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)

• 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)

• 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)

• 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)

• 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.


the entrance to the future of cities congress and exhibition

This week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Futures of Cities Student Congress (part of the IFHP 2007 World Congress and hosted my school, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts). The theme of this year’s conference was “Impacts: Indicators: Implementations,” and keynote addresses were arranged around these three themes. This was the first joint World and Student Congress, which was great because it meant that during joint sessions, students were able to mingle with professionals, and the school was able to host a party and a reception that included both groups. I thought that this was a great feature of the conference…although I do wish I could also have taken part in some of the activities that the “professional” (and prohibitively expensive) conference offered, such as issue-specific day tours around Copenhagen. But it was great just to be able to take part in the student congress. Another major part of the congress was the IFHP Ranko Radovic Student Competition, in which student teams from around the world submitted both questions and answers (in the form of proposals) about the theme, “Futures of Cities.” More 300 students from around the world attended the conference, and the 193 student competition entries represented 35 different countries. The judging and reviewing of the competition entries was mixed in with the other conference events, and the entries were on display throughout the conference.


Some photos from the conference:


the student competition exhibition


all 193 student entries are on display!


attendees during a break/more competition entries


I’ll include more detailed notes from the sessions that I attended below, but here’s a brief rundown of the major keywords and themes that surfaced in several different forums at the Futures of Cities conference:

A lot of talk at the congress revolved around the existence of the many contradictions that this city represents (old and new, global and local, east and west, rich and poor…the list goes on) and also about the speed of development that is occurring there. In the areas surrounding Shanghai, several new cities are being built completely from scratch, and there was a lot of debate and discussion about how this is being done, and how it “should” be done.

Dubai. This one was fairly obvious. Either Dubai or Shanghai was used as a reference every “cities of the future” came up in discussion. These places represent, to many people, the direction in which urban futures are heading, for better or worse. Dubai is a particularly illustrative example because of the nature of its many master-planned projects…they represent planning at its most extreme, and make “stamps” on the landscape. It’s also an entire city full of iconic buildings (as is Shanghai), which has created problems for both living and building in the city (see below for more discussion on the iconic building topic).

Micro-communities. This was a new buzzword for me. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but it was often used in relation to global scale phenomena, such as in the student competition entry entitled, “A Microcommunity Solving Global Problems.” To me, this seems to be another way to talk about issues of where the “local” fits in rapidly globalizing societies, but I’m still not sure as to how small “micro” actually is…what makes a community a “micro-community?” This was a phrase that I heard used many times but not really explained.

Doomsday scenarios. Many of the competition entries were designed around scenarios in which the earth, or particular cities, were facing hardships related to global climate change or natural disasters and had to create new and innovative strategies in order to survive. The winning competition entry, “Trawling City,” was a design for a floating city that was both a production plant for more “cities” and an energy generator.

The irresponsibility of designing iconic buildings. It was refreshing to see several talks in which “practical” buildings were equated with being socially responsible. This was a key point of Shigeru Ban’s talk, and was particularly highlighted in Ellen Van Loon (of OMA)’s talk about their recent competition entry for a high-rise in Dubai: a rectangular building. Okay, it also rotated. But the firm was reacting so strongly against the landscape of “landmark” buildings in Dubai that it felt it was actually creating a landmark by making the plainest shape possible. Please see my notes on Shigeru Ban’s discussion for more about this.

It was really interesting to hear a largely European perspective on these issues. It was also a bit humbling to see how many times U.S. cities were used as the “bad” examples in terms of sustainable urban systems (hi there, Atlanta, Houston, and Denver!). However, references to U.S. cities weren’t all negative, and I was happy to see both Portland’s and Minneapolis’ streetcar systems mentioned, as well as Chicago’s green roof initiative and the work that William McDonough has done. We do, howeer, have a very long way to go, and there are some extremely inspiring examples from both Europe and developing countries out there. It was also very interesting to hear talk at the conference about Shanghai and issues of iconic buildings and city branding, as I spent time interning in Shanghai last year and contemplated focusing my M.UP thesis on issues of city branding.

Below is a selection of my notes from the various talks and conference events that I attended. Where I’ve added my own thoughts, they appear in italics.

“Impacts of Architecture” (Ellen Van Loon, OMA)

• International business prefers the tower
• Dubai is trying to position itself to become the economic center of the Middle East as its ability to produce oil is declining
• Residential land is newly created, as opposed to using what we have
• The city is “one big mess of special buildings”
• OMA took part in a competition in Dubai to create yet another icon: instead of making a traditional highrise, they tried to create “public” or “urban” layers within the building…but left it as a plan, rectangular form (that rotated) – they lost the competition to Zaha Hadid’s design
• Europe is shrinking, not growing; need to focus on issues of reuse
• UNESCO charters, over time: shift from focus on monuments to issues of heritage diversity and cultural heritage
• Ongoing OMA projects: bank project in London, new curatorial design for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, embassy in Berlin, Casa de Musica in Porto…all of these projects have distinct urban strategies
• There exists a dichotomy between historic and generic identities…how do we balance the iconic and the cultural?

I found this last point particularly intriguing – especially in light of the observation about the UNESCO charters. Is there some kind of relationship between what we are beginning to value as worth preserving culturally and this “irresponsibility of iconic buildings?” Will we begin to view monumental buildings differently? Also, “monumental” is only such if it can exist within a field of “ordinary.” This is the problem that Shanghai and Dubai are having…today, it’s technically and economically possible for nearly everyone to build ionic buildings, not just the state. There are undertones of urban identity here, as well.

