Landmarks: the modern house in Denmark

Picked up on this coffee table book by Michael Sheridan somewhere or other. The library duly obliged.

Sheridan’s landmarks are 14 ‘single-family houses’ from the 1950s and early 1960s, “cultural landmarks designed to become part of the natural setting with an intimate relationship to the landscape”, dubbed humanistic modernism:

Simple and unpretentious forms, the celebration of craft and organic materials, a profound attention to human comfort…at once rational and romantic, sober and sensual, elegant and economical, deeply humane.

The houses, and the book, are indeed lovely things, if set to be filed under ‘Exclusive’.

Sheridan opens proceedings with an extended essay on the development of the detached house during the 20th century. As we have seen, unlike in Germany most architects in Denmark rejected “the industrial aesthetic and clean break with tradition” of 1920s modernism, remaining focused on neoclassicism. The origins of Danish functionalism can instead be found in the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, with Erik Gunnar Asplund as chief architect. Asplund’s vision was of “a warm, sensuous modernism grounded in the experience of the individual” and a Romantic view of nature.

The Danish translation of this ‘humanistic’ version of modernism idealised the garden rather than the factory and was based on a vernacular ideal. Said Kay Fisker (perhaps “the most influential Danish architect of the 20th century”):

We strive after an architecture that serves people, which conforms to nature and isn’t intrusive, on the contrary; it tries to be anonymous.

This explains a lot about Danish architecture, if not Denmark itself, right up to the present day.

Anyway, after 1932 the yellow brick box with asymmetrical windows and a gently pitched roof became the model for the detached house in Denmark, based on Fisker et al’s design for Aarhus University.

‘Funkis’ developed further after WW2 with the adoption of ideas about space and structure from the US and Japan. During the 1950s houses were frequently financed by state loans, restricting the floor area to 130m and limiting construction costs. Hence bedrooms were small and corridors largely eliminated, replaced by a communal living area oriented towards the garden.

In place of the brick box with windows these houses were conceived as a set of independent elements. Load-bearing walls were constructed from brick and timber, with open frames connected by large areas of insulated glass. Structural elements were often left exposed, with ceilings, interior walls and floors covered with untreated wood, stone tiles or natural fibres.

The end of the 1950s saw the closure of the state loan scheme, and the Danish housebuilding industry began to embrace standardisation and prefabrication in the shape of the typehus. Buyers could select their new home from a catalogue or a group of model houses, often erected as part of a competition or exhibition. Two architects, Henrik Iversen and Harald Plum (nephew of maverick WW1 profiteer Harald Plum), developed a series of 12 IP Typehuse of assorted sizes. Hundreds of IP houses were constructed up to 1985, with Iversen and Plum working with local builders to ensure quality.

The early promise of the typehus was however quickly overwhelmed by economic factors, with uniformity replacing innovation. More than 450K typehuse were constructed around Denmark over the course of 20 years, built at the rate of 50 per day, typically in clusters of around 20, and transforming both the landscape and society. These houses were long, rectangular boxes resting on a concrete slab, with prefabricated wooden roof trusses. Brickwork was reduced to a set of freestanding walls that sometimes extended beyond the interior, with gaps filled by windows.

So much for the diversion into mass housing. Sheridan presents 14 ‘landmark’ houses from the period in loving detail. Most are still private homes, with a handful saved for the nation by Realdania (English), who then let them out, in what always seems to me a bit of a weird move.

The earliest house presented is Jørn Utzon’s house (1952; Arkark) in Hellebæk just north of Helsingør. It was Utzon’s first completed work, and remained his base for the rest of his life. Also by Utzon is the House on Stilts (1953; Arkark) built for interior designer Svend Middelboe, raised one storey to make the most of the lakeside views.

Jørn Utzon’s house (1952)

Some architects employed creative solutions to get round the size restrictions imposed by the state loan scheme. Eva & Nils Koppels’ house (1952; Arkark) for the appropriately named heating engineer Jørgen Varming in Gentofte had a double height living area, while Karen & Ebbe Clemmensens’ house (1954; Arkark) in Jægersborg (“near a heritage-listed bog”, says Realdania) added a studio to the living area.

Sheridan includes two houses by Erik Christian Sørensen, who later embraced Brutalism and was responsible for not least the 1969 Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, now, alas, in need of renovation. His own house in Jægersborg (1955, Arkark) featuring load-bearing outer walls offering flexibility, a gently (30 degree) pitched roof covered with felt, and, unusually for Denmark, no cellar, was much copied by typehus builders, while the house he built for for Mee Tholstrup (1955; Arkark) on the hyper-desirable Rungsted Kyst sold in late 2014 for DK 6 million.

But the most fabulous house in the selection for me is Knud Friis’ house (1958, extended in 1970; Arkark) in Brabrand on the edge of Aarhus, dubbed “early ‘mild’ Brutalism” – no doubt the neighbours dubbed it The Bunker – run a close second by Arne Jacobsen’s house for Erik Siesby (1959; Arkark) in Sorgenfri. On the other hand Halldor Gunnløgsson’s house (1959; Arkark) on Rungsted Strandvej tips over into oh-so-sterile Scandi.

