Art of Many and the Right to Space



This is the exhibition that was the Danish contribution to the Venice Biennale of Architecture last year. The main section is an extensive display of architectural models from major architects and design partnerships in the country and the aim is to illustrate the importance of high-quality architecture in Denmark and, in a broader sense, the contribution of architecture to the community as a whole.

There is an important audio visual show by Jan Gehl about the work of their planning office in Copenhagen.

at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 1 October 2017


Moving Materials at the Danish Architecture Centre



An exhibition that explores the work of the Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi

... an architecture that attempts to be in balance with nature and with the landscape in which the buildings are set. It requires extensive study, sometimes over a number of years, of the passage of the sun and an awareness of how natural light across the site changes through the day but there is also a deep empathy for the climate of a specific location so the effect of wind, rain and mist across the land at different points of time or season. It is those elements of climate that are the Moving Materials.

longer review


continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 25 June


Det Byggede Danmark - The Built Denmark - Part of Our Lives


This exhibition, created in collaboration with the Home Economics Research Center, looks at the built environment in terms of quantities and statistics rather than architecture and engineering and aesthetics. So, this is the real information about the cost of what we do and how we live and this is the information that should inform how we plan for the future … what we can do but also what we should do and what we have to do to mitigate for how we have lived up to this point.

This is the hard and unforgiving but fascinating and crucial data about the built environment and about the infrastructure of everyday life - information that a country needs to make major planning decisions for the coming decades - but that data is presented clearly and well because there has to be a general level of understanding about what and why so that there can be broad consent about how and when.

The research has been published by Boligøkonomisk Videncenter and can be ordered or downloaded in pdf format from their site set out in three books that look at

  • extent structure and value
  • quality of life residential and workplace
  • environment energy and water 




as text - or even as a table of numbers - the amount of water used by each person - 115 litres every day - is difficult to appreciate but set out in ranks of plastic bottles it is easier to understand and the message is clear .....

  • 8 litres incidentally
  • 10 litres cooking and drinking water
  • 14 litres laundry
  • 16 litres dishwashing and cleaning
  • 28 litres flushing toilet
  • 39 litres bath and personal hygiene

continues at Danish Architecture Centre until 2 July


Johansen Skovsted Arkitekter at DAC


the entrance to the gallery with model of Tipperne Bird Watch Tower at a scale of 1:10

This exhibition of the work of Søren Johansen and Sebastian Skovsted is the last of a series of three exhibitions in the Dreyer Gallery at the Danish Architecture Centre that over the Autumn have focused on young architects in Copenhagen.

To quote from the pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition: "The series … will give visitors and the industry special insight into the dynamic daily practice and reality of these firms, where creativity and business savvy go hand in hand.”

Clearly, business acumen is important if an architectural practice is to succeed and expand but actually one theme that linked the three architecture studios - Johansen Skovsted, Norrøn and Sted is their strong awareness of place and and a strong empathy for nature that seems to be the starting point for all their work.

For Søren Johansen and Sebastian Skovsted, architecture "is about finding a place in the world and setting the stage for our interactions with each other ... we view architecture as a way to play with the landscapes, cities and buildings, saturated with meaning and history, that makes up the world as we know it. In construction, materials, form and space, architecture becomes the creation of the place anew ... "


the exhibition continues at Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 15th January 2017

Johansen Skovsted


Skjem Å - Pump Station North transformed as a new visitor facility 

Courtyard Nørrehus, Nørrebro, Copenhagen - many of the large older housing schemes are apartments around a large courtyard that initially had laundry drying yards, dustbins, and, in many, toilet or bath blocks, As the buildings have been upgraded and improved, many of these courtyards have been cleared or rationalised and landscaped to provide important communal garden spaces with play equipment for children, places for eating outside or, at the very least, a quiet pleasant place to look over from windows or balconies

the exhibition included portfolios of presentation drawings ... a good way for a non-professional but interested visitor to see how the schemes evolved and to see some of the technical details ... the real complexity beneath a structure that ostensibly seems quite simple or straightforward


Our Urban Living Room

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen has been published as the catalogue to the current exhibition of the same title at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. The exhibition continues until the 8th January 2017. 

