Sunday, 19 March 2017


It was a pleasant, autumn evening. The unrelenting heat of a long, dry Australian summer that left ninety percent of Queensland in drought, had only recently given way to refreshing, cooler nights enlivened with some light drizzle. Were the rains finally arriving? The sun was setting on arrival at Bond University; the harsh light of a warm, dry day was easing into the soft, amber twilight; a slight breeze moved the high pine branches nearby. The air movement must have been sufficient to have been bothersome for the matching pair of entry doors, as one approach was locked, and one leaf of the other more sheltered doorway was propped open with a cloth-wrapped ‘brickish’ bundle to indicate the preferred, well, the only access. Why two pair of double doors? A welcoming champagne stood at the bar now relocated to a more convenient position, with cheese platters distributed trough the foyer/entry area. Groups had gathered around these locations and nearby, chatting generally, or just perusing the place - Sir (Saint?) Peter’s masterpiece, the Abedian School of Architecture, a world of total design: everything had been shaped by the master, not only building parts, but also chairs, tables, cupboards, shelving, and more; everything.

Boris Brorman Jensen and Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss

The Book

It wasn’t long before the visitors were asked to take their seats as the audience for the talk. These evenings were now starting on time. After everyone had settled down, Professor Adrian Carter introduced his Danish colleagues, one an architect/educator; the other a philosopher. Both had undertaken the joint task of curating the Danish exhibit at the 2016 Venice International Architecture Biennale: Boris Brorman Jensen, architect (BBJ); and Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss, philosopher (KLW). The theme of the exhibit was Art of Many: The Right to Space. The talk was to be about this experience and a selection of fifteen from the 130 exhibits that had been taken from those submitted for the exhibition. This limited number was all that the time allocated for the talk allowed. The title of the talk was Five Agendas for Contemporary Danish Architecture - see: Invitation to Attend Had the Danish Government sponsored the travel of these curators to promote Danish architecture in the same way as Spektrum Arkitekter had been? - see: It was commented upon on several occasions during the evening that “Denmark was a wealthy country.” It could apparently afford these gestures as well as the commitment to social and affordable housing, ‘the brand new Nordic welfare state’ - see:

The talk started by explaining its subject, the Danish exhibits at the 2016 Venice International Architecture Biennale that had the general theme: Reporting from the Front: see – BBJ elaborated on the title of both the exhibit and the talk. Art of Many: The Right to Space was simply descriptive of the fact, as well as being a metaphor for matters social. The title of the talk referred to the five agendas that had been identified from the projects selected to be exhibited at the Biennale, as a set of organisational themes developed from their specific characteristics. These were the sub-sections of the very thick publication, (520 pages – one hopes quality has not been gauged on quantity), written by the curators, that accompanied the exhibition. A copy of this tome was on a nearby seat. It was indeed weighty. The agendas were itemised as: Exit Utopia; Designing Life; Pro Community; Beyond Luxury; and Claiming Spaces.

KLW began the evening’s presentation by introducing the various themes. He had written detailed explanatory introductions to each agenda, almost as philosophical treatises, and these were projected onto the screen; but they were far too detailed to read in full. Only pieces could be glimpsed. Projecting texts onto screens while some other conversation is continuing creates a tension in perception and concentration that inevitably means that one aspect of the talk has to be shut out, forfeited: see – It is an unfortunate situation when both the texts and the spoken words are of interest. To overcome this situation, it seems that the text should be condensed so that it can be readily read while attention is being given to the verbal presentation of the talk. A PowerPoint presentation that actually reads the projected text as if others cannot, should be avoided. The success of the situation revolves around a very fine line. One needs to understand the effectiveness of various techniques of communication, as well as the mechanics of perception.

Danish exhibition used models of buildings for the display

The general gist of the direction of things Danish was social equity and fairness: building more responsibly; more cheaply; more inclusively. The formal Danish Architectural Policy was ‘Putting people first,’ a strategy referencing the quote from the Icelandic Poetic Edda, a collection of ancient Norse poems: “Man is man’s greatest joy” - see: A latent idea in this direction promoted by the government is that people’s behaviour could be influenced by caring, quality design. This concept is almost a cliché in architectural circles; everyone in the profession would like this to be so.# It is a complex matter that becomes the argument for supporting architectural effort but it unfortunately involves the suggestion that there is a spiritual, mystical or similar ephemeral link between the creator/designer and the client/user. This latter position becomes the problem in this argument, one that is difficult to support as it delves deeply into personal feelings and emotions, pushing the possibility of parallels, coherence in mind managing matter, and matter mind – if only!