Knud Friis' house

Knud Friis’ house (1958)

I’m also less moved than many by Bo & Wohlert’s Louisiana, it’s just too staged, and the same can be said for the house they built for Arne Bøgh Andersen, aka the Ambassador’s House (1961; Arkark), also on Rungsted Strandvej, a modified version of Ønskehuset from a 1959 exhibition. Wohlert is also represented by an extension built for no other than physicist Niels Bohr’s summer house (1957) in Tisvilde, taking timber to its limits.

Better is the Bendix-Harboe house (1959; Arkark) in Charlottenlund, built by Knud Peter Harboe (1959). Knud gets a post in Graham McKay’s Misfits series, well worth a look, with pics also of some of the other ‘landmark’ houses.

Sheridan’s oversized baker’s dozen is rounded out by:

  • Poul & Hanne Kjærholm’s house (1962) on Rungsted Kyst; Hanne (1930-2009) was a woman architect of note, married to furniture designer Poul, with whom she designed picnic areas with concrete tables and toilets, now those I’d like to see
  • Inger & Johannes Exner’s house (1961; Arkark) in Skodsborg, the only one we have bagged so far, defying the passive-aggressive stares of the tenant to take a couple of snaps (there’s a Bronze Age burial mound in the garden, supposedly the site of trysts between Caroline Mathilde and Struensee, but where wasn’t?)

All bar one of the 14 houses are situated north of Copenhagen, in the so-called Whisky Belt, a favoured area for architects rather like Peredelkino for writers near Moscow. While it’s fun reading up on the architects and building a picture of the connections, there’s also mileage in keeping an eye open for less illustrious versions locally – as it happens our house was modelled on a competition house of the period and exhibits several now familiar features, such as a closed frontage with large windows opening onto an extensive garden, and a flexible interior, evidenced by the marks where internal walls have been put up and taken down. A fair few modernist inspired gems have been found on our daily walks as well.

modernist inspired house at Birke Allé 19, Hvidovre (1964)

Birke Allé 19, Hvidovre (1964)

Landmarks is also available på dansk as Mesterværker, published by Strandberg in 2011, with an accompanying TV series.

Golden Days: Denmark in the 1970s

Golden Days is Copenhagen’s autumn festival, at the highbrow(ish) end of the packed event spectrum. While its first outings celebrated Denmark’s Golden Age (1800-50), lately it has tackled rather broader themes – in 2013 philosophy, in 2014 World War 1, and in 2015 heritage itself.

The 2016 festival (calendar | programme aka 28 page content-thin broadsheet | case) explored the 1970s. All very  hyggeligt and nostalgic (the cassette! potato printing!) if you actually grew up in that lovely decade. What follows is a summary of events in the areas of literature, art and architecture, plus some general musings.

My struggle with Danish writing continues. The festival provided a 1970s literature checklist, made up of Suzanne Brøgger’s Fri os fra kærligheden, Kristen Bjørnkjær’s Kærestesorg, Vita Andersen’s Tryghedsnarkomaner,  Peter Laugesen’s Hamr & Hak,  Dea Trier Mørch’s Vinterbørn and Villy Sørensen, Kristen Helveg Petersen & Niels I Meyer’s Oprør fra midten. All of which I have just copied and pasted, you’re welcome. Among retrospective looks are Peter Øvig Knudsen’s typically massive Hippie (flippet also used).

As a golden entry in Denmark’s tiny place writing corner we have Dan Turèll’s Vangede billeder, published in 1975, on growing up in a 1950s suburb. Urban hero Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s first poems were published in Hvedekorn i 1977, but his first collection City slang wasn’t published until 1981.

Artist Martin Bigum (1966- ) now lives in Frederiksberg, but grew up in Brøndby Strand, finding himself unimpressed by its iconic tower blocks. His vej mod kunsten (journey to art) is described in Min personlige kunsthistorie (key excerpt), with an exhibition at Arken. At the other end of town, Louisiana has a Poul Gernes exhibition (article | guide), highlighting not least his udsmykningsarbejder at Herlev Hospital (1975) and Palads Biografen (rather later).

toilet door at Herlev Hospital by Poul Gernes

toilet door at Herlev Hospital by Poul Gernes

Onwards…1970s architecture was thoroughly chewed over and mainly spat out, with a guide (65 pages, OK-ish at DK 49,95 but with DK 30 postage I’ll wait for the library or try to track it down in a shop, thx all the same) and exhibition on 1970’erne – det forbudte årti:

Golden Days guider dig rundt i hovedstadens idealistiske og udskældte arkitektur
Parcelhuse og brutale betonbyggerier er ikke i høj kurs, og egentlig vil arkitekterne helst glemme 1970’erne. Men bag de forbudte facader gemmer der sig historier om et samfund præget af både fornyelsestrang og et stærkt ønske om at skabe lige muligheder for alle.

