The Social Spine

Transforming Scandinavia's largest student housing from grey concrete line to green social spine.

Curious for more?

Rasmus Astrup

Design Director, Partner, Landscape Architect


Copenhagen, Denmark


1470 m2


2021 — 2022


FA09 and Øresundskollegiet


Lead Landscape Architect

Partners & Collaborators

arki_lab (residents' involvement and client advisors), Optimus (contractor), ABC (engineer)

The Social Spine is Copenhagen’s biggest small transformation project. The project shows that the value of green transformations does not depend on a large budget – only on great values. And it showcases how green roofs can incorporate climatic, sustainable, biodiverse, and social values on all scales.

The grey line (before)
The green social spine (after)

Through an in-depth user process, the gray concrete roof terrace of the Øresund College (Scandinavia’s largest student housing) has been transformed into a 160-meter long, green SocialSpine with greenhouses, study spaces, outdoor kitchens, grass lawns, and community spaces, which together create the framework for the best possible sustainable student life.

As a ‘social college’ Øresundskollegiet is a small village of young people with all kinds of backgrounds and ambitions, even the socially vulnerable. The college’s social life is already rich and thriving, it is just hidden and separated inside the individual concrete blocks. With The Social Spine, we have created a lush natural framework for even more social activities, where old and new residents can meet and ensure genuine social sustainability.

“The Social Spine is the backbone of our college's sustainable, social responsibility.”

— Niels Kristian Bjerg, resident council chairman for Øresundskollegiet

Over 350 new and recycled trees, shrubs, and climbing plants were added to the previously grey roof surface. The planting consists of new, robust plant species that can cope with extensive use throughout the year and do not require many resources to operate and care for.

The planting has been chosen to provide a lush and species-rich expression, while at the same time function as habitats and food sources for animals and insects. The composition consists predominantly of native local species with a selection of exotics, which ensure a dense plant cover and a robust nature. The trees and large bushes form a dense and enveloping panting cover to create study niches, hangout spaces, lunch areas – as well as optimal spaces for insects and small animals to thrive.

Fruits, nuts, and berries provide food for birds – and the students.

Some of the 350 new trees and bushes are recycled. Due to major renovations of Øresundskollegiet’s facades, many of the collegium’s existing trees on ground level had to be removed to give space for scaffolding and construction works.

However, instead of cutting down the trees, we proposed to transplant them up to the new roof terrace. It is both resource-wise and financially much more sustainable to ‘recycle’ the trees than to cut them down. We are happy to have given the trees a ‘second life’ up on the new roof terrace and preserved their aesthetic and socialbenefits for all Øresundskollegiet’s residents.

Finally, as a modern tribute to Øresundskollegiet’s iconic brutalist concrete identity, the existing roof terrace’s materials were re-used and upcycled into new tiles with recycled material from the original concrete stones.

“We have worked closely with the residents of Øresundskollegiet to uncover all the social values ​​and powers that exist at the college and get them into the design.”

— Rasmus Astrup, Partner and Design Principal

The SocialSpine is a significant social and architectural transformation that creates both social, biological, and resource sustainability – even with an extremely student-friendly construction budget of only 373,000 Euro!

All in the spirit of the project’s young residents.