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

Bag on Året, København 2018 /  Behind the Year, Copenhagen 2018

Blankt Papir Press was founded in 2017 by the art photographer Julia Mejnertsen and is  described as a nano-publishing house.

Through 2018 they collaborated with 80 Copenhagen-based photographers to produce images of the city and it's citizens that were published as 12 books - one for each month - with a limited run of 100 for each.

The premise was that "Copenhagen has been named as 'the most liveable city in the world' several times and we have seen many beautiful vistas of the Danish capital, but reality is always far more complex."

The photographs were shown at the Machine Hall through the Copenhagen Photo Festival as a series of booklets … each the work of one photograph and with the works arranged by the month to which they contributed.

Blankt Papir Press

Copenhagen Photo Festival - Festival Center Refshaleøen

 

For the Copenhagen Photo Festival, the centre is over on Reshaleøen at the north end of the harbour - out beyond Christianshavn and Holmen - on the site of former shipyards.

Many of the workshops, office buildings and dry docks of the yards survive in various states but the area has seen a rapid transformation over the last couple of years with new restaurants, the food market of Reffen - now here for its second summer - a bakery and flea market along with a major new gallery of modern art - Copenhagen Contemporary - now also in it's second season.

The photo festival is spread over three main venues and each with a very different character as exhibition space.

At the north end is a group of stacked shipping containers with open ends where the works of Franziska Gill and Marco Marzocchi are shown and outside, on scrub land with the footings of demolished buildings, are the photographs of White Rage by Espen Rasmussen and the large images for Living Room by Jana Sophia Nolle.

All these works are essentially photo journalism and all gain from the temporary and therefore immediate feel of the spaces where a more traditional and polite modern gallery could make the images appear detached from the subjects. In particular, the images of White Rage seem even more of a challenge when seen outside against trees and rough grass as if they are in a post-conflict site of destruction.

To the south, close to the food market, the Machine Workshop is a huge space that provides the venue for Censored - the main open show for fine art photography - the exhibition Hail by Garrett O Hansen; a video installation - KOMA RETREAT - by Mathias Løvgreen and the installation Behind the Year by the independent publisher Blankt Papir Press.

The space above Copenhagen Contemporary with photographs by Mary Frey could not be more of a contrast. It's a vast and light space with an amazing roof and all recently restored. These enormous halls will be used by Copenhagen Contemporary for work with schools and for additional exhibitions beyond or rather above the space of the vast galleries below. For the Photo Festival access was by a relatively narrow metal staircase with a straight single flight that seemed to go on and on climbing for ever - almost surreal.

Copenhagen Photo Festival continues until 16 June 2019

 

Refshaleøen as a venue for the Copenhagen Photo Festival

Although there are exhibitions all over the city, Refshaleøen is the centre for the Copenhagen Photo Festival.

The area - with huge but abandoned buildings from the shipyards here until the 1990s - has an incredible atmosphere - part dereliction and decay and part alive with energy as the area is being transformed.

It's definitely photogenic with amazing materials, colours and texture and with strong contrasts between areas of decay hard against buildings and areas being given a new life.

But there is an odd disjunction ….

The area has become a playground for the city. Of course that's not in itself a bad thing because Copenhagen needs somewhere where people can make a noise - the heavy metal festival Copenhell is out here at the end of the month - or make a mess and it's somewhere artists and makers and young start-up companies can find work space with low or relatively low rents for now in this interim period before developers and money men move in and they are driven out. The area feels consciously edgy but maybe slightly hyper because everyone knows the clock is ticking.

There are actually expensive places here to eat and drink alongside a huge variety of foods from the food market … and I'm not knocking any of that … I'm as middle class as you can get and come out here to Lille Bakery to buy some of the best bread in the city … but ……

And this is where my inner puritan kicks in …Refshaleøen was a huge and, for the post-war Danish economy, a crucial industrial site where thousands of men worked and worked hard and the memory of that is fading and disappearing. Machinery, hoists, cranes have all gone with little remaining to tell you what was done and where.

I'm not romanticising work that must, for many, have been hard and grim. It's just that it is now 30 years since ships were made here so there must be fewer and fewer people alive who actually worked in the yards. Should people now still try to understand all that and remember? Do we need to understand how we got here to make sense of where we are going?