The guide features 11 buildings, many old favourites, while Politiken highlighted four. All begging to be mapped…

Concrete has yet to be treasured in Denmark, and 1970s tower blocks are emphatically not Danish scale, even if at the time they offered the residents of cramped city flats lys og luft in a split new home with all mod-cons. It’s much the same story as the UK, with social problems and some poor quality builds leading to a ‘ghetto’ reputation for the biggest estates, now being refurbished eastern Europe style with colourful stick-on panels.

I went on Frederiksberg’s 1970s bus tour, where the city archivist didn’t even try to hide his dislike of some rather classy housing (but he has written a nice long article). Interesting, if not surprising, to hear that FRB was in the same state as CPH proper in the 1970s – current discourse makes it sound like it has always been a green conservative paradise. The proposed sanering of some areas was met with resistance, as it was in next door Nørrebro.

1970s bus outside Frederiksberg town hall

1970s bus outside Frederiksberg town hall

A bus tour was also offered round Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Lyngby and Rudersdal. In the 1970s the suburbs were the place to be, with the CPH urban area growing by up to 12 km2 per year, and in Denmark as a whole the built-up area doubling. As elsewhere the new-builds were predominantly housing estates and tower blocks, but by the late 1970s ‘low rise high density’ became more popular in an attempt to recreate the Danish landsby, plus a range of experiments into collective living.

BL (Danmarks Almene Boliger), who represent the Danish social housing sector and in 2015 offered a series of events on the tower block as cultural heritage, stepped up to the plate once more with Sunday events on three contrasting estates, complete with langbord lunches:

  • Gadekæret (Ishøj; 1976-79) – a reconstructed landsby made up of 650 element built yellow brick and red tiled terraced houses around a pond, described as En by der er blød som en krop by poet Inger Christensen in 1969(?) and lovingly drawn by childhood resident Ib Spang Olsen
  • Galgebakken (Albertslund; 1972-74) – 600 terraced houses, known as Albertslund’s Christiania; residents included Social Democrat politicians Mogens Lykketoft and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, and writer/director Jørgen Leth
  • Urbanplanen (Amager; 1965-71) – the ultimate Corbusier-style estate with its own shopping centre, library and church; ironically the largest car free area in the city and the subject of some re-evaluation with En landsby på højkant (part of the current wave of site specific theatre) and Morten Pape’s autobiographical novel Planen (the estate abuts Ørestad Nord, a more recent regeneration effort which also has its critics, plus ça change…)

15 storey tower block in Urbanplanen, condemned in 2010 but still standing

Also place related was Konfrontation med 70’erne (Soundcloud), audio at 20 spots around town. If like me you find These soundscapes can be a tad uninspiring, but these are rather better than the norm, as is more intriguing is Last night a DJ saved my life, four podcasts on the story of the 1500 British DJs who kept the disks spinning in provincial Denmark during the 70s (a subgenre of interest is Brit musicians with err…Danish links, from Slade drummer Don Powell to Rick Astley).

Summing up…

The festival benefits from considerable amounts of funding and sponsorship, although state funding is to cease. I’m not entirely surprised, not least because it’s not very clear who the target audience/s is/are, and with over 100 partners and 200+ events it’s hard to work out what’s going on.

Events fall into three categories: something random from a big hitting cultural player tagged with the branding, pricey ‘experiences‘ organised by the festival secretariat for BYTs (in 2015 this included a polterabend and a wedding), and events organised by community organisations. It’s the last which are the most interesting, uncovering areas outside those more usually pimped by Visit Copenhagen, as well as ensuring the festival reaches the entire region.

There are however issues with history and the learning therefrom more broadly, identified by among others Michael Böss in his 2014 book Det demente samfund (Altinget | Politiken). Denmark is a very youth oriented society, and its ‘here and now’ culture constantly reinvents the wheel, fetishising the elements of ‘heritage’ which fit a single Danish national identity and self-image – hence, perhaps, no concrete, and little recognition of diversity or ‘overseas influences’. The country seems to be in a rush forward, neglecting and ignoring the past, at best relegating it to folkelig corner as outmoded and rather quaint. (See the IHR’s History now and then series for more on this.)

In previous years I’ve also got rather worked up by the festival website. There’s a search box but no easy access to search/browse by eg keyword, category, audience, venue. The jaunty design feels extremely tired, even if the massive mugshots, an issue for those not benefiting from ‘good genes’, are accidentally-on-purpose somehow on trend. And don’t go looking for any  social media action or event amplification, as there is none. It all feels rather amateurish. And isn’t it time for a My Golden Days app?

Finally, after going all out with Hello Heritage, “a weekend dedicated to visitors and expats” in 2015, this year there’s no English to be seen.

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2016: forgotten giants and guerilla knitting

Update, Nov: spotted in our local library, a booklist from the six library services covering the topics of ghettoen, forstadsliv, de fremmede, to be or not to be and på den anden side – mainly Danish books, and very well done, but not traced online – seems a bit of a wasted effort

Fourth time of asking for our local festival, Vestegnens Kulturuge (2013 | 2014 | 2015), which ran from 9-18 September. Aimed increasingly at Familien Danmark, like so many festivities in Happy DK, with lean pickings for those not in that demographic. One news story even went so far as to highlight a classical concert as an event for those interested in ‘culture’, so kudos to Albertslund, offering a range of Hamlet themed events as the final part of its participation in the literary exhibition hall project, plus a kunstvandring.