“Co-Evolution” (Danish-Chinese collaboration: CEBRA, EFFEKT, COBE, and TRANSFORM of Denmark, with Liang Wei of Shanghai)

This was one of four parallel sessions…the others were: Negotiations, Re-territories, and Regional Urbanism.

• “Faced with both opportunities and challenges, we must carefully think about and seriously answer the question of how to jointly build a sustainable future.” –Hu Jintao
• During periods of urban growth, rural populations move to cities to achieve a better (middle-class) lifestyle…in Europe, this took 200 years; in China, the same amount of transition has happened in 20 years
• 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China
• Four Danish architecture firms focused on how to implement sustainable cities
• China will soon surpass the U.S. as the world’s greatest consumer of oil
• China is no longer isolated…it’s connected to you
• Chinese “system of favors” – open system, balance through wholeness
• From “made in China” to “made by China” – innovation
• German, English, Swedish towns outside Shanghai: “copied” urbanism

“Works and Humanitarian Activities” (Shigeru Ban)

• There should be a wider goal for architecture than the monumental building…especially in a time of so many disasters
• Nomadic museum, curtains for curtain walls
• Disaster relief housing: Rwanda 1994, Kobe 1995, Turkey 1999, India 2001

The rough outline of this talk was a walk through Shigeru Ban’s architectural projects…it was great to see the transition through his body of work from experimentation and formal exploration of paper chip (cardboard) as a structural material to a technical emphasis on exploring its structural capabilities to humanitarian use of the material in post-disaster situations. Ban’s first project using paper chip was an exhibition design – he just wanted a cheap material to use in place of wood. From there, he continued to use it throughout his career…and today it serves his agenda of creating good, cheap, practical designs in post-disaster situations. The paper chip is easy to dismantle, move, and reuse. As Ban said in this lecture, the ability of a building should not depend on the life of its structure, but on whether or not the building is loved…that determines how long it lasts. I really liked this last thought. Ban’s talk also resonated with me because I had a chance to take part in a post-disaster community building charrette in Kobe in 2006. It seems that he is able to use design and an economy of materials to respond to difficult situations in a truly meaningful way.

“Urban Identity” (Joint Session: Kent Martinussen, Henrik Valeur, Boris Brorman, Avinoam Meir, Daisuke Abe)

This was one of the joint sessions between the Student Congress and the World Congress. The other sessions that ran parallel to this one were Megacities, Housing Estates, Nature in the City, Shrinking Cities, and Affordable Housing…it was tough to choose just one. Again, Shanghai and Dubai were featured. Boris Brorman was by far my favorite of these speakers…his focus was on Dubai and city image, which I think he’s written a new book about. Most of the notes below are from his talk.

• “Identity” is one of those “open,” often-used phrases/concepts…what does identity mean in each context?
• Shanghai: building new cities…streets hidden behind advertisements… “selling the dream”
• Nine new satellite theme towns, Western historicism
• Public space that used to be on the street in the low-rise city has become contained; it is inward-looking
• Postcard image of Pudong in Shanghai as the “official” identity – what the government wants to promote to the outside world…but it doesn’t have much to do with the actual everyday life of the city
• Divide and confusion between advertised and real – how to establish a “sustainable identity?”
• Design as a tool for constructing identity
• “Kazakhstan was a perfect stage to apply my ideas.” –Kisho Kurokawa…who is representing who? Opportunism?
• Readability of urban landscape…identity in the plan (Dubai!)
• Cities once developed by strong states; now developed by private interests (“Cities are fun!” – Disneyfication)
• Singapore is upgrading its identity/profile with a series of urban “masterpieces” commissioned of international designers (issues of political identity)
• Dubai: new residential developments are stamps on a map: “If planning solves problems, I wonder what kind of question this is an answer to…?”
• Identity by figures of private land, identified by aerial image, not experiential quality – where is the human??
• “The City of the Image”
• Context>Concept>Cosmology…(or, “From Genius Loci to Genius Logo”)
• Symbols can have different referential systems in different contexts
• “Expoisation” – cities become expos (Shanghai!)
• Places as commodities (Dubai!)
• The relationship between identity and physical structure is arbitrary – “empty signs” – can fill in with arbitrary meaning (back to iconic buildings again)
• Berlin (and Shanghai) – changing urban identity through the change of street names

A lot of this discussion made me thing that is must be possible to construct some kind of hierarchy of “contextually responsible” planning (a la Arendt)…I think it would go something like this: stamp>image>experience. The fundamental question is, “Where is the human being?” How is human experience conceived of as projects are designed? In the “stamp” projects, meaning is imposed, not lived or created.

“Futures of Cities: The Global Agenda vs. the Competition Entries” (Sven Felding)

Before announcing the winning student projects, Rector Sven Felding gave a brief address regarding the issues addressed in the competition and their relationship to issues discussed at the conference and those being faced in everday practice:

• “Can our cities survive?” – Sert/CIAM
• Question of survival – three contexts: climate change (physical survival), globalization (survival among competitors), survival of the profession
• Copenhagen’s Harbor Pool project as a tool for thinking about the space of the harbor and the city; a new kind of public space on a “civic” harbor – now provides a chance for visitors and different groups to mix (as does Amagerstrand)
• It is important to always conceive of new types of social spaces (in addition to maintaining the established ones)
• The profession can survive if…it has the ability to understand societal and spatial dynamics; it can manipulate the market; it can combine time, process, and synergy; it can understand and develop tradition, use, and spatial qualities
• Need to begin with understandings and then proceed with design

IFHP Ranko Radovic Student Competition 2007

For more specific information about the competition, please visit:
Here’s a summary of the winning project titles and a brief synopsis of each, adapted from the competition brief distributed at the congress:

Honorable Mention:

The Transformation Towards a “Happy Village:” The project’s concern is the manner in which growing cities “eat” small villages. The project directly addresses the Pearl River Delta in China and proposes a strategy of small changes seen over time in a coordinated process. Focus is on two scales, the village block and the edge, and three strategic interventions (reorganize, add, combine) involve both local neighborhood residents and NGOs in restructuring ailing villages.
Harbor/Harbor: This project challenges the problem of lack of land for affordable housing, parks and free spaces. It proposes reusing salvaged commercial ships for mixed-use development. Instead of being broken down, transported around the world, and removed from a location’s “history,” the shipwrecks become part of the place’s narrative and provide new and needed spaces.
• A 50s Cadillac Automobile Working Musuem: This project, designed for Havana, deals with the creation of a working and constantly expanding museum of Cadillacs from the 1950s in the historic Castillo del Morro. The museum gives new life to the old castle and adds an attraction to the city.
A Micro Community Solving Global Problems: This submission deals with the problem of shantytowns developing on the outskirts of rapidly growing cities. The project suggests a strategy based on a housing solution with integration of water and sewers, which increases residential density and creates new public spaces. It also suggests a new transport system comprised of buses, cable cars, and subways and local production of electricity.
• Textile House Integrated with Residential Structure in Porto: This submission studies how a residential structure can benefit from being part of a public function. The site is in Porto in Portugal, at the edge of the city where there exists a dense area dominated by small-scale industries and traditional housing. The submission analyzes the site and places a textile house (a combined production facility and education center) into the existing urban fabric.
Biopolis: The idea of the proposal is to create a solution to the future of mankind in one single seed. As an alternative to the existing dependency on natural resources, the Biopolis presents a self-sufficient city. It is a fusion of urban living and agriculture, inhabited high-density vegetation, and a genetically designed urban growth.
Eleonas Olive Grove: This project explores the city’s need for expansion and new areas of economic growth near the old center. The site, near the center of Athens, is considered the last hope for the city to acquire a big, natural green core. This project tries to deconstruct the typical block and to redefine a new structure on a larger scale. A mountainous form is constructed on top of the city as a continuous walk filled with public squares, open air activities, and natural elements.

Third Place:

• Paris Tout Autour: This project proposes a restructuring of the Periphique ring road into a new Boulevard Central. With broader streets, a sky rail and a public strip, the ring becomes an area of contact, densification, and livability day and night. Widening this boulevard “edge” will help to connect one Paris (the center) with the other (the periphery) by design of a shared public room.
• Reload the Floating City: In this project a site of major cultural importance, Xochimilco, is the focus of a restructuring process. Here remain only smaller parts of the old ‘chinampas,’ (sown field edged with trees on a piece of land) floating on water. The project aims to recover the old lake and to form a new floating environment of urban public spaces and buildings dedicated to music and performing arts.
• De’Web Plane Neighborhood 2030 – Tradition Kept Alive: The focus of this project is on shrinking or slowly growing cities on the regional edges far from the exploding metropolis – in this case, Singapore. The site is a fisherman’s village, and the program calls for the integration of existing cultural buildings with new service, housing, and workshops, as well as a new public transportation network.

First Place:

• Trawling City: This project is responding to the coming severe climate changes resulting from global warming. It presents a doomsday scenario, where the Gulf Stream is stopped, temperature in certain regions of the world is increasing and the sea water level is dramatically raised due to the melting of polar and mountain ice. The concept imagined to counteract this scenario is based on civic cooperation, mobility, and high technology. “City plants” are constructed to float on the rising sea like enormous Noah’s Arks, containing huge urban societies. Natural power is gained from wind, sun, and underwater rotors. The city is transformed into a ‘plant’ of autonomy and sustainability.

All 190+ of the competition entries are on display at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and are open to the public.

“Integrated Urbanism – Living in the ‘Ecological Age’” (Malcom Smith, ARUP)

• Dongtan: 8.5 thousand hectares, on Chongming Island near Shanghai
• ‘Total architecture’ implies that all relevant design decisions have been considered together and have been integrated into a whole by a well-organized team empowered to fix priorities
• Difference between urban and architectural propositions is time
• “A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time.” –Patrick Geddes
• Principles of biomimicry (Janinie Benyus)
• ARUP principles: authentic (resistance of a generic condition), negotiated (a process of hundreds of years), accumulative (a growing organism), non-specific (leaving significant areas unresolved), accountability (vs. sustainability), camouflaged (non-specific boundaries)
• Three key elements: what, how, why to develop?
• U.S. stats fail! # hectares development per person/miles of road per person
• Dongtan to be the antithesis of Pudong – 6-8 story development (like Copenhagen)
• Research project for China – testing a new paradigm
• Focus on water, social/cultural connections, biodiversity, waste as a resource
• We have most of the answers to be able to design ecologically…political issues are far more difficult to resolve than technical ones
• Beehive: physical and social (environmental vs. ecological)

The focus of Malcom Smith’s presentation was Dongtan, a new master-planned community in the greater Shanghai area. I’ve heard a lot about this project in the past (I think one of my China studio professor, Michael Leaf, even did a design for it). It was interesting to hear ARUP’s perception of “the issues” in Shanghai and to see their approach to building a “sustainable” community in Shanghai. In principle, I think this might be a good project…whether or not it gets carried out or detailed in the way that they imagine has yet to be seen. I heard a lot of talk in Shanghai about “green” building and “sustainability” without a lot of understanding of what that meant in a given context or any proof of what was being accomplished with a particular project. A really good example of this is the exhibit on the third floor of the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum, which is all about how “green” the city is…but is, in my opinion, completely unconvincing (for example, all streets with trees are “green streets” – you get the idea). Anyway, I digress. I wish ARUP the best and look forward to seeing what happens.