If you stopped any of the foreign students arriving in droves on their bikes or any of the tourists off the ferry and asked them then very few would even know that this part of the city had been a shipyard. Does that matter?

My first trips to Copenhagen were after the ship yards closed, so I have no first-hand idea of what this area was like through the 1950s and 1960s, except from looking at old photos and maps  and maybe that is the other odd thing that few visitors will understand … this land was claimed from the sea, became a major industrial area and failed and dismantled and abandoned in just three decades. In an age when we are more and more concerned about our impact on our planet, is Refshaleøen a stark example of man moving in, transforming a landscape and moving on leaving the mess … so a monument to hubris … or a lesson in pragmatism … our ability to salvage and make something new once the old is no longer of use?

And if I missed the shipyards, I do remember the area before gentrification began … exploring and taking odd photographs of scrap yards and wire fences and vicious guard dogs and feeling uneasy, knowing I was intruding, and waiting to be challenged or seen off at any moment.

Again I'm not romanticising that in any way but maybe cities need scruffy land on the edge of regulations and outside planning and controls although, I guess, that is not on the agenda of the politicians and developers.

Royal Run

 

Today, the bank holiday Monday, was the day of the Royal Run. The Crown Prince and all his family ran. It was only the second year for the event but this year, held in four cities, 82,000 people ran either a mile or a 10 kilometre course. In Copenhagen, that longer run was from the centre of the city out to Frederiksberg and back.

The organisation in Copenhagen was amazing because a huge part of the centre was cleared of traffic and barriers had to be set up along the course to keep back the crowds who were watching and cheering on the runners. At busy points there were even temporary bridges over roads, constructed in scaffolding, to take pedestrians up and over the course.

Before the start, runners were marshalled in the streets around Sankt Annæ Plads before entering their race by crossing over the bridge at the centre of Nyhavn and setting off by running through the temporary arch of a starting gate. With so many runners, the start was staggered over several hours but runners waited patiently and with very obvious good humour.

The Royal Run has nothing to do with architecture or design but it certainly has a lot to do with city planning and with a positive and flexible attitude by city councils who have to licence and provide the infrastructure and facilities for such a hugely-popular public event.

This was all about encouraging people to participate and if they do not run already, then to encourage them to take up running for a healthier life and it needed a phenomenal amount of planning and organisation by the city to make the event such a success.

Status:19 - Dansk Journalistforbund - Exhibition Bus Højbroplads

Part of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, this is an exhibition of 100 photographs by professional photographers shown as digital images on a mobile exhibition venue - the PIXLBOX or exhibition bus from PIXLART.

More than 2500 images were submitted by photographers who are members of DJ: Fotograferne … a section of Dansk Journalistforbund or the Danish Union of Journalists … and reflect a broad range of photographic work from commercial photography through portrait work, art photography and photo journalism.

The photographs were selected within an overall framework of five themes …

  • portrait

  • commercial

  • communication

  • art

  • journalism

 In the exhibition bus the images are digital, shown on a number of screens of different sizes and set portrait and landscape, and several images were shown cropped on more than one screen so there was an interesting opportunity to see how the message or story from an image changes with editing.

Shown on large, high-resolution screens the images have an intensity and depth that is rarely there on the printed page … just compare the images in the exhibition with those in the printed catalogue. That is not a criticism but simply the reality of keeping down the cost of printing the catalogue but then it becomes simply an aide memoir.

The large digital images showed strong vibrant colour where appropriate; the smallest detail in high resolution images and the nuances of soft light in the portrait by Søren Bidstrup of Lars Von Trier in a misty autumn landscape in a river valley.

The images scrolled through so there were often fascinating juxtapositions of images that established a momentary dialogue from the contrast. At one point an informal but still formal portrait by Niels Hougaard of HKH Prince Joachim, second son of the Danish monarch, in military uniform, was set, for a few seconds, next to an image by Rasmus Flindt Pedersen of a street in Mosul as people dealt with the bloody and grim reality of war.

It is a good exhibition space that is restricted but that actually means you focus on the image directly in front of you and the space is designed to have some seating to watch all the images on each screen scroll through and, above all, it is designed to bring art to streets and public spaces anywhere where people do not have easy or direct access to art. 