While generally each of the six kommuner do their own thing during the festival period, Thomas Dambo’s Forgotten Giants project (Vestegnens Kulturuge) extended across the whole area, with six sculptures constructed over a period of six months. Made from recycled wood and built with the help of volunteers, the giants were hailed by local mayors as illustrating Vestegnen’s values: working together, recycling and volunteering.

In a sort of ‘because it’s there’ approach, we picked up our first giant in Ishøj back in June, mopping up the final one in our manor both under construction and at its fernisering. While the project did fulfill its stated aim of taking us to new parts of Vestegnen, it also showed off the bleakness of its over-planned nether regions, empty streets of low rise sprawl broken only by broad roads, reachable mainly by motorway or local train, with all traces of life hidden away.

Driving out to Høje Taastrup all the way down ruler-straight Roskildevej through a stretch lined with shiny sheds we could have been in the USA, an impression only reinforced by a pit stop at Wittrup Motel. Having located the giant via iphone (as well as being forgotten ie glemt, most of the sculptures are also hidden, ie gemt) we snapped it and exited, never likely to return. Sited in a low-lying marsh, now managed parkland, and a stone’s throw from the motorway, the background hum of traffic was ever present – a common problem in the area.

So let’s call it for an enterprising soul in Hvidovre who set up a Strik byen smuk project (broadly: Knit the city prettystory), which can’t quite be called for guerilla knitting due to its planned nature, but heck, this is Denmark, nothing happens without a plan. Mainly around the town hall, and taken down in no short order by Monday morning.

Knitting also featured in the 1970s themed Golden Days festival, also taking place during September throughout the Greater Copenhagen region. Ishøj library offered a session on Hønsestrik, a feminist inspired knitting movement kicked off by Kirsten Hofstätter’s 1973 manifesto, riffing on women as a flock of hens (høns) and dispensing with patterns. Rather more upmarket, the new Kähler i Tivoli enterprise hosted a knitting salon on the same theme.

Before you say: how hyggeligt, yes indeed, but the knitters, lucky with the weather (soggy knitting would not have been great), were plagued by thefts and vandalism, malicious or no, so some norms do apply. And interestingly, Dambo’s sculptures outside DK tend to have rather more edge.

Also running over the summer was Stemmer fra Hvidovre (Voices from Hvidovre; story | again | yet again | critique | response | again | again), egnsteater from Teater Vestvolden, a former children’s theatre gradually offering some rather more innovative productions. Taking the form of teatret i byrummet, the production was part of the current wave of site specific theatre. 40 people per performance were driven around the locality in a toy train in search of Hvidovre’s DNA, hearing stories old and new from a squad of 90 volunteers in a celebration of Hvidovre’s fællesskab (community spirit) and foreningsliv (participation in clubs and societies).

With schools in Denmark starting the new term in early/mid August Vestegnens Kulturuge represents a good opportunity to enjoy late summer, which tends to have rather better weather than the increasingly unreliable mass holiday month of July. As well as Golden Days it overlaps with a cornucopia of other festivals, including NaturensdagAeronautisk Dag, Mosensdag, Copenhagen Art Run (Vinkbh)…and with a clang of inevitability, Family Days.

#walkingwomen: loitering with intent

#walkingwomen are everywhere this summer, with events in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, plus the media fluff around Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse. As a woman who walks, what’s in it for me?

Walking Women: Somerset House and Forest Fringe

Walking Women (The Standard) took place as part of Somerset House’s utopia season from 11-17 July, curated by Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann in collaboration with Dee Heddon. Over 40 walking artists were present, with events including a Wikipedia edit-a-thon (based on the rhizomatic Art+Feminism model; Amy Sharrocks, Simone Kenyon), films, pecha kucha, a Walking Reading Group utopia walk and a new walking library walked along the suffragettes’ marching route. Three pre-event podcasts from Jo Norcup/Geography Workshop’s ‘Er Outdoors project (one | two & three) on Resonance FM, plus recordings from the event.

Walking Women in Embra (WAN), on 11 August was curated by the same team and organised by Deveron Arts/the Walking Institute, part of Forest Fringe (“unusual events and experimental performance in Edinburgh and beyond” since 2007). More of the same, with Scottish contributions including Jeni Cumming (Edinburgh Walking Workshop) and Invisible Edinburgh leading a Powerful women of Edinburgh walking tour, plus Deveron Arts’ Claudia Zeiske on women walking in wild landscapes. Streamed, but no recording as yet.

Also involved was Rosana Cade, whose Walking:Holding (17-20 August; in the Gdn) “invites you to walk hand in hand with a series of very different local strangers around nearby streets, parks and alleyways. It is a participatory performance for one audience member at a time, offering a gentle meditation on identity, touch and intimacy in urban public space”.

