Days 022-028 – A dose of Denmark

Edition of the week of the basic course: featuring; a daring quest for berries, oddly shaped starlings and a very *extra* building

Day 022

I am currently living with a host family on Amager Island, which is still in the city of Copenhagen but has a more residential, not quite suburban feel. One of the advantages of my location is that I am very close to Amager Fælled, a large park and nature reserve. Wandering through this wooded capsule is always a fun mini-adventure with dozens of paths and trails to navigate, edible black berries to find, and a surprise for Scottish Highland cows. The park also reminds me a lot of my home and the southern Minnesota river valley I grew up in.

This sketch shows a specific path with a wood on the right and a green fence, telltale sign of a construction project, on the left. The fence surrounds a new development project that will include more high-density housing. More housing and increased density are almost always needed in cities. However, this project is a controversial issue. Many are upset about the destruction of much of Copenhagen’s coveted and protected green space. As a result, this stretch of fence has a fair amount of graffiti containing content not approved by DIS.

Day 023

During my walk through Amager Fælled, I noticed that blackberry season was still in full swing and that several patches of berries were still laden with tasty morsels. In preparation for the week of basic lessons, I wanted a Sunday of relaxation, so I embarked on a daring and dangerous mission, armed with the best basic aspirations of Tupperware and cottage.

My enemy was highly skilled in the art of guerrilla warfare, so I had to search dozens of smaller berry plots that only fetched a handful of prizes each. It took a while, but after honing my senses and taking the paths less traveled, I managed to fill my medium-sized Tupperware and return home triumphant. The sketch here shows some of my loot. Most of the other berries were baked into scones, which, although dry (I’m still getting used to a new oven and you can’t win every battle), go great with coffee and a restful Sunday.

Day 024

Core Course Week: A week at DIS when regular classes are canceled so that we can focus on our “core course”. This involves two days of site seeing in Copenhagen followed by three days of visiting other cities in Denmark. Traditionally, the core course week, CCW, is characterized as instructive, exciting and exhausting.

In my architecture studio, we are currently working on the design of a harbor bath that gives Copenhageners easy access to water for swimming and launching kayaks. For mid-project inspiration, we spent our first day of CCW visiting existing harbor baths and recreational aquatic centers in the area. This quick sketch was based on a photo I took during the tour. It shows one of my classmates sketching above the Maritime Youth Center, a beautiful wooden center that has been modeled after the shape of the waves.

Day 025

On our second day of CCW, we took a ferry to Sluseløbet Harbor and chatted with the co-founder of MAST, a studio specifically focused on floating architecture. Taking the ferry involved a long wait and was probably less convenient than taking the bus or train, but given the subject of our visit, we felt it was necessary. The ride gave us a better appreciation of the history and culture of the port and also allowed me to take some reference photos which became the basis for this sketch.

On an unrelated note, my new dream in life is to run a houseboat cafe called The hungry duckling where a friendly herd of mallards can climb onto the deck and join customers eating outside.

Day 026

This room may not look familiar to you, but it is an interior exhibit of the Vadehavscenteret, a building I designed on day 008. I returned to this beautiful building with a group of architecture students as part of CCW. This room was my favorite exhibit on my first visit and it still is after my second impression.

Every year, starlings migrate through western Denmark in huge groups. When they all land in the fields near Ribe to roost for the night, they create a natural wonder dubbed the “Black Sun”. Despite our impromptu best efforts, we weren’t able to see the black sun in person (starlings don’t seem to grace DIS routes), but this art exhibit/installation mimics natural phenomena. The tiles hang in an ascending path to a skylight in an otherwise plain white room. A recording of a flock of birds taking flight is played around the room and the tiles darken in sync with the sounds to recreate the experience of the birds flying overhead. To quote master lyricist Eels, “I love birds,” so this serene exposition will always be a favorite.

Day 027

This is an outdoor open-air sketch of the Tirpitz Museum, a short drive from Denmark’s most westerly point and located in what my studio teacher called ‘the land of the hobbits’. The landscape includes rolling hills, tall grass, subtly colored moss, and sparse patches of compact trees and shrubs. It could be considered a humble landscape, but it is embraced by its inhabitants. Thatched roofs are a legal requirement and new developments on virgin land are virtually prohibited.

I love the pride and attention the Danes have in this landscape adjacent to the county and I love the way this building works with it. The sloping green roofs mimic the surrounding hills and the corten steel edges and railings create firm boundaries that still blend with the site due to the color and texture of the steel’s patina. The concept of the building also reminded me of my studio friend’s final project last fall. It immediately took me back to long nights of making cheese jokes and drinking copious amounts of tea.

I was less impressed with the exhibits and interior of the museum which were well done but leaned towards gimmicks. Don’t get me wrong, the whole building was well designed. But the interior couldn’t compare to the way the building’s exterior blends and blurs as you weave through the hills and grasses of western Denmark.

Day 028

Another museum full of colors and vegetation, but extremely different and which leaves me with much more mixed emotions. This is part of the HC Anderson Hus in Odense on the island of Funen. It’s a sprawling, whimsical building in the center of one of Denmark’s largest cities. I had seen the exterior of the building before, but this was my first time inside and I was quite excited to find out what the building was hiding. The entire complex uses increasingly elaborate means to depict the life and work of Hans Christian Anderson. It starts with simple illustrations, audio clips and a handful of artifacts and ends with a huge underground hall filled with interactive exhibits to immerse you in some of its famous tales. In a word, it was In addition.

The experience was interesting, to say the least, and even if you disagreed with the tone the building was going to set, it would be hard to deny that they nailed it. But there were elements that did not suit me. Part of this elegant site was a garden, below street level, which resembled a fairy tale setting and let natural light into the lower level of the building. But it was unreachable. Each time you walked through a doorway in this attractive landscape, you encountered a printed sign; “emergency exit only, the alarm will sound.” Most of my group noticed this, and many of us were upset by our unfulfilled visions of weaving seamlessly between highly curated exhibits and a serene garden.

My mixed feelings about the site led me to do another two-part drawing, create the line art inked on the site, and save the color I knew it needed for another time. Adding watercolor, I thought. At the museum, a recurring thought I had was that’s cool and all, but it seems a bit too much for a dude. It was hard to imagine justifying a building like this and the budget that had to go alone with it. This line of thinking is undeniably influenced by my identity as an American focused on public interest design. It’s hard to dissociate my way of thinking about projects from my frame of reference of America or Minnesota as a site. This positioning is not at all useful for evaluating projects built in a country with more encompassing and established safety nets for its citizens. This line of thinking naturally bled into a well-established investigation on my part. Do we have the right to create indulgent happiness when iniquity exists? I didn’t get any answers from my painting, but I was left with the lingering thought that, despite everything, I found this building incredibly beautiful.

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