‘Welcome Home’ at the Danish Architecture Center

17th September 2018

An exciting new building dominates the Copenhagen waterfront and as part of my recent visit I couldn’t wait to take a look inside.

Eleven years in the making, BLOX sits handsomely alongside its contemporary neighbours, The Royal Library, Royal Danish Playhouse and Copenhagen Opera House. At ground level it mirrors the unique colour of the city canal while the upper levels reference the copper spires of the churches that punch through the skyline beyond.

Described by OMA, the internationally renowned Dutch architects who created it as ‘a city within the city’, across its floors you’ll find everything from apartments, offices, a gym, restaurant (I totally recommend going for brunch) as well as a playground. Most importantly for me however it’s also the home of the Danish Architecture Center (DAC).

Materials, simplicity and everyday life

To enter this striking building visitors have to head underground before being greeted by a reception of black concrete, rubber and steel. It may be more New York than Nyhavn but it still encompasses the cornerstones of Nordic design; materials, simplicity and everyday life.

On our visit the opening exhibitions included the big and colourful installation, ‘Multiple shadow house’ by renowned Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in the fabulous Golden Gallery, as well as ‘Welcome Home’, which tells the story of Danish housing and how this pioneering nation live now.

Denmark is as Denmark lives

Starting with the striking title, ‘Denmark is as Denmark lives’ the exhibition follows how the Danish home and the country’s social history have developed side by side since the early 1900s; how a home and a house are two very different things; and how good architecture improves our quality of life. When our homes are comfortable, secure and functional we treat each other and our surroundings better.

Even as early as 1853, with the construction of Brumbleby in Osterbro, politicians and business owners were already recognising the benefits of a healthy home and accessible social spaces for the city’s workers; how everyone, regardless of their status, should be provided with a place to dwell, live and dream.

Light, air and landscape

By the pre-war years Danish homes, built out of the traditional yellow brick, focussed on light, air and landscape, already had that signature balcony to maximise daylight hours and connect its inhabitants with the outside world.

In 1947 the ‘Finger Plan’ was developed, an urban redevelopment project built around the metropolitan train lines spreading like fingers on a hand from the ‘palm’ of central Copenhagen and the green spaces in between.

Once this infrastructure was in place for the next twenty years there was a massive investment in social housing. With a sense of strong community and social impact at its heart, residents were ensured that alongside their homes they would have places to socialise and shop, surrounded by expanses of parkland so, despite being large scale, the estates where inviting and thriving.

Prioritising people

Denmark’s politicians and decision makers once again set a precedent in 2002 by prioritising people instead of wide roads and car parks in their last shake up of city planning. It is as a result of this that Copenhagen looks and feels like the city we know and love today, and stands as testament to why nearly 40% of people in the city can cycle safely every day.

But what of the future? And what social changes will affect our next housing decisions? As we live longer, rent rather than buy, and have less and less space available to us, the exhibition ends by asking us, the visitor, how can we personally have an influence over the future of housing – both for ourselves and the communities we are part of.

Architecture can change the world

Before my visit, in My Blogger’s Guide to Copenhagen, Rikke Brams from That Nordic Feeling said that after visiting DAC you will leave with a new view on how architecture can change the world and I can safely say I totally agree.

Find out more about the DAC, or give their podcast a listen.

Images by Nicola Capper and courtesy of the DAC.

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