Loitering with intent in Manchester

Loitering with intent: the art and politics of walking is an exhibition celebrating 10 years of Manchester’s Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM),  organised by Morag Rose and running from 23 July to 14 October at the People’s Museum with accompanying events programme (again). Includes male-led events, such as Chris Wood‘s Spatial machines, exploring GPS infrastructure using walking exercises.

As part of the exhibition Tina Richardson has published the second STEPZ zine (PDF), inspired by Northern Psychogeography. Of most interest so far has to be the Manchester Modernist Heroines Walk, celebrating 10 inspirational women, conceived by the Shrieking Violet (on Issuu) in 2011.

Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse

Published on 28 July and R4’s Book of the Week from 8 August, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: women who walk the cities (GuardianSpectator | Psychogeographic Review, who has a further flâneuse piece) is a blend of memoir and cultural history, focusing on five cities through the mirror of assorted flâneuses (pl? I have no French).

While the cover is off-putting and much, including the inevitable Guardian article, feels over-familiar, Lauren made some good points in an interview at the London Review Bookshop (audio; worth a listen not least for the audience comment: “most women are very interested in clothes”). She initially found Paris a very “ritualised society”, played out through “performative rituals” – walking was one way of connecting to the city. How you practice flâneurie is specific to a time, place and culture, it’s a subversive way of intervening in space. Today’s flâneu(r)/se is “anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in the space they are walking through”, and who by walking tries to defy “the affective charge” of the field of prescriptions (at c47:48).

Walking is like mapping with your feet, it makes you feel at home. Lauren did not walk in US suburbs, where you are considered weird if you walk without a dog or a tracksuit. In Denmark, walking is similarly restricted, although here by the bicycle rather than the car (you may also cycle with your dog running alongside, although tracksuits are definitely déclassé for the cycling crowd).

(See also Cole Swenson’s Walk, poems exploring the walking and writing of George Sand, Virginia Woolf and Lisa Robertson.)

Update: the library obliged. The best section was on Tokyo, an addition to the slim canon on not liking somewhere, where Lauren makes “an attempt to connect with Japan, or at least with its past”, liking Kyoto (note: To-Kyo) rather more.

For the rest, an editorial dead hand feels to be at play, with the sections of memoir feeling like an afterthought added to catch a current wave and addressed to an assumed ‘we’. The much longer biographical sections, as so often, require an interest in the subject to come alive.

As above what resonates most are the sections on moving to another country: “I came here with a suitcase…denuded of context. You quickly cover yourself with new things, a new persona. But you will live in a state of heightened sensitivity; you will always feel exposed…Although I loved the way it felt to be inspired by Paris, set at an angle to it, able to appreciate the ways in which it was different from home, the initial joy of displacement eventually wore off. I wanted to settle into a slot in Paris which corresponded to the slot I had vacated in New York…I was not a rebel. I was just someone who happened to have moved countries. Displaced, dislocated. I wanted to be re-placed, re-located. (p233-234).

On returning to her ‘home’ city she notes (p282) “My city isn’t mine any more. And yet it always will be, more than any other. We get to know our cities on foot, and when we leave, the topography shifts”.

The best quote though comes from Virginia Woolf:

  • As they grow older, says Rose (who has grown older), they become less visible, and they can walk wherever they like at any time of day. (quoted on p307; source: The Years, p173)

What gives?

Presenting the second #walkingwomen podcast, Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner postulated that #walkingwomen is not about heroic walks or challenges, but rather about how walking transforms the everyday. Walking not as a form of escape, but rather as a way of making connections and relations. See Walking women: interviews with artists on the move for examples.

Can’t it be both? This discourse just doesn’t meet me where I am coming from. Do women really walk so differently from men in the western everyday context? Cathy Turner’s account of the Rural Scapes artists’ talk takes Caspar David Friedrich to task once more – the heroic seems to be at the nub of concern, but don’t we all want to feel the rush sometimes? All too often #walkingwomen reeks of “everything is awesome” (possibly the #some effect), if not the dreaded hygge. The LRM, more about play and inspired by the Situationists, feels a tad more edgy. Update: see also the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography (@TykePsychoGeog | #4wcop | again | report) much of which was streamed by John Popham.

Flâneurie is increasingly reproached for being a) male b) gentrified, an outsider pursuit. Exclusive yes, but not flattening or normative. It’s that which makes it interesting and challenging. (And gender is not a criterion for rejecting, or conversely accepting, something.)

On which note see Deveron Arts’ All roads lead to Venice on 12 August, marking Anthony Schrag‘s (and others) walks to the 2015 Venice Biennale, also involving an ugly walk, and the Guardian’s share your stories feature and follow-up – lots of outsiders there.

As for #walkingwomen, see also Janet Wolff’s The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity (1985; citation) and Helen Scalway’s The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode (2002).

