Formgivning … from big bang to singularity

  • Connect by Bjarke Ingels and Simon Frommenwiler at entrance

  • BIG at BLOX

  • stairs up with the start of time line

  • PLAY - models of the buildings in LEGO

  • SHOW - Manhattan

  • HOST and LIFT

  • proposal by BIG for BIG in Nordhavn

 

BIG - the Bjarke Ingels Group - have taken over the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen so this exhibition is not just in the two main galleries but flows up and down the staircases and even reaches out into the entrance area. About the only space not occupied by BIG is the half-in-half-out space of the lobby to the underground car park and they also missed an opportunity to take over the public square in front of the building.

Bjarke Ingels is one of the best communicator of ideas and theories about modern architecture - his talks on line are exceptional - so here, at several points in the exhibition, there are life-sized images of the man himself introducing his work and explaining his theories and their application to the phenomenal number of major projects with which BIG have been involved over the last fifteen years.

The main staircase, climbing up from the entrance level, has become a time-line of architectural and cultural history … “the history and future of how thinking, sensing, making, and moving have evolved and will continue to evolve.”

In the gallery at the first landing, PLAY has models of 25 BIG buildings but made by master model makers using plastic LEGO bricks.

Ingels designed LEGO House, in Billund, for the company - completed in 2017 - and here that partnership - between the company and Ingels - is reinforced. This makes a serious point that getting children to see architecture and design as fun from the start - from playing with building bricks or by building dens or play houses - then their approach to their built environment as adults will be more informed and more curious and possibly more adventurous - but the models in LEGO also make sense of these large and complicated buildings by BIG in the way that cartoons or sketches from a good artist can focus our attention on the essential elements of a complicated idea.

Up on the main exhibition area, the floor has been painted with swirls of strong colour that take you to colour-coded areas for this part of the exhibition with each area covering one of the series of main themes. It's a way to group complicated but apparently diverse commissions with sections including - among many others - LIFT, HOST, MARRY and GROW … caps courtesy of the exhibition designer and not mine.

Architectural drawings and rendered digital views - again all colour coded - hang from the high ceiling like banners so it feels like entering a huge medieval bazaar with a touch of Mad Max or Burning Man.

  • model for new apartment building on Dorotheavej in Copenhagen

 

In each section, on trestles, there are architectural models.

Scale models for building projects are the traditional and the well-established tool of the architect and usually a final stage between concept and reality. Models can be the best way for the client and the planning officers to understand what the architect wants to do and models are particularly important if people distrust sketches or are not comfortable with reading and understanding plans and scale drawings.

Here, many of the models are internally lit - to add to the drama - and several use colour for the model that is not used in the final construction but emphasises the main volumes or large building blocks of the architectural composition and there are also some projects where a series of models show how a project evolved as different arrangements of volumes and primary building blocks were tried and ideas developed.

Down the stairs to leave and you find the BIG vision for the future - our future - including concept studies for people building on Mars. As you walk down the stairs, the sections are headed LEAP, THINK, SENSE, MAKE, MOVE.

As an exhibition, it is overwhelming and I will have to get into training and start overloading on energy bars before going back to think about a more carefully-considered review to add to this initial impression. Even if it sounds like it, I'm not carping or trying to be cynical. Seen together, these projects by BIG are impressive and the exhibition really is inspiring. So … the first impression is that it is overwhelming but inspiring.

Ingels is clearly driven - by enthusiasm and with passion - and revelations of theories underlying his ideas should, at the very least, initiate serious discussion about what we need from our buildings now and encourage people to think more about what we want in the future or, to quote, “rather than attempt to predict the future, we have the power to propose our future” although I’m still not sure if that we with the power is us or BIG.

It is appropriate that this exhibition follows on from the retrospective, here at DAC last year, that looked at the life and works of Ove Arup. Both men, although so different in character, can be seen as philosophers who, rather than write, build and make. Both set out to challenge the preconceptions of the staid or the cautious, to move architecture and engineering forward an alternative to simply making sequential improvements or recycling ideas.

