is design all in the concept …..



For any design - a design for a building, a chair or a teapot - the starting point has to be the idea, the concept. It is that first attempt to imagine the what and then think about the how. 

If you are cynical or pedantic or just being realistic - in this tough world - you could argue that a commercial design actually starts with the commission and the contract but for me what is fascinating about looking at a great design is to try and understand that initial concept and to see how it was realised.

My apartment is about 200 metres from Cirkelbroen - The Circle Bridge - that was designed by Olafur Eliasson and completed in 2015. So whenever I walk into the city I either see the bridge at the end of the canal or I actually cross over the bridge to get to Islands Brygge or get to the west part of the city centre. 

When it first opened I thought it was stunning … and to be honest also rather useful as it made it possible for the first time to walk from Christianshavn on south along the harbour … but mainly I thought that it was stunning. 

Unique as well. Elegant and curiously delicate, almost ephemeral, when seen in sunlight but particularly if it is misty or the light is failing at the end of the day - but at night stronger and much more dramatic.

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the space to think


Yesterday I posted photographs of the new Cirkelbroen in Copenhagen. In discussing his design, the artist Olafur Eliasson explained that one aim was to provide space for people to stop - so for people to look over the harbour, to watch what is happening on the water, or simply to stand and think. To repeat the quote, he said, “to hesitate on our way is to engage in bodily thought. I see such introspection as an essential part of a vibrant city.”

The more I think about this concept … the need for space in the city for introspection … the more important it seems and I realised the features of the city that I appreciate most are the quiet side streets, the odd spaces in squares, the parks and the wonderful cemeteries and the lakes where people stroll and the botanic gardens where people sit on the grass to watch what is happening or to talk quietly with family they are with or with friends they have met up with.


Don’t get me wrong, Copenhagen is a crowded, busy, lively, dynamic city but it has quiet spaces and green spaces and gently beautiful spaces and they really are cared for and are appreciated. 

Over the last four decades, or maybe for longer, much in city planning - planning in any city - has been about getting people to somewhere as quickly as possible or about getting fast around somewhere to avoid a delay; about parking and transport systems and about motorways and about how long it takes to get in from the airport. All that is crucial of course - that’s the “vibrant” bit. But people do need space - space to think.

  1. Israels Plads
  2. below Knippelsbro
  3. Peblinge Sø - feeding the ducks and swans on a Saturday afternoon
  4. Louisiana ... appropriately the couple with a pushchair had just come out of Riverbed when I took this photograph



Last Saturday there was an official opening for the most recent bridge to be completed in Copenhagen … the Cirkelbroen that crosses the south end of Christianshavns Kanal where it re-enters the harbour opposite the Royal Library.

Cirkelbroen is part of a much wider plan to link together routes for cyclists to cross the harbour and for pedestrians to walk through Christianshavn and Holmen. Two new bike and pedestrian bridges opened on Holmen this summer. Another major bridge over the harbour for cyclists and pedestrians near the Skuespilhuset, the Royal Danish Theatre, is close to being finished and the construction of another bike bridge further south down the harbour has just been announced.

Last night, walking back from supper out, I cut around Christianshavn to see the finished bridge and to take photographs. Cirkelbroen was designed by the Olafur Eliasson Studio in Berlin and has a very unusual construction with a series of interlocking circles forming the bridge deck. These are supported by what look like a series of ships' masts and the circles will pivot apart to allow taller boats to leave or enter the canal from the main harbour.

Olafur Eliasson, the Icelandic/Danish artist, explained the form of the bridge in an interview published on the archdaily site and there are diagrams and videos showing how the bridge opens on the artists own site.

“While working on the bridge, I remembered the fishing boats I saw as a child in Iceland. In the harbour, the boats were often moored right next to each other, and it sometimes seemed that you could even cross the harbour just by walking from boat to boat.”
“As many as 5,000 people will cross this bridge each day. I hope that these people will use Cirkelbroen as a meeting place, and that the zigzag design of the bridge will make them reduce their speed and take a break. To hesitate on our way is to engage in bodily thought. I see such introspection as an essential part of a vibrant city.”

When I visited Your Rainbow Panorama by Eliasson at ARoS in Aarhus I had expected children to be running around the circuit - the art gallery was packed out with school parties who were all really well behaved but even so … Then when I got up to the roof-top walkway I was amazed that people slowed right down, walking slowly, talking quietly, looking out over the city. It can’t always be like that but the calm and peace were impressive.

Equally, at Louisiana last summer with his Riverbed installation, I have rarely seen so many people quietly lost in thought as they walked slowly through the galleries. Amazing.

Last night I expected a tangle of cyclists and walkers - cyclists in Copenhagen rarely slow down for anything - but again people were standing around in small groups admiring the engineering, talking quietly, or leaning against the railing of the bridge to admire this new place to stop to look out over the harbour. Cyclists slowed down. Great. Long may it last.