Budapest 1989 and 2015

In Dec/Jan 2014/15 we undertook a Hapsburg three capitals tour, spending Hogmanay in Bratislava and three days or so apiece in Budapest and Vienna. Having finally finished tagging my Budapest photos here are some brief highlights from that fabulous city.

I visited Budapest for a long weekend in spring 1989, although from my photos it looks more like 1969 (pic). My photo of Castle Hill by the Fisherman’s Bastion even shows cars running free.

We arrived by bus on New Year’s Day from Bratislava, leaving for Vienna on 5 January by the rather pricier train from a chilly Keleti Station, passing through the deserted border town of Hegyeshalom. That was January – things were rather different at the station later in the year.

There’s something very special about Budapest, it’s much more of an enigma than other central European cities. At New Year there were plenty of tourists and aggressive tourist touts – tourism is clearly a year-long affair. There’s a sense of an economic sleight of hand going on.

We took in three shiny new things. First up, the new M4 metro line (pic), which finally opened in March 2014 after first being mooted in the early 1970s. The city’s four metro lines offer a pleasing design tour, with the M1, the Millennium underground, continental Europe’s first underground line (pic), joined in the 1960s and 1970s by Soviet style lines of the wide vaulted, marble halled type. The M2, deSovietised with cladding and adverts, shows its origins in its granite floors and beige pillars (pic), while the M3 is “where modernity has gone to die” (Owen Hatherley, in Landscapes of Communism), with chrome plated columns and square lamps against black marble (pic).

Next up, Kossuth tér, Hungary’s parliament square, redeveloped in March 2014 with the aim of restoring the square’s pre-1944 appearance, and now with open spaces and lawns at the expense of trees (pic), asphalt replaced by decorative stone, a new bike path and a 33m flagpole; the parliament’s new visitor centre, tastefully situated underground with a cafe attached, is totally generic – switch souvenirs and you could be in London’s Houses of Parliament.

Finally, Várkert bazár, a series of buildings and gardens on the slopes below Buda Castle,  opened in 1883, damaged during WW2 and functioning as a youth park from 1961 to 1984 when it was finally closed down; re-opened August 2014, with a neo-rust escalator and Gormley style figures among the attractions (pic).

There’s lots of lovely writing about Budapest, not least Caught by the River’s Tale of two soups: Neil Sentance’s Goulash and Nick Bellorini’s Stone soup. Writing on ‘Hungarian confusions’ in 1985 (with the subtitle ‘An eighth part of paradise’) Hans Magnus Enzensberger described the city as “an example of that architectural megalomania which Budapest’s proud citizens called eclecticism”.

I’ve spent whole days reading the wounds and splendours of the city of Budapest from its doors, walls, and nameplates. I think of it as an ambiguous, puzzling, dirty panorama. Every sign in this country seems to promise a secret to the flâneur from abroad and impresses upon him that he is condemned to remain an idiot, an illiterate…every house conceals a dream arcade out of Benjamin’s repertoire.

Compared with Copenhagen’s hyggelige Historicist buildings this stuff has a real edge, with a litany of jaw dropping buildings, from the Great Market Hall groaning with paprika souvenirs and the Gellert Baths, with that unmistakeable swimming pool smell, to the ‘Caterpillar House‘, aka the heart achingly stunning Párizsi Udvar (vid), and Ödön Lechner’s Museum of Applied Arts.

Newer buildings such as the National Theatre (Wikipedia) and Palace of Arts, part of the Millennium City Center under development on the fringes of the centre of Pest, provided contemporary context, as did the NowUs demonstration in front of the opera house on 2 January.

It being a tad parky we invested in a 24 hour ticket on our last day and proceeded to hop on/off the metro and tram until dinner time with the help of BKV’s itineraries, spotting the Xmas tram several times on the way. This leaves proper exploration of the city ring (now Nagykörút/Grand Boulevard but once the Lenin Ring) and UNESCO listed Andrássy út (see the Millennium Underground Walk; once Stalin Street, renamed the Avenue of Hungarian Youth in 1956, then People’s Republic Street until 1990) for a third, summertime, visit.

Below: classic Budapest, Párisi udvar (1913).

 

Bauhaus in Denmark: it’s funkis

Update: out and about in Næstved at the weekend we came across an unexpected funkis cluster, documented in Huse i Næstved. This included Farimagsvej 10, which I was unable to photograph but would look quite at home in Gdynia, and the spectacular Staalgaarden from 1934 – it’s out there! See Farver i funktionalismen (2008) for more about funkis in Denmark.

I am an all round Bauhaus freak. Imagine my distress when Nan Dahlkild stated on the Valby Bedre Byggeskik walk that there was no Bauhaus in Denmark – not a surprise, but worthy of further exploration.

While there are links between Bauhaus and contemporary movements in Denmark, the latter tended – and tend – to take a less utopian and internationalist approach, being rather more design led.

Vi lader os ikke imponere af Størrelse, Tempo, det grandiose, det gigantiske.

(Trans: “We will not allow ourselves to be impressed by size, pace, the grandiose, the gigantic.”)