DCM Architects Australian Pavilion

Section through Australian Pavilion

Pavilion on canal

KPA’s Marc Spadaccini Heading for Venice Architecture Biennale – Australian Exhibition; see -

Is this 'Australian"? It looks very Danish: see Copenhagen Harbour Bath below

BBJ took over to begin the more architectural side of things. He explained how the exhibits were selected and exhibited. Images of the Australian pavilion (DCM Architects) and its interior exhibit ( KPA Architects) were shown, as if to touch base, followed by those of the older Danish pavilion, that was really two buildings, one 1970s structure, the other an older classical form facing a courtyard. The pattern for the evening had begun: each agenda would be introduced and three projects in each section would be presented, broadly described to illustrate the fit to the categorisation. After a couple of projects it seemed that things had been watered down to suit time. Very little information on each project was discussed, just the important notes of a broad overview of each were included. The approach was not varied, modified or adapted, such appeared to be the Danish rigour. The overall summary was that there was no Danish style. Was this an explanatory strategy to accommodate the ad hoc diversity in the mix of exhibited work?

Danish Pavilion

Courtyard of Danish Pavilion

Harbour Houses

Brick House interior


Tietgen Student Dormitory


At this point a loud noise from above, the third level of the school, interrupted the concentration of the speaker who exclaimed with some genuine surprise and alarm: “What’s happening?” This was the first speaker to comment, through this reaction, on the poor design of the space used for the talks, the Forum Area that was open to the adjacent studio levels, the main entry foyer, and, through large glass walls, to the exterior spaces too. The idea might appear avant-garde on paper, by literally promoting an educational ‘openness,’ (here one thinks of Murcutt's 'transparent' mosque see: ), but this interconnection does allow for an array of unwanted distractions in a space where presenters and audience have to concentrate on the material being shared. After another loud interruption, and another cry from the speaker, the noises stopped and the evening continued with its explanations of the theme of how Danish architecture and design were serving human beings. It was pointed out that the inspiration had been taken from Jane Jacobs: architecture and planning should be about serving the community; they must do more than 'solve problems.'

Nord Vest Park

Superkilen Park (BIG)

Vester Voldgade, Copenhagen

Copenhagen Harbour Bath

Copenhagen Harbour Bath - in use

Copenhagen Harbour Bath - in use

Exit Utopia: this agenda involved the idea of repairing the damage that modernity had inflicted on the world by re-imagining the future as a more open scenario. The idea was to create a better world with new public spaces concealing old impacts. Ideas included the concealment of drains and services while changing the streets of Copenhagen with new urban, mixed-use places – Nord Vest Park, Copenhagen by SLA. An image of bathers on a boardwalk – Copenhagen Harbour Bath by BIG + JDS - was shown as an example of a new use, with the apology that “This was not a professional photograph.” The statement was a concern as it had been heard before in another talk (Drew Heath: see - There seemed to be an intent to choose only ‘special’ images for the promotion of ideas, ones that framed the subject in a self-consciously selective manner appropriate to the desired or preferred message. As property prices increased, it had become obvious that new strategies were required to enable this agenda to achieve realistic outcomes. New ideas were needed. The innovative work of BIG was shown – VM Mountain Dwellings, Copenhagen.

Mountain Dwellings (c.f. Habitat 67 below)

Centre for Cancer and Health

Centre for Cancer and Health - public space

Nuuk Correctional Centre

Nuuk Correctional Centre interior

Designing Life: this agenda used the model of shopping centre design that manipulated human behaviour for improved sales. If this was indeed possible, as it appeared to be, then the idea could be used as a design rule for schools and kindergartens, and similar institutions. Nord Architect’s Centre for Cancer and Health, Copenhagen; Nuuk Correctional Centre, Greenland by Friis & Moltke; and SXN’s Ørestad College by 3XN Architects were the projects shown as examples of institutions that treated people differently, humanely: patients with more care; offenders in a helpful way; and students with ‘student orientated teaching.’

Ørestad College

Ørestad College interior

Ørestad College interior

Fjelstervang Recreational Community House

Fjelstervang Recreational Community House interior

Fjelstervang Recreational Community House

Pro Community: this agenda was self-evident. Spektrum Arkitekter’s Fjelstervang Recreational Community House and the Tietgen Student Dormitory by Lundgaard & Tranberg Architects were shown to illustrate the possibilities that included car parking auditoriums and other multifunction possibilities. The schemes seemed to use a lot of plywood. Maybe one could argue that Danish architecture was ‘plywood architecture’? EFFEKT’s Regen Village showed how glass houses could be incorporated into housing developments to grow food and promote social good. One was left wondering if the actual food production might be more than what might look good and sound impressive in a talk: see -