IFHP 2007 Student Congress Debate

I thought that this was a great idea for the congress – a debate focused on topics addressed by the student competition entries, and not limited to those projects that actually won. Unfortunately in the session I chose, most of the time was spent explaining the projects…but I still think that this was a great element in the congress program! The theme of the session I attended was:

Urban Reconstruction: Relationships (some quotes and thoughts from the debate)

• “The most dangerous thing for a city is a segregated public room”
• “Our idea for the future city…is to adapt the historical value as a core element”
• “High-profile building can’t solve these problems”
• Common landscape as resistance against monotony
• “I like my home and I want to stay here forever/I like my friends, my neighbors, my family”
• Extending and widening borders instead of eliminating them; making them a point of interaction and contact

“Responding to Peak Oil: Towards Sustainable Cities” (Peter Newman, Murdoch University)

• TODs, PODs, GODs: need to do all three!
• TOD: transit-oriented development (Vancouver, Perth, Portland, Curitiba)
• POD: pedestrian-oriented development (Boulder (?), Copenhagen, Vancouver)
• GOD: green-oriented development (London, Malmo, Chicago)
• “The new world will largely depend, as it did in the old world, on human creativity…this happens when people come face to face…” –Peter Hall
• TOD + POD + GOD: Vauban in Frieburg (office block exports solar-based energy to the grid, have to pay dearly to park a car, 5,000 visitors a day, carbon-neutral development)
• Call for political courage!

As a final keynote address, this was a nice wrap-up to the conference themes of sustainability and dealing with potential doomsday scenarios. Prof. Newman also gave many statistics that aren’t recorded here, but it was clear from his presentation that cities are suffering from our dependence on oil, and that alternatives need to be enacted immediately. This was the presentation in which several negative stats were shown about U.S. cities – it’s clear there’s a problem; again, there are many great European and Australian examples for us to learn from.

As a brief conclusion, I’d just like to say that is was a great experience to have attended this conference. The topics addressed made me think a lot about my own past experiences and observations, and gave me inspiration for my M.UP thesis project. The Royal Danish Academy, in hosting this event, created a great atmosphere in which students and professionals could meet about the topic of the conference. There was a lot of diversity in the program, and there was equal focus on the student competition and the keynote addresses. It was just an all-around great experience.

At the suggestion of one of my advisors, Peter Thule Kristensen, I’m beginning my time at the Danish Royal Academy with a literature review and a quick survey of the projects of a local firm, Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter. The reason I’ve chosen to look at this firm is because Dorte Mandrup has become known in recent years for doing “modern but contextual” really well, and has recently been getting more and more attention for her projects in Copenhagen. She also has a strong connection to Amager, the island just south of Copenhagen proper, on which I live. Amager will likely be one of my case study areas, because it exhibits many interesting contrasts of building types, ages, and functions, and because it is more of an “ordinary” municipality than many of the older neighborhoods within the city of Copenhagen. Dorte Mandrup herself has also contributed significantly to the creation of the Amager atlas, created using the SAVE program methodology. I hope to be able to interview her eventually about both her approach to context in her architectural work as well as her involvement in the SAVE program. For now, I’m visiting her firm’s completed projects on Amager, which is a great way to get a sense of the island and its neighborhoods. The six projects on Amager are described below (please see for more of this firm’s work):


Tårnby Courthouse (New construction, 2000)

an overview of the building (you can see the enclosed yard in front and the “tower” that houses the atrium)

So today I went to visit my first Dorte Mandrup project, Tårnby Courthouse. It’s further south off of Amagerbrogade, south of where I live. It was actually a little difficult to find, as the building is part of a campus of civic/public structures (schools, churches, meeting halls) and many of the roads in the vicinity are actually bike and pedestrian paths and are not well marked. I biked through the campus for a little while, which gave me a sense of its cohesive elements (and it did, indeed, feel like a campus – only later, after doing some research on the internet, did I find out that it actually is designed to be one): brick; long, low walls; “towers,” or taller vertical elements to mark important interior spaces, enclosed yards. I took some exterior photos of the building, and was immediately impressed by the way in which it fit in with its surroundings – it has the long, low walls of the same height as its two immediate neighbors (a church and an elementary school), a semi-enclosed “front yard,” and although not made out of brick, the colors (maroon and white) and simple exterior finished help the building to blend in a bit. It’s actually quite nice that it’s not a brick building, because many of the brick buildings on campus seem to have been built at about the same time (maybe 1970’s?) – the Tårnby Courthouse is clearly a modern building, and it’s nice that the designers didn’t feel that they also had to use brick.

Upon entering the building, I learned that it is no longer a courthouse (as of six months ago), but is now a police station (glad I asked permission before I took any interior photos)! A very nice and helpful policeman gave me a tour of the building, pointing out areas of particular interest (the atrium, and kitchen-like meeting room, the garden), and those that are no longer used (“wasted space,” he said – the atrium, hallways, many of the restrooms) because the building now serves less of a public function than it did as a courthouse. Being inside the building also helped to give me a clearer sense of its relationship to its neighbors – views of nearby buildings were nicely framed, and the relationship of scale from one to the others was quite nice. Although I’m hoping to see some projects in a more urban context, I thought that this building was a great example of how a modern building can fit into an established and cohesive campus context while still retaining individual qualities and a modern feel. The spaces inside were also quite nice – well-lit, many double-height areas. I look forward to visiting a more of Dorte Mandrup’s projects.

framed views from the building: you can see the church next door (photos on left) and the school across the street (photos on right) – the outer yard enclosure carefully frames the views of these buildings from the courthouse

the building entrance/path to courthouse entrance from the sidewalk

here you can see the relationship between the “tower” of the courthouse atrium and the church massing (top photos) and the relationship between the enclosed yards of the courthouse and the school (bottom photos)

the enclosed garden (in the rear of the building)/rear view of the courthouse

exterior view of the atrium space/interior view of the atrium space


interior views and details


Holmbladsgade Sports + Culture Center (New construction, 2006)

the building from the front (street) side. approached from this direction, it really stands out! notice how the upper part of the building meets the abutting apartment house.