If there is one omission, it is that Ingels fronts an atelier - a team of 600 professionals who are divided between offices in Copenhagen, London, Barcelona and New York - but from this first look at Formgivning there seems to be little sense of how responsibility is managed or delegated: an architectural practice on this scale and with this throughput of commissions is as much about management skills and, with growing fame, about the management of expectations as it is about inspiration.

And there is an aspect of modern architecture that the exhibition skirts around and that is the problems and the realities of the present. We tend to gloss over or ignore obvious mistakes of the past as now they are in the past and we want to be rushing on towards the buildings and the materials and the life style and the promises of an attractive and imminent future but in reality, and to be honest, architecture and building, particularly on the scale of many of these projects, is a protracted process where the present is the slowest part. The limbo of the present. Many of the designs here were commissioned five or more years ago and could take a decade to complete or might, even now, be shelved or abandoned as political or environmental pressure dictates a different course.

A case in point is shown in the exhibition with drawings and models for a new building in Nordhavn - the North Harbour - that has been designed by BIG for BIG.

It has been on hold for months because the proposals submitted were rejected in the planning process. A future on hold is frustrating but, sometimes, to take stock and to have to defend a design and to have to fight a corner or, even, when necessary, to accept and understand and take on board concerns should not thwart inspiration but could mean a better building but, in reality, it can be a slow and frustrating process.

BLOX, the new home of the Danish Architecture Centre by the architectural practice OMA, was commissioned in 2008 and completed in 2018. It has been heavily criticised but the rejoinder has been that if this building was commissioned today, it would not be this building that would be commissioned. Will that also be true for some of major projects from BIG that are shown here but are still to be realised?

If there has to be one single and simple contribution that the exhibition makes, it is that Ingels - in the very title of the exhibition - seems to challenge our use of the word design.

For at least the last decade, the word design has been kidnapped by marketing men so, for too many, design has become not so much a process but little more than an ingredient … a selling point to up the amount on the price tag.

Bjarke Ingels seems to have thrown in the towel and abandoned the word to go back to a Scandinavian notion of giving form so, the role of the architect is to have the idea and then to make that idea real … to have the idea and to give it form.

 

Formgivning / Formgiving
an architectural future history from Big Bang to Singularity
continues at Dansk Arkitektur Center / Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen
until 5 January 2020

Fang din by - forandring / Capture your city - change 2019

 

Fang din by - catch or capture your city - is an annual photographic competition at Dansk Arkitektur Centre - the Danish Architecture Centre or DAC - that demonstrates “that our cities are full of quirky details, historical corners, new urban spaces and fantastic architecture.”

This year the theme of the exhibition is transition in the city because our cities are changing every day and that change is fast. "We adapt to climate change, building height, the old is torn down creating new urban spaces." Information about the competition posed two questions ….

How does it look when old meets new? 
Is the transformation of our cities always good? 

Along with information about submission of images for the competition were also the recommendations that photographs should not only reflect the theme for this year but should also be an "exciting composition" and show the "interaction between urban space and people.

The competition was open to professional and amateur photographers and this year 3,000 people submitted images.

A final selection was made by a jury with Maja Dyrehauge Gregersen, Director of Copenhagen Photo Festival; the photo journalist Janus Engel Rasmussen, and Christian Juul Wendell, Head of Communications at the Institut for (X) and project manager at Bureau Detours.

The overall winner was announced at the opening with the second and third prize and there was a second and separate competition for schools and again the winner and second and third prizes were announced.

Fang din by was organised in collaboration with the Copenhagen Photo Festival and the opening coincided with the opening of the Festival.

the exhibition can be seen outside on Bryghuspladsen in Copenhagen
- the public square in front of BLOX -
from 7 June through to 30 August

for the first time this year there will also be a separate but closely-related exhibition - showing a different selection of images - that will be moved between a number of venues around the city.

That exhibition can be seen at:

  • Nytorv - 7 June to 20 June

  • Israels Plads - 21 June to 4 July

  • Rådhuspladsen - 5 July to 18 July

  • Kultorvet - 19 July to 1 August

  • Den Røde Plads - 2 August to 15 August

  • Højbro Plads - 16 August to 30 August

  

Dansk Arkitektur Centre - Fang din by
Copenhagen Photo Festival
Bureau Detours
Institut for (X)

Fang din by - Bryghuspladsen

 

Fang din by - Nytorv

Irreplaceable Landscapes - by Dorte Mandrup

model of Vadehavscentret / The Wadden Sea Center in Vester Vedsted - completed in 2017

 

With the title Irreplaceable Landscapes, this major exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre starts with the new Icefjord visitor centre and research centre that overlooks the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier in Ilusulissat on the west coast of Greenland.

