August 12, 2007

Copenhagen 2 (Denmark)

Close to the Amager Strand Beach was the Maritime Youth House by PLOT (now BIG). In line with their belief that architecture should be neither "naively utopian or petrifying pragmatic," Bjarke Ingels and group sought a solution that reached a middle ground of "fertile overlap." Here the site was polluted with heavy metals and initially 1/4 of the budget was earmarked for a clean-up operation to remove contaminated materials. Taking advantage of the fact that the pollutants (heavy metals) were stable if left undisturbed, PLOT instead put a wooden deck over the entire site and recommissioned the extra budget into the building itself, which was faced with its own programmatic challenges. Namely being that there were two clients with different needs: a youth club needed a gathering space and room to play, while a sail club needed space to moor boats. PLOT used the contradictory demands to creatively inform a solution by raising a mesh of deck boards into a hill-like landscape, creating a wavy and winding play surface above while providing for boat storage below. It seemed to be wearing well, much better than the Harbor Bath. Overall we thought it was a practical and creative solution.

Jorn Utzon, most known as the architect for the Sydney Opera house, was born in Copenhagen in 1918. One of his lesser-known projects is the Bagsvaerd Church situated in Copenhagen. It is a long, slender building which opens onto several internal courtyards and its exterior faces are closed to the streets. Natural light was treated as the most important feature of the church, highly placed sidelights span the body of the building and the full length of the corridors connecting different rooms. All walls and ceilings were painted white to maximize the reflectiveness of Copenhagen's limited daylight. Most memorable was the ceiling above the main gathering area, which is shaped with a series of thin curved cylindrical shells forming a sensuous and lyrical space of light. Part of Utzon's inspiration for this space came from clouds. The clarity of this project made us think of Kahn and Aalto, whose projects express a similar feel of humanistic, unpretentious, utilitarian design. A few details we found interesting were the many exposed light bulbs and the custom fonts (numbers, see photo).

20 minutes train journey from the center of the city brought us to the Ordrupgaard Museum addition, by Zaha Hadid. Hadid was one of 7 architecture firms (including MVRDV and Dominique Perrault) invited to participate in a 2001 competition to design a 1150 sq. meter expansion of the existing museum. In addition to more gallery space, the program required a new foyer, a cafe, and a multi-purpose hall. The building is a sinuous topological form made primarily of site-poured black lava concrete and glass. The shape has a strong dialogue with the landscape, it appears to gracefully emerge and then melt back into the ground. The open sides of the museum magnetically pull-in views of the landscape. Zaha's intent for the project above all was for it to be seen as "an opportunity to explore new formal relationships between the architecture and landscape, history and innovation." Her core design strategy, which has been utilized on the majority of her projects, abstracts, interprets, and translates geometries from the existing site to generate building forms. (more on the design process for Ordrupgaard here)

We felt the siting of the project was strong.. it sat comfortably next to the existing 100 year old museum without taking on a competitive feel. Being low and sunk in the ground, and responsive to the surrounding context, the form seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with the landscape. Aya felt this was the first project by Hadid where the level of innovation on the interior was on par with the exterior form. The folding walls presented an extremely complicated concrete pour... two concrete shells with a layer of insulation between them where no two walls were the same and each had a unique geometry. Was the effort worth it? We'd say yes.

"Create the future or it will create you". At the DCC (Danish Design Center) there was an exhibit on fashion design, it was a nice break to discover a different form of media. The power of media and the idea of brand is having a huge influence on what we see most, we were reflecting on the difficulty of generating ideas that are purely innovative and quality forms of work. Downstairs in the basement was an unexpected exhibit, "FLOWmarket. "Every time you spend your money you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want." -Anna Lappe. Aisle after aisle of 'products' were for sale. "clean tap water" in bottles. "symptom removers" in medicine canisters. "inner calmness" in a can. All white grocery aisles filled with row after row of generically packaged products. All items in the exhibit were actually for sale, which added a great ironic aspect. One American family there was caught in disbelief "Mom, who would be stupid enough to buy any stuff like this?" Oh yeah, most of us buy products like this all the time. Check the FLOWmart website here.

Last but not least, we visited a project by Arne Jacobsen, Denmark's most well-known modernist architect. His furniture and lighting designs are prevalent throughout the city. At the Radison SAS Royal Hotel, Copenhagen's first skyscraper, Jacobsen designed every detail from the the aluminum mullions on the exterior facade down stainless steel cutlery used in the restaurant. We found the lobby to be most impressive, with an elegant spiral staircase.

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