Many - on fact most - of the images are about context and back story - about why or what might or what probably happened next. Many capture just how weird life can be.

 

this exhibition was shown first through May in Viborg.
Status 19 in the exhibition bus is on Højbroplads from 6 June to 11 June 11-19

 

COPENHAGEN PHOTO FESTIVAL
DJ: Photographers - Status 19
PIXLART
PIXLBOX

 

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

update - Lille Langebro

Lille Langebro is almost complete with final work on the hard landscaping on the quay at at each side almost finished.

This is the new bridge for cyclists and pedestrians that will cross the harbour from Christians Brygge, from the quayside opposite the end of Vester Voldgade, to the Christianshavn side and lining up with Langebrogade.

Current traffic surveys suggest that there are around 40,000 cycle journeys a day across the main road bridge - an astounding number - and planners hope that at least 16,000 cyclists a day will change there route to the new bridge and also avoid the heavy and relatively fast road traffic along Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard.

The official opening is set for the Autumn but opening and closing of the new bridge is already controlled from the tower of the main bridge so presumably the wait is for safety tests.

There was a post on this site when the sections of the new bridge were lifted into place but Realdania have since posted a time lapse record of that work over two days when the four sections were delivered by barge from where they were manufactured in the Netherlands and were lifted into place by a giant crane.

post on Lille Langebro in September 2017

lifting the sections of the bridge into place April 2019

a change of sign ….

Back last August, I wrote a post about the new 7-Eleven store that had opened on Gammel Torv on the ground floor of the Stelling building by Arne Jacobsen … or, rather, the post was about the signage that I described then as a travesty.

This week I was cutting up through the square and realised that all the signs have been changed and the original facing above the shop windows appears to have been restored so, credit where credit us due, this a huge improvement.

I would be curious to find out when the signs were changed and if there had been lobbying or pressure on the company from the public or from the planning department.

the post in August 2018

the Stelling building by Arne Jacobsen

 

a reminder of what went up in August ….

a change of view

from the window by my desk - my new view

I've just moved to a different apartment.

Working from home, spending my time reading and writing, what I want, above everything, is a bright and well-lit room but it also helps to have a good view.

The first apartment I rented in Copenhagen was in one of the grand apartment buildings in Frederiksstaden from circa 1900 but was up at the top in a new conversion of the roof so it was the best of both worlds … a grand staircase up, from what had been the carriageway through to the courtyard, but with modern, up-to the-minute insulation, and there was a panoramic view one way across Kastellet and across the sound to Sweden - in the distance and on the skyline - and, looking the other way from my desk, the dome of the Marble Church filled the view.

The second apartment was in a purpose-built block from the beginning of this century, so a relatively standard modern Copenhagen apartment. It had floor to ceiling windows, and from my desk I looked at the tower and spire of Christians Kirke and looked down across the churchyard so a light and quiet place to work.

Here, in the new place, I'm now in an old Copenhagen apartment - the building dates from about 1680 - and I'm in one of the most densely-occupied parts of the old city so it could hardly be more different. At the back, rooms look into a narrow courtyard with the old timber-framed walls of adjoining houses, but at the front, from my desk, I look down on the old harbour so again a good place for day dreaming … sorry … of course I mean a good place to work.

With everything not yet unpacked, there are no plans to move again any time soon but if the next move could be to an apartment block from the 1930s or 1940s then I'll have most bases covered for a book on how to live in a Copenhagen apartment.

improve life in Copenhagen?


At this time of year, it's not easy to remember that Copenhagen is not just a city of tourists and the shop window for Danish design and architecture but is a large and complex city with a diverse population that has the social problems and the disparities of wealth and all the environmental challenges faced by any city.

With the approach of national elections in Denmark, a recent article in the newspaper Politiken, charged the current government with failing to create the proper framework of a policy for Copenhagen.

This was an opinion piece by three leading politicians from the city council …. Franciska Rosenkilde, Chair of Culture and Leisure; Sisse Marie Welling, Chair of the Health and Care Committee and Karina Vestergaard Madsen, acting Chair of the Technical and Environment Committee.

The government published a report for the capital region in January this year but this article is critical - suggesting that the report failed to address the biggest challenges Copenhagen faces and they make six demands for specific policies to "create a more sustainable Copenhagen with proper welfare."  

