Sunday, September 28, 2008
So, Copenhagen is considered the happiest city in the world. Why? Well, I have my suspicions that it has something to do with bicycles. And they are everywhere here. One of my happiest times of this trip is being able to hop on a bike and ride around the entire city looking at neighborhoods, buildings, and whatever else may draw my attention. Of course, the city is smaller than, say, Cairo, but there is a bike culture here. During rush hour in the morning, it is bikes that are backing up in the lanes, not so much cars. It is crazy, but beautiful. And, bikes have been innovated to do many other things that cars typically do: move children, goods, and a bit of everything in between. I think a lot of this has to do with innovation and commitment from many levels of society, industry, and government. I hope we can learn from Denmark. The connection to the high price of gas is telling...
”This is a themepark, but you have to figure out your own theme.”
I went to
My first arrival into Christiana was that of a different place. As soon as cross the threshold of the formed by the old army barracks building on Prissengrade Street, and enter under the sign that says,”Welcome to Christiana,” (on the other it says, “You are now entering the EU”), something shifts. The sounds are different, the sights are different, everything is just a little different. Visually it is a little more chaotic, not too much though. The beautiful rigidity of the old historic tight urban fabric shifts to a more open space and flowing space, with boundary edges littered with graffiti, unkempt green growth and truly diverse mix of people. And that is one of the most interesting things about this place. Everyone is here. It was in my guidebook, I have seen it in tourist maps, etc. For a place that began as an alternative, drug using, hippie, revolt community, it is pretty well integrated to an extent. In most other places, outsiders would be afraid to even set foot in place like this, but not in Christiana. Its survival depends on the openness and integration of everyone except, mainly the police. But, its openness does not just hinge on survival, is very much at the heart of this once described ‘social experiment.’ Anyone is free to wander around the entire area. Having been spared the traditional development of most of the rest of the city, you find yourself in a weird mix of rundown historic army buildings and the, before you know it, you feel like you are in a rural area, with funky quirky self built houses, dotting the mote that originally fortified Copenhagen. The greenness, the lushness, the wildness of some of the houses, all give physical form to a different reality.
That reality is a community that basically governing itself since 1971, when a number of people stormed the barracks and began occupying the area, in response to the challenge of finding decent communities of affordable housing in Copehagen. The 85 acre establishment stipifies that the land and structures are owned communally.
Each day, I have ventured further and further into Christiana. I have been timid, because it is so different. Yet, I get a little more comfortable and more and more layers begin to reveal themselves and get me even more fascinated and intrigued with the whole thing. It is huge, it is crazy, it is so unique. It is what you would expect and so much more and so not what you would expect. The built environment and form is striking. There is a reason the form (or lack of) should be valued. It cannot be built or established anywhere else like this. Maybe a rural place like western
Rural gives you many possibilities with living your life freer, not being bound by so many rules, etc. You can build how you want (to a certain extent), what you want, but what happens when you live in an urban environment—how do you express that? Of course, it is not necessarily an expression, but a means of living. Do each one of the houses in
I was lucky to meet some very interesting people in the area. One was a really cool artist, and lived in a crazy space dome that she had built with other artists near
The architecture of Christiania is very much a result of the process of never being finished. The houses are constantly being transformed, little by little. In fact, many of the original houses were site trailers, but on the land, ready to be moved at moment's notice if the threat of eviction came. Over time, as Christiania's tenure has become a little more secure, these temporary homes have evolved into permanent ones. The trailers are now often buried in the maze of additions of many of the houses.
The residents of
So, if you live outside the rules, are you illegal? Should you be punished? In a more established democratic society, the rules are different. Do they have a right to and live above the law? If someone gets arrested for smoking or selling weed in central
I guess the beautiful thing about
Finally, one big difference of
A few other links:
All three of the Branner travelers were finally able to cross paths in one place. Good times for sure, and it was great to bond a little bit. Amsterdam offered plenty of places and activities to catch up, and rejuvenate a bit. Asa has since hit the olympics in beijing, and Natalia is floating around between the americas.
Okay, so it was as like two months ago. But, I am slowly catching up on my blog, trust me.....
Saturday, September 20, 2008
On the way from the Netherlands via Germanay
Well, just maybe we are starting to change. Check this article I recently found...Otherwise, it is drill, baby, drill....
Diagram courtesy of the Architect
One of the projects offering greater consumer choice is the Growth Dwellings by Laura Weeber. Produced as part of the “Bouw Expo 2001” in Almere, these 37 units were commissioned to explore a new type of housing that utilized professional developers, but responded to various needs and wishes of the future owners. It was Weeber’s intention that the design would “provide enough possibilities to compose different houses for all thinkable lifestyles, it would guarantee privacy and it would generate an architectural form that would hold the whole project together as an entity, no matter the amount of accessories the owners wish add to their house.”
Each home is basically a modular design, with a base unit of three segments that can be easily added onto in the front or the back. The original siting is up to the client.
