

The strategy has several advantages, according to Arne Cermak Nielsen, one of the partners at the architects’ firm.

“It can be developed stepwise, without leaving the impression of an unfinished project if a new economic recession appears. Furthermore, the islands can be thematically developed, leaving the best conditions for the innovative industry and research within green tech, biotech, life science and future yet unknown sectors.”

Once complete and at full capacity, the project developers hope that the Holmene project will have helped create 12,000 jobs, as well as new and diverse micro-environments.

“The quality of being by the water should not be underestimated, and the shores of the islands and the delta that emerge between them has a unique potential,” Nielsen said.