 
  1. They want a new government to remove the economic straightjacket with an appeal for an increase in funding for the provision of social services and increases in funding for cultural and recreational facilities.

  2. They suggest road pricing and the establishment of green zones are introduced to tackle rising levels of traffic pollution.

  3. The proportion of social housing should be increased by implementing a target for 25% subsidised housing throughout the city and the government should initiate policies to reduce the number of empty properties in the city calculated to be 3,000 homes

  4. A new government should legalise the use of cannabis. The argument here is that it would tackle a serious problem because gangs control the current cannabis supply that increases crime and, in the worst situations, has seen a rise in the use of guns on the streets that are used to settle disputes or establish control of the trade.

  5. They suggest a reorganisation of employment legislation

  6. They call for moves to "Stop Blackstone" … a foreign equity fund that has invested heavily in the Copenhagen housing market.


 
 

celebration to mark Faroese Flag Day

The present flag of the Faroe Islands - the Merkið or banner - was hoisted for the first time on 22 June, 1919 and replaced earlier flags - one with the symbol of the ram and a flag with the Oyster Catcher.

To mark the occasion there will be a stalls and a programme of events including music and art at  Nordatlantens Brygge - the large warehouse built in 1766 on the south side of the harbour - almost opposite Nyhavn so now alongside the new bridge over the harbour.

This area, with the main warehouse, smaller warehouses to the south and low sheds to the west, on the Christianshavn side of the dock, was the centre of Danish trade with the Faroe Islands, Finnmark (the very northern part of Norway) and with Iceland and Greenland so dried fish, salted herring, skins, furs and the products from whaling were all unloaded and stored here before being sold and sent out across Europe.

With a dock on the east side, as well as the surviving dock and quay on the west side of the warehouse, goods could be loaded and unloaded on both sides of the warehouse and the hoists and loading doors and the heavy timber structure of the floors, still visible inside the warehouse, are evidence of the quantity and weight of goods held here in transit.

Around 1970, trade with the countries of the North Atlantic was moved to Aalborg and since 2003, the warehouse has been a cultural centre that focuses, generally, on events associated with the countries of the North Atlantic and the nearby Kroyer's Warehouse has been restored and houses the Arctic Institute and the Department of Eskimology.

Through the flag celebrations and arranged by Felagið Føroysk Træseglskip (The Association of Faroese Wood Sailing Ships) sailing ships will be birthed at the quay alongside the warehouse and it gives a very strong idea of what this area must have been like through the 18th and the 19th centuries as ships loaded and unloaded here.

 

events continue at Nordatlantens Brygge until 5 June 2019

L1022923.JPG

sum of the parts [ 1 ] … the corner store

 

So what should be the first post for sum of the parts - a new series of posts here?

Well … it seemed appropriate, for the first post, to find a type of building that nearly everyone uses; that everyone takes for granted and that is rarely mentioned in books on planning.

How about the corner store?

In the UK, the corner store in cities is often an expanded newsagent and, generally, has cheaper ranges of foods from a local wholesaler. Here, in Copenhagen, the corner store is often part of a major supermarket chain - rather than being independent - and has exactly the same items as their big supermarkets - although this means a slightly smaller range and often a smaller number of each item so they can fit in the widest range possible. Of course, in England, there are now small versions of Tesco or M&S but those are often on the high street or at a railway stations and more to do with opening earlier and closing later rather than providing a local service. Here, corner stores are in every area and often every couple of blocks.

Use google map to find the major companies here, including Irma or Super Brugsen (both part of the Coop company) or Fotex, and you can see just how many stores there are in the city and how close they get to the city centre.

A local store takes on something of the rhythm of the neighbourhood; is usually open early to late and without the corner store the use of bikes in Copenhagen would not be half as popular or half as ubiquitous. If someone has to use an out of town hypermarket, because that is all there is in their city, then it can only be used with a car. Here, the pattern is for people to shop often, shop when using their bike, and that can be on the way out to work or, more often of course, when heading back home from work.

sum of the parts …

 


Too often, when writing about architecture, the focus is on famous or obvious buildings - on the latest or the biggest or the best or on the buildings by well-known architects - and it's too easy to forget or to ignore why everyday parts of our townscape are important.

