Danish Architecture Dares to be Humble
Event: Five Keys to Interpret Contemporary Danish Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.27.10
Speakers: Marianne Ibler, Architect MA, Ph.D., RIBA — Founder & Director, Archipress M, & Vice Chair, Docomomo Denmark
Introductions: Ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen — Consul General, Denmark; Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIA New York Chapter
Organizers: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: The Consulate General of Denmark in New York
If the 1990s and early 2000s were marked by exuberance and risk-taking, the current post-crash period may be better suited to the humbler, understated work of the Danes. “We are a small country,” noted scholar/architect Marianne Ibler, Architect MA, Ph.D., RIBA, founder of Archipress M, and a country that has often looked beyond its borders for ideas. Denmark’s traditions of well-crafted materials and efficient, function-driven Modernism are clearly defined, as are its progressive social ideals, but most Danish architects have also incorporated external influences, adding up to a national design sensibility that is welcoming rather than nationalistic.
Ibler’s presentation connected contemporary Danish work with a set of distinctly Danish values that, including a commitment to social equality, an appropriate sense of scale, a strong bond with nature, and a reluctance to make dramatic formal gestures merely for their own sake. Ibler’s “five keys” are simple aspects of everyday living: dwelling, playing, schooling, caring for others, and learning. Many of the buildings she discusses, both in her recent talk and in the most recent volume in the Global Danish Architecture series (Tradition and Crisis [Aarhus: Archipress M, 2009], with essays by Ibler, Kenneth Frampton, Assoc. AIA, and J.M. Cava; see “Traditions Resilient Enough for Hard Times,” by Bill Millard, e-Oculus, 05.18.10) are schools, hospitals, kindergartens, senior housing, and other public-service facilities. “Denmark has long been known for its welfare system,” she said. “It’s been looked upon as a kind of fairytale country,” providing every citizen with levels of service and quality of life that other industrialized nations claim they can’t afford.
In the housing complexes and schools that attract Ibler’s strongest attention, green design comes naturally, connection to the earth is more important than skyscraping ambition, and the outdoors is never far away. Schools incorporate ample open spaces to encourage learning both in and outside of the classroom. Solhuset, a nursery in Hørsholm by Christensen & Co., was among Denmark’s first passive-house designs, with high-performance glass and precisely chosen roof angles ensuring energy efficiency without elaborate technology. Ambitious renovation projects have converted a rather regimented 1960s building with conventional double-loaded corridors at the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen to flexible open spaces; an abandoned water tower in Jaegersborg has become a striking multi-use student center.
Projects like these evince the Danish design community’s capacity for applying advanced strategies and daring geometries to quotidian problem solving. The quiet circumspection of the buildings Ibler discussed may represent a purposeful, service-oriented design culture that continues to earn an influence disproportionate to its size.
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