This is an extremely photogenic building, particularly the bright green interior. It was difficult to stop taking photos. I have to say, that after having seen photos of this building in architecture books and online, I was skeptical about how “contextual” the design might actually be – after all, it’s a huge, silver, prismatic gymnasium amidst a street full of six-story red brick walk-ups. I was actually quite impressed with how well it fit into its surroundings. They key to the building’s ability to do this is its shape – it is pulled back from the street, and from the rear of the building, so that it forms a trapezoid in plan (the longer “base” being where it abuts the neighboring apartment houses, and the shorter “top” of the trapezoid being the free end of the structure that sticks out. (See photo of plan below for further reference.) The material does stand out, but as noted in the Tårnby Courthouse (/police station), this actually helps. And the shape of the building, the fact that it isn’t a dominant part of the streetwall, really helps it to retain a modest presence. Approached from the west, it’s quite evident (though not overpowering); approached from the east, you can’t see it at all until you’re right next to it. The sports and culture center also abuts a pair of older brick apartment buildings, as noted earlier. The building actually meets the bays of the neighboring buildings as if it were continuing their shape (which can be seen in some of the interior photographs – this results in four “house-shaped” shared walls between the buildings). That the architect chose to abut the neighboring building instead of making a completely separate structure is also significant; nearly all of the buildings along this street share party walls, regardless of their function. That Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter was able to accomplish such an elegant point of contact between the new gymnasium and the old building is quite impressive.


approached from the other direction, it melts back into the block/exterior meeting of old + new structures


detail of material interface/plans of building


the sport center from the back; its shape creates an open space connection to the prags boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path


more material interface detail


viewed from the back also, the building “melts” back into the block, which keeps it from being overpowering amidst the brick walk-ups


a detail of how the structure meets the abutting buildings


interior of the sports center


you can see the shape that is created where the sports center meets the apartment building next door – it’s a reflection of the neighbor building in section/detail of same


interior shot facing in the direction of the abutting buildings


Neighborhood Center Jemetelandsgade (Rehabilitation + addition, 2001)


view of the project from the front; it’s both an addition and an adaptation of an existing building.


the project from the back (alley) side – although the addition is very modern-looking, its massing is appropriate to the space, and it reflects neighboring buildings in its glassy exterior

This project is an intervention within an older brick building using a frame to stabilize the structure where new openings in the brick walls were created. The frame also carries newly added circulation elements, and provides spatial organization for the main atrium space. Besides the frame, the most interesting part of this project is the new addition on the east end of the building. The architects created a freestanding “box,” which accommodates special events, classes, and workshops. Because the size of the box is so diminutive compared to the hulking brick building it’s attached to, it’s hard to say whether or not it’s contextual per se – but it’s definitely unobtrusive. It’s also placed in the back of the building, which makes it unlikely that visitors to the library or community center would actually see it from the outside. When I visited the building, there was a special class going on inside the box, so I wasn’t able to get interior photos of that part of the building (no doubt I’ll be back; it’s a very interesting project). From the exterior, the box does seem to do a good job of fitting in; nearby building facades are reflected in its glassy exterior, and it fits snugly into the pattern of bays of its host building as well as following the setback established on the rest of the block.


the building exterior, facing the other direction/the main atrium space (with newly inserted frame)


atrium space/detail of frame


the addition meets the building/the cube “floats” on concrete columns


approached from the back, the addition is hardly noticeable/view from the rear


view from rear (check out that reflection!)/detail of box

**27/11 update!  I was able to go inside the addition today…here are some photos of the interior:


it’s used for special events (meetings and conferences) – all of the walls are glass, but can be covered with curtains to modify the light in the room.  there’s also a pull-down screen for multimedia presentations.


looking across the addition back toward the original brick building – they connect at the door


curtains on, curtains off!


Seaplane Hangar H53 (Rehabilitation, 2001)


the front of the building – new windows have been inserted into the facade


the rear of the building – new glass panels and doors were inserted into the existing frame structure in order to create a transition to the deck and leisure area outside

I think that this project is technically on the Island of Amager (it’s quite close to Amager’s border with Holmen, the island on which my school is located). It’s more of a straight adaptive reuse project than a contextual intervention, but it’s quite interesting and definitely worth mentioning here. The building previously functioned as a seaplane hangar – the entire area used to be a naval base, so perhaps it was part of that use – and is today the home of a newspaper. The interventions made by the architects are quite simple but powerful, and make for a dynamic working space within the giant hangar. The reuse strategy basically involved using inserted, multi-level steel frame structures to accommodate various office spaces and meeting rooms. Curtains are hung from these structures in order to provide partitions between uses while allowing all of the spaces to remain flexible in terms of being “open” or “closed.” I wasn’t able to walk around inside, but I was allowed to take photographs from the reception area, so there should be enough images to convey the kind of space created inside the hangar. I really like that the reuse design kept the industrial character (through the use of steel frame structures) and the very open feeling of the original hangar space (through the use of light and temporary curtain partitions) alive. It seems that the designers used the simplest interventions possible, and only where absolutely necessary, which I feel really kept the simple but powerful feeling of the original building intact.