The book is not far short of 500 pages and is packed with photographs and drawings about the work of Dan Stubbergaard and his team at COBE with a dialogue between Stubbergaard and the Copenhagen planner and author Jan Gehl and, in the middle of the book, there is an interesting and revealing discussion between Stubbergaard and his contemporary, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

The layout and form of the book is interesting because it adopts some of the ways that material is now presented on the internet ... so there are various levels of information, extended captions and spotlighting of important ideas that lead you somewhere else and themes that reappear but not within a rigid narrative.

It is a brilliant exercise in communicating complex ideas - so there are graphics with several sequences of drawings that show how solutions evolved and there are simple graphics to show what is actually a complex process to draw out of the confusion of a complicated place the key ideas that might not be immediately obvious … so for the square above the station at Nørreport it is about actually understanding how people really do cut across the space or where they leave their bikes or for the recently-completed development of Krøyers Plads the drawings show how the orientation of historic warehouse buildings along the harbour and the architectural vocabulary of these earlier buildings inspired the final form and orientation of three new blocks of apartments on two sides of an existing basin of the harbour. 


the model of the square above the railway station at Nørreport in the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre


There is a sequence of drawings for Krøyers Plads that COBE publish on their internet site that did not make it into the book or the exhibition but they show how the architects look at an extensive area - a surprisingly extensive area - to understand the wider existing urban context of their new buildings.  So for Krøyers Plads they not only looked at how the harbour immediately around the site had developed but also looked at the whole length of Strandgade - the spine of the harbour side of Christianshavn. There is an incredible mix of complicated buildings along Strandgade but COBE simplified the streetscape to the outline shape and the orientation of the buildings, stripped of detail, and by doing that revealed an underlying order and a potential new relationship between one end of the street and the other … a relationship between a tall narrow building - an important 18th-century church tower and its spire, and the space of a square in front of the church - that is at one end of Strandagde and at the other end a new arrangement of a new public square they are creating at Krøyers Plads with the tall end elevation of one of the new apartment buildings as a key element.


a sequence of drawings to explain the arrangement of the three new apartment buildings and the new public square at Krøyers Plads from the COBE on-line site


In the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre there is a wall of CGI images that appear to have been annotated and doodled on in the course of a discussion and on one view of a rather different proposal for the Krøyers Plads buildings you can see a felt-tipped sketch of this Strandgade axis

At one point in the book Stubbergaard says, "I believe we have come to read architecture" but he also understands just how important it is to explain that to people … to explain what they, as architects, are trying to do and why. The book tries and succeeds in showing his thought process as his ideas evolved for certain projects and it is clear that in a discussion Stubbegaard wants to take the listener or the reader to the same conclusion for the same reasons … what appears to be important to him is the idea of architecture by consensus.

He is inspired by architecture and appears to be exceptionally good at explaining his views and ideas and at one point in an interview he talks about how much benefit could come from teaching about architecture in schools.

Headings for the separate sections of the book and the sections of the exhibition are revealing so they are:

  • From Infrastructure to Public Space
  • Culture as a Social Engine
  • Transformation as Resource
  • A City for Kids
  • Architectural Democracy
  • Copenhagen Tomorrow

The book ends with an important and revealing interview with Stubbergaard with Marc-Christopher Wagner where he explains that architects have to have confidence:

"As architects, we must be able to interpret, moderate, to be communicative and able to pull together a lot of people. Architecture today is so much more than drafting lines and building models. It demands enormous social skills, both internally and externally. We have to be able to manage enormous budgets, coordinate complex logistics and physical situations on society's behalf."

It is that last phrase … "on society's behalf" … that is probably crucial if you are trying to understand what COBE are trying to do through their work.

When asked if COBE has a signature style Dan Stubbergaard replied that the main characteristic of their projects is that "they are not recognisable" … and goes on to explain that the idea of iconic buildings is foreign to him.

Is that completely true? The conversion of The Silo in the Nordhavn area of Copenhagen will see a well-known feature of the dock skyline become a key building of the area that will be fairly iconic and the back catalogue is putting together some buildings with distinct family features ... the piling up of small units of a domestic scale to form child-friendly schools at Frederiksvej Kindergarten and Kids City or the stacking up of large metal boxes at Library Nordvest or the Danish Rock Museum.