But, living in Copenhagen and walking around the city most days, I can see that it is the streetscape, the buildings together and the otherwise unremarkable but well-kept historic buildings that make the city such a pleasant and attractive and interesting place to live and to visit.

The architect and writer Jan Gehl has focused on how we respond to our urban environment and, over many years, he has looked at how people use the streets and public spaces of a city. Rather than seeing planning just in terms of the buildings themselves or, and worse, planning as simply the implementation of political dictate - the laws of urban administration - concerned simply with zoning or about how streets and squares are laid out in terms of traffic flow or parking bays - Jan Gehl writes about how people use their cities and what makes a city a good place to live.


It's rare for me to leave home here without a camera and I have been keen to look at and record not just buildings in the city but, because I'm a social historian, I look for evidence that shows how the city has evolved … evidence for not only when buildings were built, but why they were built in a specific way and how they were built and how they were used. And if we look at how and why and when buildings were altered or demolished or look at how and when the layout of the streets and squares changed, we can see evidence for how life has changed for people in the city …. and that change can be either rapid - so within a year or two - or buildings reflect change and adaptation over a time-span of decades or even centuries. 

 
 

Certainly, in Copenhagen, there are important and amazing buildings but, more than in many cities around the world, it is the quality of the parts that make the whole … it is the public space of the streets and squares and courtyards - the areas framed or defined by the buildings and in the streets now it’s the planting and the hard landscaping and the care that is taken with the details and it’s the setting or context for the buildings that together are so important. 

But there’s the paradox … we rarely comment on these elements of our built environment - the context and setting of the buildings - when they are right but we can see something, or often, we just feel something, is wrong when something is done badly.

This is one part of what Jan Gehl talked about in the book New City Life where, with Lars Gemzøe, Sia Kirknæs and Britt Sternhagen Søndergaard, he set out what they called “12 key quality criteria” for good city spaces. 

These were divided between qualities of protection - so feeling safe against the traffic or protected against crime and violence - qualities of comfort - from opportunities to walk through a city to opportunities for play and exercise and then last are their key qualities - ten, eleven and twelve - that are grouped under what seems like a curious heading enjoyment … or perhaps not so much curious but a quality that is either ignored or simply not appreciated when journalists and academic authors write about architecture.

These key qualities of enjoyment are important so they are worth quoting in full.

They are:
scale - Buildings and spaces designed to human scale
opportunities to enjoy the positive aspects of climate Sun/shade Heat/coolness Shelter from wind/breeze
positive sensory experience Good design and detailing Good materials Fine views Trees, plants, water

… so what, in another book, Gehl called ‘Life Between Buildings.’ 

To consider some of these aspects of architecture design and planning, this new occasional series of posts, under the heading sum of the parts, will look at streetscape in Copenhagen; at the details and the outcome or the reality of planning policies, and at aspects of how people here use public and semi-public parts of the city and why well-thought-out architecture of a high quality with good landscaping and good street furniture, together make Copenhagen not just a pleasant but a visually stimulating place to live.

Good planning and good building is not necessarily about doing something that is perfect or even something that fits in - so something conventional or safe - because too often that becomes a matter of simply ticking boxes on a design pro forma but it should be about doing something that is appropriate for a specific place or for a distinct part of the city and is something that is thought through and done in a way that is resilient - which means often that it is something that has been done for the long term - and something that settles in and wears well and works well and, more often than not, that means it should work without shouting at the user.

In English architectural studies "polite" architecture is usually taken to mean the architecture of the rich although, and curiously, few books seem to talk about "rude" architecture.

So generally, in urban architecture and planning, the aim should be for architecture that is quiet and does what it is meant to do without being intrusive … so polite in that sense. That is what makes doing what is appropriate important and surprisingly difficult and, too often, when the appropriate is achieved then it is not appreciated enough.

 

New City Life by Jan Gehl Lars Gemzøe, Sia Kirknæs and Britt Sternhagen Søndergaard, The Danish Architectural Press (2006)

Life Between Buildings, Using Public Space, Jan Gehl, Island Press (sixth edition 2011)



*I've been told by several Danes that they can't understand why the English like puns so much … so I hope that I can get away with the general title of this series as less of a pun and more of a homophone although, of course, I like the idea that, when there are enough posts in this ongoing series, they will have to be indexed as some of the parts of sum of the parts.