entry detail – new glass panels have been added to create a separate and sheltered entry space


rear elevation of the hangar – an outdoor deck has been added as a place for newspaper employees to escape to for smoke breaks, barbecues, and cell phone calls


deck space detail with a view to the interior of the building


interior detail – bookcases used as simple partitions/exterior detail – corner and frame detail of existing building


details of the inserted steel frames with curtain partitions


interior office space


interior office space – simple partitions and added lighting


Workshop Buildling 53A (Rehabilitation, 2003)


This “workshop” building is a former warehouse turned into office space. The exterior of the building was difficult to photograph, since much of the adjacent area is “off limits,” but I did the best I could. The first thing I noticed about the building were the punched window openings, which seem to have been widened from the original ones and fitted with large windows and sliding exterior shades. A new steel staircase was fitted onto the front of the building, leading to the lobby, and a wooden deck to the rear of the building provides an outdoor space for workers (much like at the Seaplane Hangar). The building currently houses a design agency and a landscape architecture firm. The manager of the design firm was kind enough to let me photograph the first two floors of the building. I was really impressed with the quality of the interior space. I recognized many familiar elements from previously viewed Dorte Mandrup projects, such as movable partitions (here in the form of rolling bookcases), glass rooms with curtains for privacy, and the use of the entire height of the industrial/warehouse space to create an open and well-lit working environment. Again, this project was more about adaptive reuse than new contextual design, and much as in the Seaplane Hangar building, it is successful because it uses simple elements to create the greatest effect while being true to the character of the original building.


front of building/back of building


where the workshop building meets the adjacent warehouse/entry stair detail


interior entrance lobby – use of green glass block as a standout detail


the main open space, with tall windows and view toward the harbor


a view in the opposite direction, showing the loft-style second level


another view – notice the glass block again (the other side of the lobby)


upstairs “loft” working space – large windows, good light quality


another view of the upstairs work space – movable bookshelves partition the space


Administration Building (Rehabilitation, 2005)


front view of building (the workshop building is actually right behind this one)

Of the six buildings I visited on this study, this one was admittedly the least exciting (one of them had to be). In fairness, it’s a rehabilitation/adaptive reuse project, and the building that the firm started with wasn’t perhaps the best to begin with. It should actually earn extra merit points for rehabilitating the building instead of tearing it down and building anew (as I’m sure we would have done in this case in the States). Also, this is the only building I was not able to enter. The interior spaces of all the other projects have been quite impressive and inspiring, and I’m sure this one is no different. However, there was keypad access and no reception area within view of the front door. I had to satisfy myself with exterior photographs. The only interventions I could see on the exterior were graphic panels added (?) above and below the windows. This project was completed relevantly recently (2005), but the building is clearly much older than that and is not wearing particularly well. The panels give it a little bit of character from the outside, but this was the only one of the six projects that I didn’t immediately recognize as a Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter project upon seeing it. I don’t mean to give it a bad rap – I’m sure that it’s quite nice inside, and maybe I’ll have a chance to visit it in the future. It still gets high marks for having been rehabilitated at all.


two side views


entry detail


exterior panel detail


view from the north


In conclusion, this was a very informative and enlightening exercise. Although I began by seeking specific examples of contextual design (meaning new design in an existing established neighborhood context), I also came across some very interesting adaptive reuse (or rehabilitation, as they are called here) projects. These are also contextual in their own way, through their preservation of the existing fabric; they are even more “contextual” than the new projects…but new construction in urban areas presents a particular challenge, and I was glad to find some extremely innovative and impressive solutions presented by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter. I was particularly excited by two of the projects, the Holmbladsgade Sports + Culture Center and the Neighborhood Center Jemetelandsgade (the two are connected by another great project, Prags Boulevard). These two projects involved brand new construction within a clearly defined context, and were both extremely successful. The new buildings themselves are simple, elegant, and functional – and unabashedly modern in both form and use of materials. The designers found creative ways to help them fit into their surroundings without “copying” what was around the site, but simply by taking important cues from the surrounding environment and by not setting themselves completely apart. My next step will be to meet with some of the people who have been involved with the SAVE project in Copenhagen, and particularly on Amager. This will hopefully include Dorte Mandrup herself, who I think will be an excellent resource – I can see through her firm’s work that she has great concern for contextual design. I look forward to learning more about the experiences that both residents and professionals have had with the program.

Introduction to Valle project (Original proposal for study):

Below is an excerpt from my original Valle proposal, which explains in detail the kind of research I plan to be doing while I’m in Copenhagen. In brief, I am interested in looking at areas that have been part of the InterSAVE community inventory/atlas production process. I would like to speak with the people that were involved in that process, to better understand what they felt their role was and how their (community) values were communicated in the final (published) product, as well as how values are communicated in the present built environment. I would also like to visit those areas that were designated as worth preserving to see how new development has responded to these environments designated as valuable by communities in order to see the relative success of new urban forms in terms of contextual design. For more detail, read on:

Research topic: How are community values and identity recorded in the built environment? (A series of Danish case studies based on the work of the SAVE program.)

Copenhagen is a city that has communicated its care for the context of the built environment through the initiation of a number of architectural conservation groups and the inclusion of local residents in community design initiatives. These actions address the concern for how the identity of the city is expressed, and the importance of everyday architecture and community opinion in the construction of this identity. In my thesis, I am seeking to uncover ways in which a local community can contribute to its identity of place through changes made to the larger cityscape on a property-by-property basis. To do so, I will conduct research of Danish community design based on the work of the SAVE program that took place in Copenhagen from 1990-1998.