What comes across so well in the book is the importance of the city itself in Stubbergaard's work so hence the title of the exhibition and the book. He explains that, "Copenhagen is our laboratory, our playground. This is the place where our architecture was allowed to unfold and develop. Knowing the city, the culture, Copenhageners, is a prerequisite for experiment and new thinking, for being bold, even radical in the creative sense of the word."

He has a deep understanding of the city - a sense of the place, an understanding of the history and the people of the city that formed the buildings and how those buildings influence the way that everyone lives so he looks at how people use their built environment and is clearly focused on how the city will influence what the next generation does next.  

Although he is a designer of innovative modern buildings he also understands the importance of learning from the past. He is "personally very interested in historic buildings, because they reflect their times and contemporary society" but is also refreshingly honest about how much control architects have over how their buildings will be used after they hand them across. "What an architect imagines, drafts and plans is one thing, but life itself is powerful and unpredictable. It will take over a building."

So he has an awareness not only about how people actually do move around the city and use its buildings and its public spaces but he is working hard to take his observations and his perceptions and ideas forward to use new buildings and new public spaces to improve the way people can live in the city, to merge as a whole "function and surroundings" which are his "particular source of inspiration."

As Stubbergaard explains in the forward, the book is a 'compendium' of what these architects have learnt from their urban experiments in Copenhagen.


Our Urban Living Room, Learning from Copenhagen

Arvinius + Orfeus Publishing AB

published 2016 - ISBN 978-91-87543-39-5


Norrøn - territory for dreaming


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.


Norrøn - territory for dreaming continues at the Danish Architecture Centre until the end of November

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen

A major exhibition has opened at the Danish Architecture Centre which focuses on the work of the Danish studio of Cobe arkitekter but, in a much broader sense, the exhibitions also explores crucial aspects of urban planning … the current and the future role that planning has in the enhancement of our built environment and the way that architecture and planning together can and must encourage the use of public space in our cities and towns for a huge variety of activities.

What is shown here - with models, drawings, photographs and text - are specific projects completed by Cobe over the last decade or so - the remodelling of Israels Plads; the remodelling of the street space above Nørreport railway station; the building of new libraries and schools in the city and all with a very strong and positive planning agenda - but these are also clever and innovative projects that tell us much about the meeting point of public and private space; about the way that politicians and planners determine appropriate policies for how public space is used and shows how much citizens need and how much they appreciate public space and how they use that space in increasingly inventive ways.


a fascinating photograph that shows the street level above Nørreport station covered in snow where the patterns of footprints and bike tracks replicates the original study of routes across the space that determined the position of the bike racks and so on


previous posts on work from Cobe:

Israels Plads

Nørreport Station

Forfatterhuset Kindergarten

Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre, Strandgade 27B, Copenhagen continues until 8th January 2017

Vinterbyen - Winter City


A new exhibition opened today at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that looks at ways to encourage more active use of the streets and squares and public spaces of the city through the dark months of Winter.

Copenhagen has amazing parks and squares that are incredibly well used through the Summer months with both organised and informal events … there are fairs and open-air exhibitions, plenty of sports, play areas for children are amazing and people eat outside as much as possible. As the days get shorter, cafes and restaurants and bars bravely continue for as long as possible to have tables outside by using space heaters and blankets but inevitably there is much less use of outdoor spaces as the days get shorter and the nights get colder and much much longer.

This exhibition looks at several schemes in the city to encourage more people to use outdoor spaces more during the Winter and there are information panels showing programmes in other countries to get people outside more through the Winter. It’s in part a way to encourage people to continue exercising outside in the fresh air (or very fresh air) and in part a way to make full use of the cities amenities but also the exhibition makes the point that some people feel that darker, quieter streets seem disconcerting or even more threatening but with better lighting and more people it is amazing just how quickly that sense lifts. 

From January there will be five new projects co-ordinated through Platant with a Winter Sidewalk, Winter Lights, a Winter Park, a Winter Square and a Winter Garden in different parts of the city and in Frederiksberg. There is a booklet with an introduction about these project and a map for people to explore the sites.