Between 1926-28 the journal Kritisk Revy, edited by Poul Henningsen (of PH lamp fame but also a formidable cultural commentator) published a series of articles critical of the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and De Stijl in the Netherlands, accusing them of formalism and the lack of a human (or even practical) dimension. The 1928 visit to Copenhagen of Hannes Meyer, shortly to succeed Walter Gropius as leader of the Bauhaus, and publication of his manifesto in Danish gave rise to an article in Arkitekten likening Gropius’ house in Dessau to a dentist’s waiting room.

There were some exchanges on the ground though. Edvard Heiberg, who had previously worked under Le Corbusier, taught at the Bauhaus for three months in 1930, lending his expertise to designs for housing in Tørten and the furniture for the Trade Union School in Bernau. He lived in one of the masters’ houses, which he described as “badly insulated and undemocratic in form”. Resigning shortly after Meyer was deposed, he wrote a feature article in Politiken on 6 December 1930 about his Bauhaus experiences.

Painter Vilhelm Bjerke Petersen was a student at the Bauhaus from autumn 1930 to spring 1931, where he was taught by Klee and Kandinsky. This influenced his graphical style in particular. Petersen later adopted surrealism.

Links between the Bauhaus and Denmark can also be seen in furniture design, in particular the stress on good craftsmanship. In 1942 the Danish Cooperative Movement (FDM) created a popular range of wooden furniture which continued in production until 1983. In contrast to the architecture of the period, the furniture has made a popular return, going back into production in 2013.

It’s funkis

So what was different about modernist architecture in Denmark in the inter-war period? Generally known as funktionalisme or funkis for short, two main styles can be identified.

Buildings more akin to those found outside Denmark, often in white cubist style with flat roofs, experimenting with concrete and other new materials, such as Arne Jacobsen’s white factory at Nordre Fasanvej 215 from 1935 (international functionalism):

Frederiksberg - Novozymes (1935)

Buildings incorporating Danish traditions and materials, making use of brick and tiled roofs, such as Virum Torv (1937; national functionalism, rather more widespread):

Virum Torv 2/Frederiksdalsvej 70 (1937)

The design for Aarhus University, with its staggered blocks following the undulating terrain, is a prime example of the connections and divergences between the Bauhaus and Denmark. The design follows the Bernau Trade Union School layout in a freer form, making use of the Danish vernacular such as yellow bricks and curved roof tiles.

While the first funkis house in Denmark was built as early as 1924 (by Heiberg for himself and his family), it was the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition which really kickstarted things. New housing complexes such as Arne Jacobsen’s iconic Bellavista (1934-37) and numerous smaller projects, based around the idea that housing should suit the residents’ needs rather than be based around old tropes such as spisestue, salon og herreværelse, were built during the 1930s and early 1940s.

Rather than traditional karréer (blocks around an internal courtyard) the new housing was built in parallel blocks, offering better ventilation. The keywords were lys og luft (air and light), with bigger windows to let in more light and balconies facing the evening sun. These features are just one of those which make funkis buildings out of step with today’s Denmark – the energy required to heat these less well insulated houses is just too expensive.

Modernism and Danish scale

The funkis buildings of the 1930s are also out of step on a more abstract level. A booklet produced for the 2008 Golden Days festival has portraits of 20 buildings from the period. It’s a little book with a big agenda (and, once again, no map). The language frequently feels negative and subjective, utilising words such as “naked”, sober”, “factory like”. At the foot of each entry is a carefully chosen contemporary quote:

Vi forstaar, at Tyskerne nu har den fastest muligt indstilling til Arkitekturproblemet imod de sidste Tiders eksperimentelle og sentimentale Funtionalisme…men ikke har Evne til at skabe det varige og det ophøjet skønne. (Vilhelm Wanscher, art critic and author, on Arne Jacobsen’s Bellavista)

Der er noget troldsk over sceneriet. Ungerne sidder nogne og brune – som en samling grillstegte hanekyllinger – omkring de hvislende flammer. Det er det skinbarligste og pudsigste djævelsskab, man pludselig er dumpet ind i. (Erik la Cour Halved, journalist, on Kaj Gottlob’s Skolen ved Sundet)

For me modernist buildings, not least the Bauhaus, are Mozartian in their perfection, everything exactly as it should be, catching your interest and admiration in their simplicity. But in Danish discourse they are cold and clinical, ‘ungenerous’ and lacking ‘human scale’, features extolled ad nauseam in the architectural press, where smallness is lauded as a key quality.

Happily though on the ground it’s a different story. We often go funkis spotting – below is my current favourite, Ole Falkentorp’s exquisite Hotel Astoria from 1935, just outside the central station:

CPH - Hotel Astoria (1935)

Sources: ‘Bauhaus og Danmark: fra eksperimenterende håndværk til industrielt design’ (in Architectura 2006:28:23-52) | Edvard Heibergs eget hus | Den store bog om Brugsens møbler og historien om Det Gode Liv | FDB-stolen: Folkets klassiske møbler genoplives | Ideernes Kobenhavn: en guide til mellemkrigstidens byggeri (Golden Days 2008) | Rasmus Friis: Rentemestervej 14

Update: VINK on the Astoria

Virtual Biennale

The 2016 Biennale Architettura in Venice runs from 28 May to 27 November, curated by Alejandro Aravena with the theme of Reporting from the Front. We were lucky enough to pay a visit in 2014, when I concluded that “a fine line was walked between the effective and the pretentious”.

