When you think about upstart cultures, the Danes don’t immediately spring to mind. They’re a homogeneous bunch, largely middle class, smugly satisfied with their little country despite high taxes and chilly weather. Hardly a recipe for radical innovation.
Still, over the past decade, a new generation of architects in Denmark has staged a feisty revolution in their tranquil kingdom by designing buildings that don’t look anything like their storybook predecessors.
Starting in 2000, they stormed the scene with swashbuckling new ideas blending pragmatism and utopianism. Created in a context of globalization, leavened by environmental concerns, and emboldened by digital tools, they created exotic new shapes that looked like futuristic forms from another planet, especially when contrasted with the medieval streetscape of their capital city.
Some critics found their buildings daring and exciting. Others thought they had gone too far, throwing out the cherished values of Danish architecture—local building traditions, a time-honored attention to detail—with the bathwater, in their haste to create something surprising and to address long-standing problems with unconventional solutions.
Now, a new book takes a comprehensive look at what that decade of experimentation has wrought. The New Wave in Danish Architecture by Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss and Kjeld Vindum is a hefty volume in which images of many of the decade’s most dazzling projects—some that were built, others that were dazzling leaps of imagination but have yet to find financing or a builder willing to commit—are depicted, many along with photos of their original models, concept drawings, elevations, and floor plans.
Interspersed with these engaging projects are interviews and essays on topics such as "welfare urbanism," architects as storytellers, and whether the "new wave" of the title is really a paradigm shift or merely a passing trend. A fair amount of ink is devoted to the impact of country’s best-known young architects, Rem Koolhaas protégés Bjarke Ingels of the firm BIG and his former partner, Julien de Smedt of JDS, on the culture, specifically: Are they groundbreaking innovators or consummate media manipulators?
Full disclosure: I participated in an interview for the book on topics like Ingels’s "hedonistic sustainability" and architecture’s role in community value creation. Also, the book has reprinted my original story on Ingels, told in the graphic novel style, from our October 2011 issue.
Leave aside my own contribution, and you’ll still find this tome one of the year’s most fascinating chronicles of a rare decade in architecture, and the coming of age of an extraordinary group of fearless and visionary young Turks who are as masterful at marketing as they are at 3-D modeling.