I had a great meeting last week with one of my advisors, Peter Thule Kristensen (Gregers is in Italy until November). We talked about my first draft of interview questions for those who have been involved with the SAVE program here in Copenhagen. I expressed my desire to speak to professionals as well as those who volunteered in the program as sources of “local knowledge.” I’d really like to get stories from participants – about what the participation process meant to them, how successful they perceived it to be, and what changes they feel it brought about in their neighborhood or in perceptions of their neighborhood. We decided that I should create two separate questionnaires, one for professionals and one for volunteer participants, since the roles of the two groups in the SAVE process were quite different. Also, although I had started with a long-ish list of rather specific questions (in part adapted from some earlier interview research I had done), Peter encouraged me to limit the questions to five or six per interviewee and to keep them more open-ended. I liked this suggestion, because I really am more interested in hearing stories…in other words, the kinds of responses that I am most likely to get from more open-ended questions.

The goals of the interviewing are, briefly:

  • to get a story – the interviewee’s personal experience with SAVE
  • to understand the individual’s attachment to and/or perception of the neighborhood
  • to find out about changes that have occurred in the built environment since SAVE -opinions/awareness
  • to get opinions about the relative success of SAVE (particularly the participatory aspects) or lasting influences
  • general reflections on experience and hopes/directions for the future
  • conception/understanding of the area surveyed: characteristic features? what is special?

The meeting with Peter also made me think about some of the assumptions that I’ve brought into this project – this is one of the reasons for running my questions by my advisers before contacting my interviewees – particularly, some thoughts that I had about neighborhood identity in Copenhagen. Because of the way the SAVE atlases were produced, one per neighborhood, I had assumed somewhat that these neighborhoods were recognizable as urban units apart from the SAVE survey (I know that living in Seattle, with its very strong sense of neighborhood identity has colored my perception somewhat). Peter suggested that Copenhagen residents may not identify strongly with a particular neighborhood, and that the boundaries of different “areas” are less recognizable in everyday life. The SAVE survey needed some way of splitting up the work and data, so the atlases were made for particular neighborhoods. (It seems that the neighborhoods may just be administrative districts and not necessarily socially, economically, or otherwise definable areas.) In any case, this information doesn’t really change my project, but it does help me with my interview question design. I’m beginning the interview process by contacting professionals involved in the creation of the Valby and Amager atlases (and hopefully also the Norrebro folks eventually). My advisers have been able to provide me with connections to start with for those two neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods fit with my desire to explore the more physically eclectic and “ordinary” areas of Copenhagen. More soon on the interviews!

On a separate note, I’ll be starting a Danish language course this week at the Center for Sprog og Kompetence in the Norrebro neighborhood. It’s about time to start getting a better handle on Danish pronunciation…!


for more photos…

October 9, 2007


for more photos of copenhagen’s built environment, and other urban images, please see my flickr page:


creative systems

October 5, 2007

another great conference at the royal danish academy of fine arts!


part of the ‘creative systems’ exhibition

This conference focused on “systems” – both as methodologies (as in research), and as technologies (as used in practice). The creation of systems is an inherent part of architectural design, and they influence the processes we use and the resultant forms. As technology is changing, so are the systematic possibilities available to us – this coference looked at systems as “challenges” in the creation of architecture; they are phenomena that need to be understood and applied carefully and with understanding. The conference was hosted by CINARK, the Center for Industrialezed Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture. The four speakers were chosen to showcase the development of new systems as positive forces in the creation of architecture. Their aim was, to quote the conference brief, to discuss how “innovative technological or material systems can generate new ways of thinking and new approaches in working with architecture.” I found the discussion extremely intriguing – and on quite a different trajectory than the previous conference. My notes from “Creative Systems” are below:



“Research in Practice”
Stephen Kieran (Kieran Timberlake) http://www.kierantimberlake.com/home/index.html