Then, in the main exhibition space at BLOX, are models and information panels for an astounding trilogy of buildings - the three new visitor centres designed by Dorte Mandrup in three different countries that overlook three of the distinct seascapes of Vadehavet / The Wadden Sea.

Vadehavscentret - The Wadden Sea Center - overlooks the marshland of Vester Vedsted in Denmark; the Vadehavscenter - Wadden Sea World Heritage Center - in Wilhelmshaven in Germany incorporates the remains of a war-time bunker and Vadehavscenter - The Wadden Sea Center -  is on the tidal waters of Lauwersoog in the Netherlands.

read more

Irreplaceable Landscapes continues at the Danish Architecture Centre until 26 May 2019

Fællesskaber Mellem Murene / Communities Between the Walls

 

 

This exhibition is on the three levels of the staircase gallery at the Danish Architecture Centre and is about art projects that have been used to bring about positive changes in vulnerable residential areas.

People living in these large housing schemes can feel marginalised or can be isolated by poverty and many, newly arrived in Denmark, are separated from the support of family or old friends. Becoming involved in art - or merely being given access to something new and something that is special to where they live - can improve day-to-day life or can stimulate a new interest; create a sense of involvement; bring a new sense of pride to an area and can create a sense of ownership and a sense belonging to a place.

Several of the projects give people an opportunity to tell their own story as an individual rather than being simply an anonymous part of a larger statistic about crime or poverty … statistics that quantify and define problems but can only be a starting point for resolving them.

Projects shown here are in Tingbjerg in Copenhagen; Gellerupplaned, to the west of the city centre in Aarhus, and a projects around Blagværd, a northern suburb of Copenhagen, including Kunst Vild in VærebroPark in Gladsaxe. 

Communities Without Walls
continues at Danish Architecture Centre
until 2 June 2019

Sustainable Cities

 

“This exhibition has been created by a group of young crusaders who are passionate about making society better. It is the result of a collaboration with Roskilde Festival, which every year builds a temporary city with its own unique brand of broad-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Here, young people can get involved, party and celebrate their freedom. This exhibition is a product of the spirit: They have been invited to speak out - to share their ideas for our common future.”

 

Sustainable Cities
continues at Danish Architecture Centre In Copenhagen
until 2 June 2019

 

Communities Between the Walls

On 15 February a new exhibition opened in the gallery space on the staircase at the Danish Architecture Centre.

Communities Between the Walls is a counterpoint to the recent reports on social housing and ghettoes. Here are a number of major art projects that have been initiated in areas of deprived or poor housing in urban areas including the new library recently completed in the Tingbjerg housing scheme and the major projects in Gellerupparken in Aarhus.

 

continues at the Danish Architecture Centre until 1 June 2019

“when we reside differently we behave differently”

 

 

When the Danish Architecture Centre moved into its new building last summer, their first major exhibition was called Welcome Home and looked at Danish housing. The first section to that exhibition was a timeline that gave an overview of the development of housing in Denmark through the century from 1900 and then the main part of the exhibition looked at recent housing … at how the planning and the building of homes is evolving and changing with new requirements for appropriate homes; new configurations of living space; new approaches to conservation and the use of new building materials and new construction methods.

Immediately after that time line - and really part of the introduction - there was an important section that looked at statistics for housing in Denmark … first at data that marks out some of the differences in lifestyle when people own their homes and  when people rent their homes and then at data that demonstrates that there are now many different types of household. And these different family dynamics seem to suggest that different people now need different types of home at different stages in their lives.

Particularly in Denmark, a well-established and strongly democratic country with less-obvious extremes between wealth and poverty than in may countries - it is easy to assume that change is now relatively slow and that a home is simply a home and most people live in much the same way. In fact, statistics show that society is changing quickly … or at least quickly when compared with the time needed for planners, architects and builders to respond by trying to build the homes people want in the places where people want to live.

read more

Out of Office at DAC

Out of Office was established by the landscape architects Adam Roigart and Martin Hedevang Andersen who both trained in Copenhagen.