The form is striking, and the arched roof ensures a strong visual and formal connection to the entire community, even after additions are made. They are really quite beautiful and associate with what is a home, at least in the American sense, or maybe I should better say the bungalow. They are all staggered in their layout which gives it a nice variety even though it is the same house. I think the water really builds the character of them. You can feel they are more dynamic and changing. The porches are pretty nice, although probably not that functional. They make for great pictures.
As for the extensions, the architect told me only one has been added onto so far. But, on site, I couldn’t tell. I guess that is the point. If you do, you don’t notice it. It is precisely a hidden addition. It is controlled, and supposed to be able to use standard building products and materials. It is modular, but it is not. Even though there is flexibility, the product produced at the beginning is very much a product based a limited set of components. But it works well with or without additions, and the variety of the sizes bring subtle changes to the fabric. If someone wants to add on, they will have to hire their own contractor as the one who originally built the homes is too big for a job like an addition. And, you don’t have a lot of options, but you know it is an affordable option, and you wouldn’t have to hire an architect. You actually buy the product for the house itself and its expandability, as limited as it is. Is this better than most American suburban houses, which weren’t designed to be added onto, but often take many additions? Is there more or less variety? How much of an issue is form?
It would be nice to see more of these built, but I would not be surprised if they remain a one off project. The architect said she hoped there would be more built, but there aren’t any plans at the moment.
Across the canal was flexible housing by UN Studio, which was also designed to be extendable. While there were clear intentions for such to take place, I was unable to see any new additions. Each project does complement each other, though.
Friday, September 12, 2008
One of the great leaders and visionaries of the open building movement is the Dutch architect John Habraken. In 1972, he wrote a book called Supports, An Alternative to Mass Housing. In it, he railed against the post war mass housing that had consumed western Europe and much of the world. His alternative was to provide a system of Supports, which people could then infill, which would allow them to have a much greater say in the establishment of their home and community. He describes a support structure as ,” a construction which allows the provision of dwellings which can be built, altered and taken down, independently of the others.” He raises numerous other important points that I find just as important today as they were 35 years ago:
“Who is to say how the living patterns of different layers of society will take place in the future? Even within the same income group there are many families and individuals with widely differing backgrounds, ambitions, and living habits. How can mass housing deal with that?” (p. 57)
“It does not mean….that our independent dwelling is necessarily a freestanding one. .. it means, therefore, that before we can introduce the natural relationship, we must find a way to build independent dwellings on top of each other.” (p. 71)
But one of Habraken’s biggest questions and concerns was to find a way this would benefit the masses of people, and not remain as one-off architectural experiments. This is such a huge issue, as some of the most brilliant architects have tackled the mass housing issues, only to have most of the projects end in complete failure or end up only being built once. (For more info, read The Prefabricated Home by Colin Davies). And, one great frustration for many of the projects I have been looking at is that they are precisely one off projects, never get replicated, and don’t end up serving the purposes originally designed. There are many reasons for, which I will try and expound upon later.
Habraken spent some time meeting with me while I was in the
After 30 years of work and experience, open building (which is the current form of Habraken’s theories), flexibility, and adaptability are still on the margins and relatively limited to isolated projects. Why is this? Habraken described one big reason that the complex process of building involves a lot of people, not just architects and requires much cooperation and coordination between the different groups. It could probably very easily be solved from a technical architectural approach, but to get it to work with insurers, lenders, code officials, etc. has proven to be a great problem. He described the typical process in which housing gets designed. Architects will make the floorplan and then everyone will work their numbers and follow in after that. But what if there is no floorplan? His research at the SAR focused on developing models by which the other groups could understand. A lot of this work has given us great projects and information, and has laid the foundation for open building, which is basically a given in office buildings now, but still very much marginalized in housing. Aside from a few constant examples, it has still had a relatively small impact.
At Tetterode, I was able to visit two different residences, both of which have developed loft type spaces. The interesting thing here is the manner in which each of these residences have been developed in an adhoc manner, and how they have been able to grow and take over space on the inside of the building. They ended up adding more space by building over the public corridor, while one unit annexed a vacated to serve as a work space. I found this notion of growth and extensions and informal development within an existing building and framework quite fascinating.
An interesting part of the Dutch landscape that instantly caught my eye was the Volkstuintje. These gardening areas, which are very common to see from the trains, seemed to initially reflect some of the smaller, more chaotic shanties that develop in other parts of the world, as people search for a small space to build a small structure. The notion is similar from a formal view, but in reality fundamentally different. Since most traditional housing had been pretty dense in the cities without much individual space, these spaces allowed people to get away without really getting away. It is an extension of the home, but not physically connected. But, these spaces are highly controlled and regulated, and they cannot be built beyond a certain size, and it is prohibited to spend the night there. I found them fascinating, beautiful, and refreshing….When it comes to the built environment, the Dutch don’t play around. Most of them have sinks, wood stoves, and lounge furniture. Talk about garden sheds….
In talking with a number of architects, there seem to be a number of factors that make the
Another reason is that from the 70’s to the 90’s, the