Kongens Nytorv

Although the opening of the new Metro has been delayed, that delay seems to be underground because work is moving forward fast on the townscape around the stations. Trees are now in and established around the new Metro station on the square in front of the city hall and this was Kongens Nytorv this morning. There was a station here for the existing metro line but this will now be a major interchange between the old line and the new city ring.

On the square, the hoardings are down and the trees and the paving are finished. It looks close to being opened completely with just temporary wire fencing around the gardens and the statue at the centre.

the recent launch of three new chairs from TAKT

 

Design X Change at Designmuseum Danmark two weeks ago was my first chance to see the three new chairs that were launched a month before by a new Danish furniture company called TAKT.

Not only are the designs new but the marketing is innovative because, from the start, the company will market on-line direct to their customers. By keeping the cost of marketing as low as possible "in a transparent way" and by using sustainable materials, then they can "make quality goods more accessible."

With this approach and by working with a number of established designers, they clearly echo the principles of FDB in the 1940s and 1950s when they first marketed good-quality modern furniture designed by well-established designers to make good, well-made furniture of a high quality.

In this initial launch by TAKT there are three chairs. Design and development took 18 months and the chairs are made for them by the furniture maker Kvist - a well established Danish company.

The chairs are beautifully and precisely made and well finished. By focusing on perfectly-cut joinery with well-designed mortices or pegs or channels to hold the separate pieces together, then the parts of the chair can be thinner and therefore lighter in weight.

Each chair has a distinct character but you can see links between the designs … for a start they all make the best use of high-quality plywood for seats and back rests and the Tool Chair designed by Rasmus Palmgren is almost a text-book example of how to exploit all the best characteristics of plywood. The plywood of the seat is bent down on each side to give it strength and the front edge is simply held in a channel is a front frame in bent wood and the vertical sides are flared out at the back to form tabs that act like mortices to hold the seat into the bent-wood frame of the back.

Cross Chair by English designers has echoes of the classic stacking chair designed by Vilhelm Wohlert in the 1950s for the art museum at Louisiana. The TAKT chair has two h-shaped frames that cross over under the seat using interlocking slots at the intersection and giving the chair its name. The curved back rest, fixed across the uprights, is simple and elegant but what is impressive is the way it clicks into place as you assemble the chair because Cross Chair is delivered packed flat. That click is testament to the precision of the cutting of the joints give the chair a sense of precise engineering unusual with timber. Another very nice detail is that the ends of the cross rails are curved down - to drop the tenon down further where it is housed in a mortice at the top of the front legs but the top of the leg is also just slightly lower so does not press hard against the underside of the seat to give a more refined design and a slight emphasis to the line of the seat by having that space.

The third chair, Soft Chair by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen, has a strong sense of Danish design from the late 1960s rather than the 1950s with distinct and marked verticals - so with echoes of the Ferry Chair by Wegner. The legs are a uniform thickness rather than being tapered and are vertical, rather than splaying out, and there are horizontal stretchers or cross rails between the legs. This framework supports an ingenious seat and backrest in plywood where both are curved sharply round at the edge to grasp the frame. It looks almost like leather draped across the frame but there are clever fixings holding both seat and back in place. Despite the apparent complexity of the design it has strong parts with simple fixings so again it is delivered flat.

Part of the team at TAKT is Nicholai de Gier who teaches at the Royal Academy. He wrote a seminal work on chair design - Chairs' Tectonics that was published by The Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in 2009. In the book he classifies the form of construction for different types of chair and that same attention to detail and an understanding not only of style but techniques of construction is applied to the new collection from TAKT. It is important to emphasise that it is a strong part of the Danish design tradition to reference earlier designs but take them forward or experiment with alternative solutions to specific problems.

TAKT have a good on-line site - crucial for this form of marketing - that links to an 'image bank' with photographs of the chairs from all angles and with photographs of details.

Looking at the chairs as you walk around them you can see respected here a clear aim in classic Danish design to make furniture that is beautiful from any angle.

