The decision to hold the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen from December 7 to 18 this fall gave the design-oriented Danes an idea: heat up future discussions on global warming by organizing Copenhagen Design Week from August 27 to September 6. Here sustainable buildings and design, and overall green responses to the environment posed ways to mitigate energy waste. Copenhagen already impresses gas-fueled societies with its anti-carbon footprint fixation: the city has been able to convince numerous city dwellers to trade cars for bikes (helped by its high taxation on cars). At any rate, as it soon becomes clear—especially when crossing a thoroughfare—bicycles rule.
Copenhagen Design Week’s numerous events, exhibitions, and symposia were informative and gratifying, particularly since the commitment to green did not overlook the value of form. The international pack of journalists and other interested parties descending on this picturesque city were able to steep themselves in green design without feeling as if they were studying for a LEED exam.
To help communicate both practical and aesthetic considerations of the green scene, the Danish Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs enlisted the Danish Design Center (DDC) to work with a the Danish Architecture Center, and Danish Crafts in mounting an international exhibition, It’s a Small World at the DDC until late January, 2010. The exhibition features urban, architectural, and design work including, for example, architectural films by Bjarke Ingels, the principal of the architecture office Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The dynamic Ingels demonstrates, with the help of integrated computer animations, how he conceived his Eight House mixed-use complex nearing completion in the nearby new village of Orestad. Eight House’s rollercoaster shape includes ramps so that (energetic) bicyclists can make their way up and around its levels.
Another project in the Small exhibition is the Horten Law Office Building that architects 3XN has under construction in Tuborg Harbor of the city. Here, for example, details of the facades reveal how its carefully zigged and zagged contours of glass alternating with solid fiberglass composite admit sun to some spaces while shielding others from glare or heat.
A second exhibition, “Showhow,” only on display during Design Week in a waterfront warehouse, presented sustainable furniture, household objects, and green lighting fixtures (although the LED sample was much too harshly blue/grey to win over this incandescent lighting loyalist). Also on view with green utensils, clothes, jewelry and bicycles, were architectural solutions such as the model of the Green Lighthouse, a student center nearing completion on the Nørrebro Campus of the University of Copenhagen. Designed by the architectural firm Christensen & Co, the circular building prevents energy loss in the winter through added insulation and reduction in surface area of skin. In nice weather it brings sunlight and air indoors through operable windows with movable screens.
A third exhibition devoted primarily to architecture and urbanism, Green Architecture for the Future, included a range of international responses. On view until October 4 at the famed Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Copenhagen, the show occupies several galleries in the modernist museum designed by Jørgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert, and later Claus Wohlert (1956 to 1994). Tucked into the verdant hills rolling down to the Øresund (the Sound) separating Denmark and Sweden, the museum proves to be a splendid setting for this show, which features in its sculpture park a bright green pavilion (a single surface möbius strip) by 3XN using biodegradable materials that store energy from the footsteps of visitors encouraged to hop up on it.
The show’s organization into three themes, the city, climate and comfort, and metabolism—i.e.,lessons gleaned from architecture from nature’s ecosystem—seems dauntingly ambitious at first glance. Due to the clarity of the organization, which features large models, photos,and room-like installations, the exhibition nicely lacks the walk-in textbook feeling of so many didactically oriented exhibitions. Foster and Partners model of Masdar, the CO2 neutral city that depends on wind tower and solar cells in the United Arab Emirates, dramatically assumes central stage.
For the climate and comfort section, Transsolar, the German engineers, present examples of their work with architects such as Sauerbrauch and Hutton and Steven Holl. The section’s major draw is Swiss architect Philippe Rahm’s minimal, white, design-for-living installation Atmospheric Home. His prototypical apartment qualifies as definitely high on concept, if short on comfort or privacy. Nevertheless it is visually stunning.
The third, section on metabolism shows projects that integrate true green vegetation with architecture:for example, the French designer Patrick Blanc’s plant walls for various buildings, or Spanish architects Ecosistema Urbano proposal for the EcoBoulevard in Madrid, featuring “air trees” (planted silos).
The architects T.R. Hamzah & Ken Yeang [Llewelyn Davies Yeang] place planting at the core of the proposed Editt Tower in Singapore, but this much-published tower still remains still too architecturally aggressive to argue the case for green domination.