With the opening of the exhibition today there was a Solstice Party on the quayside in front of the Architecture Centre organised in partnership with Platant and Kulturhavn 365 with music, braziers, warm wine and pancakes cooked over an open fire bowl. A good start.



Winter City, Danish Architecture Centre, Strandgade, Copenhagen 

from 18th December through to the 21st February.

Groundbreaking Constructions


Or to give the exhibition its full title:

Groundbreaking Constructions - 100 Danish Breakthroughs that Changed the World.

This is an important exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that initially appears to be simple - presenting 100 constructions under a catchy newspaper-style headline title - but in fact sets out a lot of background material and explains complex and challenging problems that had to be resolved and, in many cases, discusses ideas about planning decisions and the politics behind the design of these major projects. 

The first section of the exhibition looks in detail at eight major building or engineering projects with photographs, films and some striking models that illustrate complex partnerships between architects and engineers working together with a client to produce ground-breaking constructions.

  • The Great Belt Bridge by Dissing + Weitling with the engineers COWI completed in 1998.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh by Henning Larsen Architects from 1994
  • The Trans Iranian Railway begun in 1931 by Kampsax
  • The Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon
  • The Grand Arch in Paris by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and the engineer Erik Reitzel
  • Amager Resource Centre in Copenhagen by BIG
  • Great Gabbard Windfarm
  • The International Criminal Court in the Hague by Schmidt Hammer Lassen


Here there are different levels of information with videos, large images and the main panels of text but each section also has a desk or table top spread with drawings, photographs and books and in each area there is a chair so you are encouraged to spend time looking in more detail. Light levels are low and each section is separate and set in it’s own tight space. So, with no sense of fixed progress along a carefully controlled sequence … as you might do in a traditional art gallery … the arrangement is closer to the way we can use the internet to move through and explore information quickly but click down to more complex or more detailed information where we want or need to find out more.

The second room of the exhibition is a more open and brighter space and here ground-breaking constructions are divided into five groups, each represented by a main project that is shown as a film on the upper part of the wall and below, spread along a sloping display shelf running round the space, there are further examples as double-sided cards with a photograph and on the flip side basic information and an assessment of what makes that project innovative or particularly significant. This is primarily a catalogue but is a good way to show variations on a theme.

Those five main themes are:

  • Industry represented by Fiberline Composites A/S
  • Infrastructure with Cykelslanger - the Bicycle Snake - in Copenhagen
  • Housing represented by Søndergård Park
  • Public Projects represented by DOKK 1 in Aarhus Harbour by Schmidt Hammer Lassen
  • Cultural Projects represented by the new Moesgaard Museum by Henning Larsen Architects


For children, but also good for adults if you are a bit uncertain about engineering terms, there is an area where common construction principles are explained. There are two large arches with separate wedge-shaped blocks of covered foam to demonstrate how, even when there is no mortar, an arch is completed and held together by the final element, the key block, at the top. Tension and compression in structures are explained and there are illustrations of post and lintel engineering and drawings showing the way a Da-Vinci Bridge is formed. Wood blocks and splints and straws with link elements are provided by a work table where you can try to make your own bridges and arches and domes. There is even a tank of soapy liquid and a wire frame forming a cube to show the structural principle of bubbles that inspired the form of that Great Arch in Paris.

read the long review

The exhibition continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 3 January

Fang din by … Capture your city


This exhibition shows the entries for an open competition that asked for photographs of Copenhagen taken through this summer … snap shots rather than conventional postcard or travel-magazine views … with scenes that reflected the way people live in the city, how and where people meet and how they use the harbour, the streets, squares, buildings, and parks of the city.

A large selection of the photographs submitted have been shown as snaps pasted across one wall while a few have been printed out at a larger size.

There was also a competition for images submitted through Instagram on the three separate themes of The Smile, The Secret and The Meeting.


The exhibition continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 30 November

Guide to New Architecture in Copenhagen

Danish Architecture Centre have just published a new edition of their Guide to New Architecture in Copenhagen.