In contrast to Rem Koolhaas’ 2014 erudite edition Aravena “pitches activism against starchitecture”. Olly Wainwright: “does it make for an engaging show, or a tedious traipse through holier-than-thou humanitarianism and architectural self-flagellation”? His review of the pavilions is headlined “a souped-up pre-school playground”, singling out Belgium and Switzerland for their “refreshingly narrow focus” and Poland for shining a spotlight on the labour conditions of the people who actually build architecture. (More pavilions: Dezeen’s top 10 | A+U.)

Sifting through the coverage from my filter bubble, Dezeen doubtless has loads of stimulating stuff but tl;dr. Worth a look though is the provocation from the Architecture Foundation’s Phineas Harper. Update: see also Cosmopolitan Scum.

After 2014’s Cliff and concrete cows this time Britain’s contribution (interview) is all a bit chest-beatingly downbeat. The curatorial team has come up with Home Economics, a reflection on the home as the contemporary frontline of British architecture, reimagined in timescales of days, months, years and decades.

Compare and contrast with Denmark’s all trumpets blazing celebration of self, entitled Art of Many and The Right to Space (interview). On #some Everything Goes and Art of Too Many have been suggested as alternative titles. The exhibition consists of a “wunderkammer of architectural prototypes”, an overflødigshorn of 130 recent projects from 70 practices, aimed at demonstrating humanism based on cooperation. The pavilion also boasts a video installation with (obv) Jan Gehl and a 520 page catalogue (cost: DK 320, a rather lower krone to page ratio than often seen).

the Danish pavilion (Carl Brummer, 1932)

As well as missing the inventiveness and humour of other contributions, it sounds a tad mundane, tapping into the oft seen Scandi “we know best” flaw. For coverage på dansk see Arkfo and Politiken, largely critiquing the Danish effort, plus commissioner DAC (dansk) bigging it up.

Bylyd has a recording from the launch debate, bringing up some interesting points which get behind the familiar soundbites:

  • Bjarke Ingels is a fan of generous (sic) spaces “proportioned for machines”, who knew, and wants architects to go beyond “little boutique statements” – go him!
  • Jan Gehl, marking his 50th anniversary in research, sees the right to walk as fundamental, preferably in public spaces – as ever, you can’t argue with that; as Gehl Architects’ Helle Søholt points out, public space is “challenged by increased security, climate adaptation, densification, commercialization and data” as well as the demon car (which brings to mind the segment on 9 June’s Urbanist where Skopje’s citizenry fight to retain their Brutalist buildings and wide open spaces)
  • we spend 90% of our time indoors, much of it sitting down, while 40% of the world’s carbon emissions come from construction, yikes
  • issues around professions working together rather than in separate ghettoes – echoes of #FLthecity

Denmark is not involved in the Nordic pavilion, achingly PC in 2014 and in 2016 curated by two internationals, ArchDaily founder David Basulto from Chile and Rotterdam based Brit James Taylor-Foster (interview). In Therapy presents 300 projects exploring architectural themes instrumental in constructing Nordic society with psychoanalysis as a framework, including an abstracted interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. In Dezeen: “the architectural heritage of [Norway and Sweden] is constraining the newest generation of designers”, with Nordic architecture “on the verge of stagnation”. Interesting.

The range of collateral events is overwhelming – see UCL Urban Lab’s Turning Tables and LSE Cities’ Conflicts of an urban age for starters. And whoa! Scotland has a presence under the banner of Prospect North, curated by inter alia Lateral North (Facebook) and part of a nationwide year long Festival of Architecture. The exhibition “delivers a series of innovative mapping strategies, individual narratives, portraits and evocative imagery highlighting Scotland’s place and identity within an economically emerging northern region”. Related events inevitably include How Nordic is it?.

See the Scotland on Sunday report, which highlights co-curator Dualchas Architects‘ accompanying book, in which ten Scottish writers (including Kathleen Jamie) provide contributions about Scotland “when the map is turned and the compass realigned” to remind us that the north of Scotland is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London. See also ArchDaily.

Russia’s Fair Enough, a fake trade fair riffing on the lifestyle of architecture, was probably my 2014 favourite. This time they’re exploring the proposed revamp of VDNKh (critique | Calvert Journal), Moscow’s Stalin era exhibition centre. Dare to dream! There’s lots more on the Soviet Union’s failed utopian architecture in Calvert22’s Power & Architecture season: see reviews/articles from Dezeen, PORT magazine and The Spaces. Plus “amidst all the bourgeois romanticism of the humble; amidst all the identikit, tired old dancing on the corpse of modernity, monumentality and utopia” we have in search of progressive architecture, on ‘palatial Communism’ in action.