They work on urban landscapes on public streets and in courtyards in the city and use prototyping to test ideas and to understand and to explore user needs and the users are involved in the construction work to establish a strong sense of ownership.

Materials are recycled and for the urban garden in the staircase gallery at DAC (The Danish Architecture Centre) they are growing zucchini in bricklayers' buckets on recycled pallets. The plants will be cared for by local school children.

The Out of Office on-line site has photographs of their projects including courtyard gardens for apartment building on Jagtvej and Sjælør Boulevard in Copenhagen, a Winter Pavilion, and a street garden in Krusågade in Vesterbro.

The garden at DAC has been set up with the Klima 100 exhibition in the gallery at the next level down.

Out of Office

Dansk Arkitektur Center,
Bryghuspladsen 10,
1473 Copenhagen

Klimabyer / Climate Cities at the Danish Architecture Center

On the staircase at DAC (the Danish Architecture Center) there is currently a small but important exhibition that was initiated and funded by Realdania.

Eighty two of the 98 municipalities in Denmark submitted projects that tackle problems caused by climate change From those solutions 100 were chosen for publication in Klima 100 2018 and a selection are shown here in the exhibition.

These examples confront a range of problems caused by adverse effects from changes in the climate. The best solutions were implemented at a local level and involved local communities but these projects can be adapted or scaled up to be implemented more widely … locally, regionally or globally.

All the projects have been judged against the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

What can be seen here is not just an impact in the way these solutions mitigate potentially serious and destructive problems but, at the same time, they can be seen to improve our built environment and can make positive differences to the way people live.

For some of these problems there are relatively straightforward and obvious solutions - so, for instance, by planting more trees or replacing hard surfaces with grass to control the run off of surface water - and some solutions employ existing technology while others require imagination and ingenuity to reverse the impact of a man-made environment A good example of this is where former streams and water courses have been reinstated where they had been taken down into culverts and drains or where natural wetlands are restored to manage drainage.

There are gains where nature has been brought back into cities and particularly where children are encouraged to understand how food is produced and to develop a positive and more informed attitude to the natural environment.

Other solutions have focused on encouraging people to change their behaviour. Recycling should no longer been seen as optional or as a chore and one of the projects featured in the exhibition has focused on how we can up-cycle more by using new facilities at city waste centre that can help people repair rather than dump possessions that are broken. 

In all this, at so many different levels, applied design has a crucial role.

 
 

note:

Headings below are taken from the information panels at the exhibition but are also active links to a relevant page on the Global Opportunity Explorer Klima goexplorer site and the numbers refer to the page in the publication Klima 100 2018 where the project is described and illustrated.

 

Sustainable city center [26]

The new City Hall in Middelfart has set new standards for the proposed life-span of its building materials and for energy use and water consumption both through the construction work and now when the building is in use. Solutions here may now seem obvious - so offices and functions spread around the town have been pulled together into a single location; floors use recycled wood; the building has 700 square metres of solar panels on the roof; waste heat is transferred to the district heating system and waste food goes to make natural gas - and together they are clearly effective. But perhaps what is more important is that the appearance of the building is of a thoroughly modern construction where there is no compromise of modern aesthetics. To put that another way, this building shows that nailed on old planks and chunks of moss and weeds on the roof are fine if that is what you want but it is not obligatory to achieve the very best green standards.

 

Sustainable renovation [27]

This is an important project for Copenhagen where the city has a substantial number of well-built apartment blocks that date from the 19th and 20th centuries although these may not be arranged in the best way to provide an arrangement of accommodation that people now expect and almost-certainly do not come up to current standards for insulation or for good natural light or for energy use.

This block on Gammel Jernbanevej in Valby was constructed in 1899 as purpose-built apartments with shops on the ground floor. The location is good, close to a railway station and in a pleasant street, and the building materials are durable but the apartments are small, lack bathrooms and the indoor climate is not good.

