This is the second of a series of three exhibitions in the Dreyer’s Architecture Gallery at the Danish Architecture Centre with each exhibition running for about six weeks to profile the work of younger, more-recently established architectural practices from Copenhagen. The first was Sted; the work of Norrøn is the subject of this exhibition and the third, from early in December, will be the architectural partnership of Johansen Skovsted.
Perhaps the most important link between the three is that all, besides being young architects, have a strong sense of place in their work … not just a strong sense of nature and landscape but the specific character and qualities of a location that has to be the starting point for any architectural project. Maybe this seems obvious but the contrast with large and commercially-driven development is that the sense of place can often be relegated by the astute assessment of the plot and its potential ... at its worst, development reduced to a calculation of square metres against realisable value, that often results in a much less sensitive approach to context.
Given that awareness of place, and their clear sensitivity to specific places, it struck me as slightly curious that Norrøn chose to make the centrepiece of their exhibition a mythical island and a steeply mountainous and apparently tropical island with models of their projects placed around that landscape. It made for a dramatic use of the space but there was a disjunct simply because much of their work has been on coastal marshes and beaches … stunningly beautiful sites but very very very flat.
Each model had a large postcard about the project and visitors could take a copy and collect together the full series of cards to form a catalogue … a simple idea that has been used and worked well in earlier exhibitions at the Centre.
The style of the cards - not just the soft line work of the graphics but also the muted tones of soft brown grey was striking and is reminiscent of the images collected together by the English architect John Pawson in A Visual Inventory but even paler to pick up the colours of the dried grasses and reeds on many of the marginal seascapes of these sites.
Many of the projects are for visitor centres or small hotels or lodges including the Blue Plateau beach park and designs for the Dune Hotel overlooking the north sea at Blåvand, a dark-sky observatory on the island of Møn, a viewing tower at the bird sanctuary of Lyttesholm, Lolland and visitor centres on the pilgrimage route on Møn, Camønoen, and for the castle ruins of Hammershus on the island of Bornholm.
There is a complex but significant approach that seems to link all these projects and that is to restore sites by removing intrusive or unsympathetic buildings, to put in place clear conservation plans to ensure the natural sites of sand dunes or coastal cliffs survive but also to build new and carefully-designed buildings to draw in new visitors, particularly where areas are suffering from economic decline or from a reduction in the population as people move from rural economies to the city.
The buildings generally, whatever their actual scale, have a simple monumentality and use natural materials but unselfconscious modern forms. This is perhaps the hallmark of the most successful Danish architectural conservation … to consolidate landscape or historic buildings but generally not resort to restoring by replicating or imitating the historic past.
This is particularly clear in the project by Norrøn to restore abandoned houses in the Danish countryside in Lolland, Guldborgsund and Vordingborg to create holiday homes to revitalise the local economy. The plans produced so far seem to have a respect for the vernacular traditions of the area but simplify the spaces and the interior finishes to give a practical and simple result that also fits clearly with that aspect of the Danish design aesthetic.