There are 153 buildings or sites or themes covered that are divided between seven sections - Culture and Leisure, Urban Spaces, Housing, Public Buildings, Trade & Industry, Path & Links and last Master Plans. Each section has an introduction by a specialist or professional involved in architecture or planning in the city and then each entry has a photograph, summary of information including architect or engineer and client and date and then a brief assessment.

There is a fold-out map at the back to locate each building or site so this is very much a pocket guide book to carry around the city. Buildings or sites covered range in date from the Maritime Youth Centre from 2004, through works in progress, like the new inner harbour bridge at the end of Nyhavn, and schemes, like the extension to the Metro not due for completion until 2019 so new buildings covering some fifteen years although, of course, some of the larger projects started in their conception and planning stage in the last century.

As with previous editions of this guide, further information can be tracked down through the on-line site of the Danish Architecture Centre.

people process projects - Snøhetta at DAC


This summer DAC - the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen - continued their well-established series of exhibitions that focus on single architectural firms with people process and projects about Snøhetta, the architectural studio based in Oslo and New York.

Snøhetta is the name of a mountain outside Oslo and was chosen by Craig Dykers and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen when they established their architecture, landscape design and branding company in 1989. Snøhetta are now a major international practice with projects ongoing in Europe, the USA and the Middle East.

At DAC there were four sections to the exhibition with the first and largest space dedicated to the people, the organisation and the philosophy or approach of the studio. In part here was a reconstruction of key elements of the Oslo office or elements that at least evoked the Oslo studio with sofas around a table and a set of steps - both important places where staff and clients can sit informally to discuss projects - and the ceiling treatment in Oslo was reproduced with plastic bags full of water hung from wires. 

The Snøhetta studio in Oslo

Photographs in this section showed the large communal lunch table that can also be used as a space for spreading out work for discussion. Snøhetta “believe taking time to share meals with our colleagues is critical to our process. Human interaction shapes the spaces we design and the way we operate.”

Text panels emphasised how professional staff in the studio are encouraged to move through the various disciplines to bring a new perspective to different aspects of the work. They call this transpositioning. “It defies narrow-minded thinking and encourages holistic approaches.”


The second section of the exhibition showed the central role of the modelling shop, another part of the design process, and formed the link through to the section about the main buildings from the company.

Here, in the third area, there was a wall of photographs showing and identifying eighty or so of the main projects by Snøhetta and, nearby, a large touch screen where it was possible to find further information and there were a number of models, including the opera house in Oslo, and a section of the facing of a facade formed one display wall containing smaller models and artefacts. A number of screens along another wall showed interviews and so on including a video of the Oslo opera house in winter with a figure snowboarding down the slope of the roof.

There was also a clever idea with photographs of a large number of the projects reproduced with information on the back and with punched holes at the top of each so they could be hung from steel pins across one wall and visitors were invited to take copies of the pages they wanted to form their own guide book.

A huge range of building styles are presented here but I suppose that is inevitable given the time-span covered and the size of the practice now although you can see some themes or ideas reappearing … so, for instance, the shift and slide of building planes as if on tectonic plates at the National Opera House in Oslo, the Memorial Pavilion in New York and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, although those three buildings have very different facing materials and very different underlying geometric forms. 

The text of the exhibition does not state it outright but presumably Snøhetta are more concerned with architectural solutions rather than a consistent architectural style and diversity would, in any case, be a consequence of their debate-lead project system. Curiously the text and interviews imply a certain amount of introspection in contrast to the huge self-confidence of the buildings they produce so the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre Pavilion, for instance, is hardly overawed by the grandeur of it’s natural setting and the combination of stark iron box on the mountain slope with its huge glass front but organic sculptural wood interior is anything but circumspect.

Gallery space on the first floor, outside the cafe, was filled with a series of wooden pods with sloping ends and pitched roofs. Called On Top of the Mountain, this is a self-contained section of the exhibition aimed at families and children with photographs and information about smaller buildings from Snøhetta that are set in the natural landscape rather than in the urban setting of most of the larger building projects shown on the ground floor.

Here the emphasis was even more clearly on social sustainability and environmental sustainability - a strong part of the studio's ethos … “We actively seek technical solutions that provide the most economical and natural systems for minimising the environmental impact of the buildings we design.”