 TAKT


The display at Design X Change was in a marquee in the great central courtyard of the design museum. It is a very pleasant temporary venue for museum events but the light was oddly flat and not good for taking photographs. The team from TAKT were incredibly patient and let me take chairs outside to take photographs. Please note however that these chairs are not designed or made for garden use.

 
 

Tool Chair

Designed by Rasmus Palmgren from Finland
Beech
natural, black, grey, pale blue, mid blue
FSC-certified wood

delivered assembled


Cross Chair

by English designers Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd of Pearson Lloyd
Oak and matt black
an option is with the seat upholstered in the eco-labelled wool Hallingdal from Kvadrat or with aniline leather
FSC-certified wood


Soft Chair

by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen
Ash
FSC-certified wood

 

Copenhagen skyline

looking north from Amager with the city skyline broken by church spires and, from this distance, much as it appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries

 

San Gimignano?

An application for planning consent to build a massive tower at Nordhavn, north of the centre of Copenhagen, that would be 280 metres high, has just been refused permission but, if things run their normal course, it seems almost-certain that the design will be modified slightly and then resubmitted.

Why is this a concern? Surely the development of the North Harbour is around four kilometres out from the historic centre? Surely any major redevelopment benefits from having key buildings that push the boundaries of design and attract tenants to the development?

Well no … there are many problems.

Once you allow tall buildings and particularly buildings that high, then developers, like spoilt toddlers, continually test the limits. Why not here on the edge of the historic area? Or there on that site to rejuvenate that street that seems to be on its way down? Apparently, all every scruffy street needs, is a new skyscraper.

But there is also the simple and obvious problem that big tall buildings are just that … big and tall … so they have a huge and usually a detrimental impact on a very wide area.

In the historic city, tall buildings, including the church spires, normally mark status and act as geographic markers as you navigate around the streets. They terminate a view or act as a key point on a route along a street.

The problem with most modern tower buildings is that inevitably they not only go up but they also break and disrupt the street line because the easiest way to "reduce" the impact of a tall building is to set it back from the pavement and the line of existing facades and often the cheap bung to the city is a new piazza or 'public space' but that merely compounds the problem.

The ubiquitous use of CAD means that now there is no excuse because architects, with digital mapping and real space surveys in 3D, can and should show the impact of a proposed building from every angle … however far away.

With recent developments, perhaps one of the worst offenders has been Bohr Tower on the site of the old Carlsberg Brewery. It is a brutal and stark block that is over 3 kilometres from the centre of the city but it can still be seen from the lakes and stands at the end of the view along main streets through Vesterbro.

When it was criticised, not long after it was completed, I read, somewhere, a quote from the architect who said it was unfair to criticise the building now because another eleven towers are to be built with this development and the inspiration for the design had been the towers of the hill town of San Gimignano.

Two points. First, I have been to San Gimignano and this ain't San Gimignano and, second, if you see a thug lurking on a street corner, you are not reassured when you are told that soon there will be a whole gang of them.

from the Meat Markets these lanes ran down to the harbour
where land was claimed back from the sea, there is now the chance to put up buildings like the Tivoli Hotel with its conference centre

voted the grimmest

 

This week, the Danish newspaper Berlingske published the results of a poll where they asked readers to vote for the grimmest building in Copenhagen.

With over 50% of the votes, the new building at Østerport by KHR Architecture won … although in the circumstances perhaps winning is not the right word as, presumably, it is not an accolade the architects will cherish.

And it is not even finished.

Lars Kragh, from the architects, defended the design by suggesting that once "there are beautiful trees on the tarmac and there is life in the shops and workplaces are in use and the construction fence is gone, there is no doubt that the experience will be great."

An odd plea. So, the design will be fine once it is hidden behind trees and when people are using the shops and offices and are too busy to look at the architecture?

One critic summed up the problem well by pointing out that, “the building overwhelms the urban space with its size and tasteless façade."

If you are interested …

BLOX, just a year since it was completed, came in second
House of Industry, close to the city hall, was at three
Bohr Tower, out at the redevelopment of the old Carlsberg site, was at four
The Opera House received the fifth largest number of vote.

The Opera House, designed by Henning Larsen, is interesting because it is now fifteen years old but clearly that is not long enough to either endear itself or to become so familiar that people stop reacting to it.

earlier post on the Østerport building

KHR Architecture
Berlingske article