• Place + purpose + people (beautifully crafted architecture
• Ever-widening gap between: ideas/intention and form/substance…what is in that gap?
o Increasing industrial productivity, but decreasing construction productivity
o Decline in the quality of building construction
o Environmental issues
o Building systems once accounted for 5% of total project cost; now account for 50%
o Change in amount of control over project by architects/contractual agreement
o No longer a proportional relationship between quality/scope and cost/time
o From “weaving” to “quilting”
• How do deal with this gap? (“Acts of design”)
o Architects should be contractors
o Get rid of paper (full of contradictions) – parametric modeling w/embedded information
o Focus on quality of process (need to monitor and learn in addition to planning and doing
• “Loblolly House” – Chesapeake Bay
o Building as experiment
o Treehouse – elevated on piles (on coast)
o “Duck blind” – focused toward the water
o “Of nature” rather than “in nature”
o Elements of the site translated into form of house
o Designed the supply chain: offsite/on-site organization in tiers of suppliers
o Building systems acts as filters (as opposed to envelopes)
o Monitors in façade



“Innovation in Production – Developing Fabric-Formed Concrete Structures”
Mark West (C.A.S.T) http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/architecture/cast/

• Playing with analog materials
• Formwork of fabric instead of wood – less material, beautiful resultant forms
• Fabric forms enable loss of extra mix water – makes for stronger concrete, better surface quality
• Flat fabrics, geometry created by settling, shifting of concrete
• Reduction of material – new levels of complexity and beauty from naturally derived forms
• Also see works by Kenzo Unno
• Budged as an important editor (unlimited budget = terrible architecture)
• “If it’s not beautiful, it’s not sustainable…because who is going to want it?”



“The Technical Reconstruction of Architecture in the Information Age”
Ludger Hovestadt (CAAD) http://wiki.arch.ethz.ch/twiki/bin/view/Front/ArticleFrontPage2

• Easy to put architecture into the computer – how to we get it out? (“Back to reality”)
• Complex system design, design to production, ambience/intelligence
• Fritz Haller: Searching for the generic infrastructure of architecture
• Infrastructure becomes narrative
• “The medium is the message.” –Marshal McLuhan
• The content remains steady; the representation changes
o The end of the devices – from device to personal gadget: sensors and actuators; need a balance of control and resistance to create a narrative, a story
o The technical image – need to handle the ‘deep structure’ of architecture to get physical results – new forms are avant-garde, formally – we have to “catch” them structurally



“From Craft to Production: Technology Transfer in Extreme Textiles”
Matilda McQuaid (Cooper-Hewitt) http://www.cooperhewitt.org/COLLECTIONS/textiles.asp

• Removal from area of expertise to expand one’s thought processes – professional “in-between” areas
• Disruptive practice – “thinking outside the box”
• “Smart textiles” – ability to sense environment and respond appropriately
• Maggie Orth/International Fashion Machines
• Need of sharing across professions/collaboration for innovation
• Re-education as to new possibilities
• 80% for narration/20% for functionality
• Disruptive thinking among experts – what about the users?
• Idea of a team: Experts + users


Final Discussion – Creative Systems

• Need to look beyond specialization
• Risk of change (particularly in building)
• Moving research laboratory as a future for project/office organization
• Complexity – growth of complexity – how to handle it? Programming? Intuitive systems?
• Interdisciplinary collaboration as a way of knowing more than you could ever know yourself
• Aesthetics: Potentials for beauty in the new systems/relationship between beauty and economy
• Innovation: Can’t just be “new;” needs to be better – what is the reason for the new? Experiential vs. quantifiable
• Why is it so difficult to get an idea that is modest, but is not “business as usual” to be accepted? – Communication is important – talking to people with different interests, and talking to people about ideas in different ways
• Need to create space for cross-disciplinary communication and interaction
• In giving something a name, you’ve “locked” it; need to break it down…



louis kahn quote used in the exhibition

the creative systems conference, like future of cities, was great – it was one day packed full of speakers, but they were all really interesting and the topics fit together really well despite the speakers’ quite varied backgrounds. anne beim, the ph.d student who put this conference together, did a great job of choosing the topics and organizing everything. during the final session, when all four speakers met as a panel, there was some fantastic discussion about new materials, the use of technology in design, and what “innovative” really means – and why we are continually striving to innovate. it was also brought to attention that some of the speakers are striving for a similar outcome (like the “naturally” engineered shapes of mark west’s concrete columns and the inflated metal structures made by CAAD), while taking extremely different approaches. this allowed them to discuss the ins and outs of various systems of productions and methods of working. the conference organizers have promised that the discussions will be published eventually; i think it would make for some really inspiring reading material for both students and professionals.