ARoS, Århus

The Kunstmuseum in Århus, generally and better known as ARoS, opened in April 2004 in a new building designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen, an architectural partnership from Århus that was founded in 1986 by Morten Schmidt, Bjarne Hammer and John Lassen. 

The art gallery houses major collections of Danish Art from 1770 to 1900; Danish Modern Art from 1900 to 1960 and a collection of Contemporary Art and there is also an important programme of exhibitions. 

The building is a giant, stark, dark brick red cube pierced by full-height glazed entrances on each side and under cut by a run of windows along the street frontage that light the book shop and cafe area. 

I’m not sure about the exterior - mainly because of its location hard against the arc of a main road, dropping down to a valley, across but below the north-east front. Close by are large municipal buildings but it is not obvious that there has ever been a master plan for the urban scape of these major public buildings or at least a plan that anyone has stuck to. The simple but massive block of the building almost defies the slope of the site almost challenging anyone who might suggest it could or might slide down towards the river. Seen from down the slope, a long run of shallow steps up to the secondary entrance almost looks like an afterthought but could, I suppose, be compared to the approach to a medieval castle keep.

The layout of this part of the city can really be explained by the very rapid expansion of Århus in the 19th and early 20th centuries … still clear in the surviving buildings in this south part of the city … and by the topography that together still determines the layout of the main roads of the city. The medieval and early-modern town was tightly laid out around the cathedral, with a large market square to its west and, close by, a municipal theatre and the old town hall and courthouse that are all on the north side of a narrow river valley. 

It has been suggested that the population of Århus was about 3,500 people at the end of the 18th century rising to 5,000 people with the expansion of the port in 1810 growing to 15,000 by 1870, 50,000 by 1900 and 101,000 by 1930.

With the port and the sea immediately to the east of the medieval settlement, this rapid and commercially-driven expansion of the city in the 19th century was south across the river to a railway station - the present station building dating from 1927. A number of roads curve around forming a south-west quadrant running back down to the river and the old road that headed west out of the old city. Immediately before the second World War a new city hall was built in this south-west quarter of the city (to designs by Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller) and inaugurated in June 1941. To the west of that new city hall is a very large open area and then a concert hall (opened in 1982) and the congress centre with the art gallery immediately to the north of this group but close to the backs of houses as if the plan may be to demolish or clear more in the future. 

There seems to be no clear visual or clear physical link between the buildings which are set at angles to each other, in part because of the curve of the main road Vester Alle, and the gallery suffers as a consequence. The ways into the gallery on the north-west front, from downhill towards the houses, and the main entrance on the south-east side from the direction of city hall seem to ignore the road.

Once inside the building the story is very different and much more coherent and much more exciting. The two entrances, on opposite sides of the cube, are linked by a sinuous street rising the full height of the building with curved galleries looking down into it and cross walks silhouetted against the full-height panels of glass reminiscent of the harbour-side entrance into the Royal Library in Copenhagen … an earlier building by Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen that was completed in 1999.

Exhibition galleries and spaces for the collection, generally without natural light, are laid out on both sides of this extended, curved atrium with the levels linked by a circular staircase climbing up the building around the main public lifts. Ticket desks, cloakrooms, the book shop and cafe are all on the entrance level and are given plenty of space and seem to absorb people quickly and efficiently which seems to be important given just how popular the gallery clearly is.

A major attraction, the Skywalk or Rainbow Panorama, was added across the roof of the building and opened in May 2011. 

The designer, Olafur Eliasson, was born in Copenhagen in 1967 but now has his studio in Berlin - the Institut für Raumexperience (Institute for Spatial Experiments).

The Skywalk forms a corridor 150 metres long and 3 metres wide that levitates above the roof of the building and describes a circuit with a diameter of 52 metres. 

This huge but very elegant structure seems to float above the brick cube … the main elements of the ring are apparently the thin floor and thin flat strip of ceiling or roof that appear to be strung between huge sheets of coloured glass … the colours of the glass running through the spectrum of the rainbow. 

When I visited the art gallery last month it was extremely busy with parties of school students. They were incredibly attentive and appreciative … I was slightly taken aback by how polite they were with occasional rounds of applause as they listened in groups to guides or teachers … but I assumed that a lot of pent-up energy was going to be released by the time they got up to the Skywalk. 

Methodically I worked my way up through all the galleries and exhibitions, leaving the Skywalk to the end of my visit, and was expecting a lot of noise and running about as I climbed up to the walk. In fact it was just the opposite. It was curiously calm as kids and students and families strolled around the circuit looking out over the city talking about the changes in colour as they looked across the ring or just chatting quietly. This was clearly the Danish version of passegiata. And very civilised at that.