My thesis project primarily involves the two Chinese cities of Quanzhou and Gaoyou. These cities are facing rapid changes in the built environment; these changes threaten to erase many cultural and historical aspects of the cities’ identities that are manifest in the built environment. In response to the rapid acceleration of redevelopment and globalization, many forward-looking Chinese urban planners, government officials, and community leaders are searching for ways in which to retain the identity present in the city’s built form while still accommodating needed modernization and change. The SAVE (internationally known as InterSAVE) program provides an excellent model on which to base new policies or initiatives regarding the relationship of community values and the built environment. Through photographic documentation and stakeholder interviews, I will provide a series of in-depth case studies to show ways in which community values and identity are embedded in the built urban environment. I will also explore the participatory processes by which these can be identified and designated.

Copenhagen is the ideal location in which to conduct this study for two primary reasons. First, it is the origin of the InterSAVE program, which focuses on combining citizen participation with sustainable cultural and environmental development practices. There is also an ongoing dialogue and academic interest in issues surrounding architectural context, as evidenced by the recent conference hosted by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts entitled “The Complexity of the Ordinary.” Second, Copenhagen is a city with several hundred years’ continuity of built form in which urban designers and planners work together with community members to accommodate change. While there are methods of community design participation that could be studied in the United States, the richness of history and the fine-grained nature of the built environment that is shared in common between older Chinese and European cities are absent. Conducting this research in Copenhagen will make for a much more relevant and useful series of case studies.

The product of this study will be both visual in nature (a series of documentary photographs focusing on building materials, massing, and other contextual relationships) and will also communicate the citizens’ involvement in the participation process (by pairing the photographic documentation with a series of stories given by local community members relating their values to the physical city). This will serve both beneficiary groups quite well. For the cities of Quanzhou and Gaoyou (and hopefully many others), it will provide an easy-to-use reference that gives graphic examples of how a program like SAVE addresses built form along with the interviews that will provide the imperative human element. This is key to the study, as it will demonstrate through the sharing of personal stories how both community leaders and “ordinary” citizens such as themselves can contribute to such a process. For the city of Copenhagen, this research will provide a record of what effect the SAVE program has had on the city’s form and identity as seen by its residents. It will also graphically document the ways in which new development has responded to those areas designated in the study. It will show how social and cultural community values can be, and have been, translated into physical built form.

While in Copenhagen, I plan to research and provide case studies for at least three different neighborhoods. I will use the SAVE work and documentation as a point of departure for these cases. The neighborhoods of study will be chosen to represent a variety of built forms, a mixture of new and old development, and a diversity of citizen participants in the valuation and designation of significant properties or districts. My methodology will consist mainly of field observations (through documentary photography) and personal interviews. I will supplement these first-hand resources with documentation available from local institutions, community organizations, and advice from my contacts at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

InterSAVE + SUIT: Two methodologies for addressing values in the built environment

Following is a brief introduction to two of the methodologies that I will be studying in more depth, the inventory program InterSAVE (the international version of SAVE) and the evaluation and monitoring-oriented SUIT program.

InterSAVE (International Survey of Architectural Values in the Environment) is a system of evaluation that takes a participatory and preservational stance toward evaluating buildings and urban structures. The original SAVE system was developed in Denmark in 1987, and has since spread around the world in various forms as InterSAVE (the main difference between the two is that SAVE was tailored toward Danish procedures and conditions; InterSAVE uses the same core methods, but the specific procedures used within the documentation process can be adjusted to fit each particular location).

There are two main categories within the InterSAVE survey: “developed structure” and individual building. While the latter category is quite self-explanatory, developed structures are more broadly defined and might include such things as a significant grouping of buildings, a city square, a street, or the placement of an entire town within a landscape. The three basic criteria for InterSAVE assessment are architectural observation, historical analysis, and topographical investigation; these assessments take place at three levels within the urban or townscape setting. These levels are dominating features (comprehensive spatial patterns at the scale of the town), building patterns (special districts or distinctive urban fragments), and urban elements (individual details of the urban fabric, such as squares). The three levels and three criteria can be organized into a matrix for purposes of evaluation. The inclusion of the developed structure category is actually one of the most distinguishing features of the InterSAVE program; few other preservational methodologies include such a large-scale and broad interpretation of elements that may be included in architectural inventories. Individual buildings are assessed based on the following criteria: architectural value, cultural/historical value, environmental value, originality, and technical state.

One of the most critical features of InterSAVE is the creation of a dialogue about what a particular urban artifact or building means at both the individual scale and at the developed structure scale. A single building, for instance, could be extremely important as part of the urban pattern, but be relatively unimportant in its own right. The coexistence of the two levels of assessment encourage discussion and debate about what is important, and why it is important. The methodology recognizes different levels of meaning of components of the built environment.

The assessment process itself consists of three steps:

1) The preliminary investigation, in which information on the topographical, historical, and architectural characteristics of the region in question are carried out. In this phase, community members are openly invited to share what they value about their community, and to give suggestions for further study and investigation. This part of the process is considered “open,” and community members are encouraged to attend meeting and to bring with them items that speak of community value (photos, maps, drawings, etc.); the community members then create an “organized tour” in order to introduce the neighborhood or municipality in question to the expert members of the survey team.

2) The fieldwork, in which features are evaluated as developed structures and individual buildings by a team of surveyors trained in the InterSAVE methodology. The evaluations are recorded as text documents formatted specifically for the survey, and are supplemented with photographs.