The aim of the renovation is to preserve historic features but optimise natural daylight so a new glass façade will be constructed out from the courtyard side to form a climate screen that faces west. This will add 10 square metres to each apartment and, with triple-glazed folding screens and flexible glazed sliding screens, on the line of the present back wall, that space could be used like a large balcony in the summer but during the winter will be a warm and well-lit extension of the living space.

An extra floor will be added to the block - to generate financial returns - and solar panels will be added on the new roof.

This is a Living in Light project 

Fremtidig-snit.jpg
 

A sustainable village from the ground up [31]

This is a new-built residential neighbourhood in Lisbjerg about 7 kilometres north of the centre of  Aarhus. New buildings have been designed to reduce environmental impact and citizens have been involved. The area will develop over 60 years and the municipality has produced a long-term plan for sustainability and has produced “inspirational catalogues” to guide architects and builders working on the next phases.

Building density is high and commercial buildings - and with them employment - have been brought back into the residential areas to reduce distances to travel to work or school. Water is collected after downpours and is filtered through limestone for flushing toilets and washing clothes and that reduces the use of treated drinking water by 40%.

Projects like this show that we have reached an important turning point in our approach to climate change and sustainability. For many of the first solutions, the focus had to be on adapting to the problems - so retrofitting solutions - but for new buildings we can now be proactive.

 

A new concept for food and knowledge production [58]

Impact Farm is a two-storey greenhouse that was installed in Nørrebro in Copenhagen in 2016. Intense cultivation on the top floor can produce between two and four tons of leaf green a year that is sold to local restaurants and cafes and the ground-floor space can be used for work and recreation including education workshops and food festivals.

Rainwater is collected and recycled so growing food consumes 70-90% less water than a regular farm. Components are pre fabricated and the greenhouse is built around a shipping container and after 15 months it was packed up and moved on to a new site.

Schemes like this have a vital role in helping children in towns and cities understand and appreciate how their food is produced.

Human Habitat - Impact Farm

Impact-Farm-Abdellah-Ihadian-2898-800x600.jpg
 

Robust nature in the city [67]

A new area of park and extensive urban garden has been laid out around the Marselisborg Centre in Aarhus with a focus on biodiversity and with integrated wetlands that utilise rainwater both for nature and for children so they develop a positive understanding of the natural world through play and exploration. Schemes like this are changing radically our preconceptions of what urban landscaping should look like.

 
 

Courtyard garden project [75]

An imaginative scheme for a courtyard of 3200 square metres at the centre of an existing apartment building.

Many of these large courtyards in the city simply have grass or low maintenance hard surfaces but neither deals well with the heavy rainfall from storms. In this courtyard, a "climate wall" built with recycled concrete will create a temporary lake to hold back water when there is a storm - in a heavy storm in Copenhagen enough rain can fall over a few hours to flood the ground floor and cellars of buildings, flood streets and overwhelm and damage drains and sewers.

To control storm water by holding it back on the surface, rather than letting it surge immediately through storm drains, is now described as a "blue solution". Here the planting, described as "biomimicry", is closer to true or wild nature and, again, schemes like this are changing attitudes and expectations about planting in urban landscapes.

More information about Fremtidens Gårdhave / Courtyards of the future can be found on the site of the Lendager Group.

 

Ancient landscapes shapes new urban space [96]

In this landscape project in Vejle, Jutland, rain water is held back as it drains down into the fjord.

This is another good example where climate resilience, over a large area, not only creates an attractive new landscape but also creates popular and well-used space for physical activity.

 

Securing the coastline for the future [104]

Le Mur / the wall protects the harbour of Lemvig against rising sea levels and destructive high tides. The solution here has been to build a concrete wall in sections with steel gates to close gaps that normally give access to the water.

Hasløv & Kjærsgaard Arkitekter with the engineers COWI

 

Recycling and upcycling for the future [157]

A former paper factory - Maglemølle in Næstved - is now a centre for green companies that recycle and upcycle materials including the collection and sorting of glass by Reiling Glassrecycling that is then reused by Ardagh Glass Holmegaard.

 

Klimabyer / Climate City
5 December 2018 - 15 February 2019 

The Stair Gallery,
Dansk Arkitektur Center,
Bryghuspladsen 10, København K

 

Danish Architecture Center

Goexplorer.org/klima100

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

COBE