From Infrastructure to Public Space*

 

Dronning Louises Bro in the evening from the city side

Our Urban Living Room, is an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre about the work of the Copenhagen architectural studio COBE with a book of the same title published to coincide with the exhibition, and both are subtitled Learning from Copenhagen.

A general theme that runs through the exhibition is about the importance of understanding a city as a complex man-made environment to show how good planning and the construction of good buildings, with the support of citizens, can create better public spaces that improve and enhance our lives.

One graphic in the exhibition, in a section about infrastructure, shows Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) as the lanes of traffic were divided in the 1980s and compares that with how the space of the road is now organised.  

The stone bridge, in its present form dating from the late 19th century, crosses an arc of large lakes on the west side of the city centre and is the main way into the centre of Copenhagen from the north so many people have to cross the lakes on their commute into the city in the morning and then again in the evening as they head home. In the 1980s vehicles were given priority with 6 lanes for traffic - two lanes of cars in each direction and in the centre a tram lane in bound and a tram lane heading out - so the pavements on each side were just 3 metres wide and cyclists had to compete for space with cars.  

Now, the width of the lanes given over to vehicles has been narrowed down to just 7 metres in the middle for a single lane for driving into the city and a single lane heading out but on each side there are dedicated bike lanes that are each 4 metres wide and then generous pavements that are 5 metres wide on each side of the bridge for pedestrians. So the space for cars and the space for pedestrians and cyclists has been swapped around. The bridge is just as busy - if not busier - with an almost-unbelievable 36,000 or more cyclists crossing each day and the pavements are actually a popular place for people to meet up … particularly in the summer when the north side of the bridge catches the evening sun so people sit on the parapet or sit on the pavement, leaning back against the warm stonework, legs stretched out, to sunbathe, chat or have a drink.

 

 

graphic showing changes made to the width of the traffic lanes over the bridge ... taken from an information panel for the exhibition Our Urban Living Room at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

the bridge looking towards the Søtorv apartments on the city side

 

* the title of this post is a section heading from the exhibition Our Urban Living Room and a chapter heading in the catalogue

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

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

The Silo

 

The Silo in May 2015 - work had been completed on the ground floor and the exhibition space was used for 3daysofdesign

 

The DLG Silo was a prominent and well-known landmark of the commercial docks to the north of the city … clearly visible to everyone coming into the city by train from the north and perhaps the most obvious sign that you were close to arrival for anyone coming into Copenhagen on the ferry from Oslo.

A massive and stark concrete block, the tower was built to store grain but with the decline of the dockyard it had been left in splendid and derelict isolation. With the redevelopment of the area immediately around the grain silo, mainly for housing, the decision was taken to retain the concrete tower but convert it into apartments with a public exhibition space below and the scheme that was proposed by the architects Cobe will now include a public restaurant on a new top level to be encased in glass and with views across the city and across the harbour to the sound. 

The interior spaces of the silo but new windows are being cut through the outer walls and in order to bring the building up to current standards for insulation - grain has to be kept cool and people prefer to be kept warm - insulation has been added to the outside and then a new outer skin added in galvanised steel - pierced sheet metal - that also forms the balconies of the new apartments. This outer metal skin is described by Cobe as "draping it with a new overcoat."

One balcony has been installed on the gable end of the warehouse of the Danish Architecture Centre as part of the current exhibition there on the work of the architects but the recent completion and the opening of a new multi-storey car park next to The Silo means that it was easy to photograph the new balconies on The Silo itself as the work progresses.

COBE

Our Urban Living Room, DAC, Copenhagen until 8th January 2017

 

 

photographs of the balconies that are now being fitted - taken from the roof of the P-Hus Lüders multi-storey car park designed by jaja architects and just completed to the east of the Silo

 
 

model for the remodelling of the tower and one balcony from The Silo installed on the gable end of the warehouse of the Danish Architecture Centre for the current exhibition on the work of Cobe