3) The publishing of a preservational atlas, which provides an illustrated summary of the fieldwork and investigatory findings. The community members who took part in the assessment author a note at the end of the document that indicates their desires for future developmental or preservational direction in the community. The atlas is meant to be considered as “open cartography,” that is, not as a plan or a blueprint for preservation, but as a jumping-off point for discussion about community values and future developmental directions.

(Note: The preservational atlases are produced with the help of a subsidy from the Danish government, and their production was originally initiated by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy. In recent years, the municipal atlases have changed somewhat from their original format and intent; they are now known as “cultural atlases,” and have abandoned much of the methodology of the original InterSAVE program.)

For more information on InterSAVE, please see:

SUIT (Sustainable Development of Urban Historical Areas Through an Active Integration Within Towns) is a project that uses the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Enviromental Assessment (SEA) procedures to encourage a culture of long-term, active preservation of cultural value in the built environment.

SUIT recognizes that in order to conserve the richness and diversity of European city life, a different approach needs to be taken to the urban environment than those taken when conserving monumental built heritage. It recognizes that urban environments are dynamic, in need of ongoing private action and investment, and need to be continuously involved in cycles of sustainable development activity.

The SUIT project focuses specifically on the “urban fragment,” which it defines as “the area of the city suitable for establishing a long-term management strategy.” The area must exhibit coherence, need not be physically continuous, and it should have an acknowledged existence as a recognizable entity, even at the local level. The project assesses the heritage value of such environments by referring directly to local cultural groups and cultural values; the focus is on the inhabitants of the urban fragment, and the goal is “active conservation.”

The role of public authorities in the SUIT project is to stimulate private investment and action, improve quality of life, steer and coordinate activities, and to monitor the cumulative effects produced by actions on the urban fragment.

The EIA/SEA procedures embedded within SUIT encourage the participation of both the public and experts in an iterative process of creating development strategies. Among the methods and tools developed for SUIT with the intent of involving public participation are field survey methodologies, visualization techniques, and other participatory methods. The EIA/SEA procedures also provide a starting point for the ongoing and active management of heritage values within urban fragments.

For more information on SUIT, please see:

Beginning directions for research:

I had a great initial meeting with my advisors at the Royal Danish Academy, Gregers Algreen-Ussing (inventor of the InterSAVE program) and Peter Thule Kristensen (organizer of the 2006 Complexity of the Ordinary conference). We talked a bit about InterSAVE, its history in Denmark and elsewhere, and the development of the more recent but related SUIT program. I am extremely interested in some of the issues addressed in both programs (community participation, generating awareness of community and community values through active mapping and discussion) as well as characteristics specific to each program (InterSAVE: the contrast and potential for conflict between the two scales; SUIT: ongoing project monitoring, the consideration of the “urban fragment”). I will be keeping these issues in mind as I begin to explore the city, investigate projects, and talk with participants in the InterSAVE program. I look forward to hearing how community members felt about their participation in the program, and how their experience at the time may or may not relate to the present built environment in Copenhagen. I am interested in finding out in what capacity the preservational atlases are used, and by whom. An interesting point that Prof. Algreen-Ussing brought up was that sometimes, once we map something, or study it closely, we change it. Put another way, making a community aware of what it values, delimiting and defining it, may cause changes in the way the community sees itself and its values. Sometimes that value is marketed or emphasized more strongly after it has been published as a definable entity, thereby causing values to change. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to preserve an endangered environment without giving it a name and a boundary. Are the atlases constructive in that they promote awareness and discussion, or destructive in that they change a community’s own perception of itself and its values? My initial guess is that I will find evidence of both. My initial directions for research, beyond further research on InterSAVE and SUIT, will involve interviewing those involved in the InterSAVE process, both expert and local, and talking about their experiences. I will also be visiting some newer architectural projects in Copenhagen and looking at how new development is responding to some of the older areas that were inventoried in the Danish SAVE atlas series.

As an added note, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Dong Wei, an urban planner, architect, and Vice Dean of the School of Architecture at Southeast University in Nanjing, in Copenhagen last week. Dong Wei is a former colleague of my University of Washington advisor, Prof. Daniel B. Abramson, and has worked in the city of Quanzhou (where my thesis work is based). Dong Wei happened to meet Prof. Algreen-Ussing on a train recently, and having been attending a workshop in Trondheim, he decided to stop by the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen to learn more about InterSAVE from Prof. Algreen-Ussing. We discussed the possible applicability of the principles of InterSAVE in the Chinese context (some work has already been done in Lhasa, and has been published at “The Lhasa Atlas”). This was a very exciting meeting for me, as it was extremely relevant to both my thesis work and my Valle project. Dong Wei invited us to attend the 2008 World Urban Forum conference that he is organizing, which will be hosted in Nanjing next October.

goddag, kobenhavn!

June 18, 2007

it’s been one week in copenhagen…


This is gammel dok, once warehouse, now home of the Danish Architecture Center. This is my initial (of one week’s impressions) favorite building in the copenhagen harbor area (if for nothing else, because of the complex window pattern on the harborside facade…what kind of crazy interior/industrial processes could have generated such a facade??). It’s a prime example of the refitting and reuse of old industry warehouses in the copenhagen harbor that are no longer needed for industrial purposes (my advisor here has informed me that an overwhelming number of architecture projects in copenhagen are actually adaptive reuse of industrial buildings, not new construction)…which relates nicely to some of the themes I’ll be focusing on while i’m here: contextual design in “ordinary” environments, adaptation of old buildings to fulfill new functions, and evidence of community or civic values as shown through selective preservation and reuse.


Some more views of gammel dok from across the harbor.