Buildings here included Tverrfjellhytta, the pavilion for the Wild Reindeer Centre, and images for a new hotel that will snake down a slope to follow the side of the mountain at Lofoten.


Perhaps I am becoming too cynical in my old age but as I worked my way around the exhibition I began to hear more and more the input of a brand manager in the extensive text and I became frustrated by what appeared to me to be two significant omissions in the material presented. 

Many of the buildings shown here are extremely sophisticated structures and require extensive and very technical engineering solutions ... particularly for projects such as the proposed floating bridge that could be constructed to cross Rovde fjord near Ålesund ... but there was no discussion anywhere in the exhibition about engineers, engineering, or the ways that collaboration between architect and engineer was required nor how, sometimes, there must have been a conflict between a concept and the reality of the actual construction process. 

And, with some of the projects being not just large but incredibly complicated, in terms of their functions and therefore planning, I was curious that there were no plans shown for any of the buildings … the closest we got to a plan was in some of the photographs of the studio that showed staff apparently discussing a building over its plan. I know that some visitors to an exhibition, who are not involved in architecture professionally, find plans either difficult to understand or less interesting than models but one of the important aspects of the Snøhetta practice is that their projects cover such a huge range of type, size and function of building. It would be interesting to see at least some discussion of how a team works on a hugely complicated building such as the Bibliotheca Alexandria, which must have had an amazingly complex brief setting out standards for book storage, the requirements for conservation and problems to control light and heat in public reading spaces, or for the opera house in Oslo with its integration of public spaces, highly technical requirements for the performance space, back-stage areas for workshops, complex circulation for public and service areas and complicated massing determined by existing road systems, surrounding urban landscape and the natural topography with such a prominent site on the harbour running down to the edge of the water. Much of that could have been done with simplified plans or good diagrams. Understanding how ideas evolve, how plan and space interrelate and how problems are resolved is more interesting and more important than a beautiful photograph of a facade.

A more thorough if brief analysis of the how the design of the opera house in Oslo evolved would, of course, be interesting in this city where just down the harbour from DAC is Copenhagen's own opera house. Compare and contrast exercises tend to be an academic's approach but could be a way to get a wider audience to think critically about their major public buildings in terms, not just of how they look, but in terms of how they work day to day - how they work as public spaces and how they contribute to or interrupt the existing social structure of a neighbourhood and how they fit into the existing urban setting or ignore it.

* Some books and on-line sites give the year the company was founded as 1987.

A recently published book People Process Projects is available and the exhibition at DAC continues until 27 September 2015.


Danish Architecture Centre

guides to architecture in Copenhagen


The best pocket guide to the architecture of the city, though admittedly for a large pocket, is the Copenhagen Architecture Guide by Olaf Lind and Annemarie Lund. It was published by The Danish Architectural Press with a first edition in 1996 but a revised edition came out in 2005. It is still available in book shops.

There is a good introduction with an outline of the topography and the historic development of the city and then the major historic and modern buildings are covered with generally a single page or, for the larger buildings, a double-page entry for each although major buildings such as Frederiksberg Palace and its gardens has three double-page spreads. With the compact format, text has to be tightly edited but there is a well-written summary of each building, a good general photo to capture the overall look and character of the building and, where possible, to at least indicate the setting and there are some details of interiors or exterior features where there is space or that feature is important and there are historic plans and drawings where those are significant or interesting.

Because this is ostensibly a walking guide, the city has been divided by a grid into 9 equal sections, and each section is preceded by a map with clear numbers to indicate the location of each entry. Within most sections buildings are arranged in chronological order. The exception is a section that covers both sides of the harbour so the buildings on the Holmen side are set out in sequence first and then the buildings on the Marble Church side of the harbour. It is inevitable that in trying to bring such a huge mass of material into a logical arrangement there has to be some awkward divisions so that is not a criticism. A tenth section covers the buildings in the outer districts of the city and to visit those it would be best to have a bike although public transport covers most of the area well. 