Tietgen Student Dormitory - public space

Tietgen Student Dormitory

Tietgen Student Dormitory - public space

Regen Village

Regen Village - public space

Harbour Houses glasshouses

Harbour Houses

Urban Rigger

. . . see below for geometry

Urban Rigger interior

Beyond Luxury: this agenda promoted a new understanding in wealthy consumption that concentrated on well-being and the quality of life. The idea was not to take trees and resources willy-nilly for simple indulgence, but to act responsibly, to renew – ‘to stop the cancer.’ ADEPT’s Harbour Houses, luxury apartments with glass houses on the roofs, was shown as an example of how this ambition can be achieved; along with BIG’s Urban Rigger floating student housing that had sets of containers offering cheap accommodation and services. It was a concept developed in consultation with Tesla. Leth & Gori’s Brick House showed how simple materials (plywood) could provide economical, quality habitation. Strangely the exterior of this project was not illustrated in the talk. Was it too 'ordinary' - not 'architectural' enough?

Brick House

Brick House interior

Brick House - detail

Cleaning Facilities Centre interior

Cleaning Facilities Centre

Cleaning Facilities Centre plan

Cleaning Facilities Centre - the public space

Park 'N' Play

Park 'N' Play rooftop play area

Twenty-four hour access

Claiming Spaces: this agenda spoke about allowing the taxpayer to use schools, hospitals and other public places, by opening up spaces in these facilities to the public instead of keeping them as exclusive zones. Polyform’s Cleaning Facilities Centre was one example of a courtyard being developed as a cleaners’ canteen with a public space above. Park ‘N’ Play by JALA Architects showed how a rooftop could become a playground with twenty-four hour access. SHL’s Dokk1, a place to renew passports, health cards, etc., showed a generous, twenty-four hour plaza space available for public and private events.

Dokk1 interior

Dokk1 interior


True to Danish rigour, the talk concluded at 7:45pm. Questions were taken. Yes, the work was market-driven, but was successful. Novel forms of housing were being explored by developers. It was a conservative market that had to comply with the 25% public housing rule in any new housing development. One problem was the massive increase in land values in the inner-city. This pushed families out, forcing them to commute. Stresses increased and resulted in more family breakdowns. Questions like “What is a house in the city?” are being asked. New typologies are being explored (BIG are trailblazers). New work is matching the cost of public housing; architects are creating new scenarios. The Danish Architectural Policy is a good guide, a good reference to reinforce arguments to gain support for new directions. The policy is a tool used by the State to demand difference from developers, to get them to offer something for the city: spaces to move in; to relax in; to play in.

Mountain Dwellings

. . . compare Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, Montreal

Mountain Dwellings

The new strategies are coming from the bottom up with a “Welcome to my backyard” approach rather than NIMBY. Architects are seen, (rather flatteringly by the philosopher KLW), as ‘magicians,’ offering cheap solutions and new ways of living. The developers are happy too. An agenda has been created to promote discussion, to allow bold ideas to be developed and debated. Politicians are becoming receptive and now advocate for new town planning initiatives. The demand is for liberal housing with fewer regulations; to commit to the social agenda: the human ideal. Yes, there are some architects who just don’t care, and these chose not to submit projects for the Biennale. Does this skew the perception? No, Denmark is not Marxist; it is an unusually cohesive society with five million people.

Urban Rigger interior

Nuuk Correctional Centre site plan

The evening closed. The audience dispersed out into the cool dark of the street-lit night with much to ponder. Denmark was indeed an unusual place; but what had happened to the 1960’s design entity, identity, that became Internationally known and appreciated as ‘Danish design,’ promoting quality items that are still admired, and remain in production today; indeed, that are still being used by Danish architects in their projects today - the Jacobsen chairs; the Poulsen lights. Why is Denmark apparently now happy to both acknowledge and declare a lack of cohesion in design output and expression? Were we shown only a very selective slice of Denmark today: a snippet of Danish life and design that seems random, chaotic, less in control of its choices? Are things Danish now more experimental? What is the real Danish city sense; the social experience? Is it really so very caring of people and place, or does the humanist concept merely offer interesting and different occasional interventions to be published in magazines? After all, the evening was really just a brief overview of a very few selected schemes drawn from a catalogue scheduling the projects in the Danish exhibition. The talk was illusory in that it appeared to hold substance and depth, but was really sketchy, somewhat ephemeral; very skimpy on detail. One hoped that the book was better than this, and did not rely on size alone to impress.

The Book - published by the Danish Architectural Press

At least the talk gave a few references to be Googled: good luck! - see the text above for the details and explore..

Urban Rigger geometry

Art of Many: The Danish Pavilion at the 15th Venice Biennale
2     May 26, 2016 /

Gropius himself taught cabinetmaking, believing that good design across a broad spectrum of goods would improve the quality of life of the worker. Gropius took a self-consciously sociological view of architecture.

Hugh Howard Architecture’s Odd Couple Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson Bloomsbury Press New York 2016 p.49

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.