In trying to find a particular building or in walking along a street it might take a minute to realise that you have to be on the next map but that again is a small price to pay for such a huge amount of information in one volume that covers buildings from Helligåndshuset, dating in part from the 13th century, through to the Maritime Youth Center on Amager by Bjarke Ingels from 2004

The Danish Architecture Centre has produced a series of slim (if tall-for-most-pockets) guides to the most recent buildings - published in 2007/2008, 2009 and the most recent in May 2013 - and DAC now also maintains an on-line index on their web site which is a very useful source for information about the architect, engineers, client and in many cases the cost of projects under the title Copenhagen X.


Fællesskab din by - Co-create your city


This is a significant and inspiring exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that is primarily about the importance of community involvement at all levels in our cities - from making them really work day to day at the street or district level right through to being involved in major planning decisions.

The introduction panel sets this objective out very clearly … the “right to form our cities is something special. It is a product of a political development, but also the result of idealists all through history having challenged what and how a city could and should be - even when it was not formally possible. Citizens have come up with good ideas, gained support and fought for a better city. And not out of a sense of duty, but because they simply can not help themselves. They want to make something of their city, and they would like us to be part of that journey.”

This is very much an exhibition for the digital age in which we live: an exhibition about ideas - rather than a gallery exhibition about beautiful objects that you simply admire. There are no objects as such here but bold and, in some cases, provoking quotations from planners and politicians; information panels about specific community projects and plenty of audio visual screens where you can listen to interviews or commentaries about specific community projects. 

As someone trained in museum work it was interesting to see how all this material was deliberately presented in a way that might not work in a printed book or, particularly, how it might not work if it was simply out there in the data world on a web site reached through a url. Here visitors are encouraged to explore but there is never-the-less a clear sense of a route or progress through the material that you still cannot really control as people click and move around or quickly click on from an on-line site.

There are information panels about a wide range of community-led projects including Østergro - the community gardens of the Østerbro area - the community shared ownership scheme of Den 3 Revle - the Third Bar - in Nørrebro and the Restaurant Day project. There were also a number of international projects shown here including the amazing project to paint the houses of the Rio favelas, the success of the High Line in New York and the project to convert car parking spaces into community parks for a day with people moving in fake grass, plants in tubs and seating to reclaim a stretch of kerb.

There are significant planning projects here - for instance trying to involve as many people as possible as Odense grows rapidly from a small city into a major conurbation. 

Some information surprised me … I had not realised that community involvement in planning has been enshrined in Danish law since 1970.

All the main panels are in English as well as Danish so with no Danish I could follow everything well but where I missed out of course was my usual trick in a museum of listening in to the conversations of other visitors to work out just how they were responding to what they were looking at to find out if they were inspired or if they disagreed. 

The last section of the exhibition has information about Borgerlyst (Citizen's Desires ?? ... wishes sounds rather feeble and wants too needy as a translation) set up by Nadja Pass and Andreas Lloyd to use their experience from various community schemes to encourage and nurture action groups and there is a long table with benches on either side that takes you through a question-and-answer sequence to see if you have an idea for a community project and to encourage you to take it forward.

There are a large number of events associated with the exhibition and the last wall has bright bold graphics setting these out with tear-off strips for contact telephone numbers.

Even in Denmark there must be rapacious developers whose primary aim is profit and there must be politicians or administrators reluctant to relinquish power or influence and of course there are citizens who don’t have the time or the energy to get involved or feel slightly in awe of officials and think that planning or decisions about architecture and redevelopment in their city should probably be left to the experts but my strong feeling is that, here in Denmark, that gap - between wealth and power and the majority of people who actually live and work in the cities - is actually smaller and more easily bridged than in most cities in the World.

My only real concern is just how wide an audience will Co-create reach? I can see that actually having the material there and visitors having made the effort to travel to the Centre they want to focus on the material. But the number of visitors seemed relatively small and were all the usual suspects - trendy middle class families, men who were clearly architects and designers and a good number of students presumably studying architecture or design. How do you reach a wider demographic with something as important as this? 

Having said that, special events held around the building and on the quay outside have clearly been well attended.

But overall it really is inspiring to see how many people have become involved over such a wide range of projects and have made a substantial and real difference to their urban environment.


The exhibition continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 7 June 2015