On the occasion of the beginning of our new semester assignment, my department went on a three-day trip to the little island of Hven, where our assignment will be based. Hven is a Swedish island which has a length of 4.5 km and a width of 2.5 km, with an all-year population of about 360 people (1200 during the summer season). The island is geographically placed right between Zealand (the island on which Copenhagen lies) and Skåne (Southern Sweden). It is mainly an agricultural island, but is also a popular family tourism destination during the summer, and also home to the Tycho Brahe museum - A museum dedicated to the infamous astronomer, who lived on the island before moving to Prague, where he lived till his days' end. With that said, honestly, that is just about all there is on Hven.

The landscape on Hven was rather interesting. Despite being the tiny island that it is, the island had a great variety of nature landscapes. The island has minor forests that are almost truly wild, great open field plains, a coastal scenery of beaches and cliffs, and also, small towns of both historic value, and modern resort villages. The great variation of landscape on the island is perhaps one of the reasons why our teachers chose the island as a location for our new project. On the first day, we were simply told to roam the island, and sketch down any interesting sites, places, landscapes or other elements that we find along our trip. Despite strong wind and an empty and quiet spring landscape, it seemed to me that the island has a certain beauty. It may seem dull with the long, open agricultural landscape, but once you explorer the smaller, more hidden areas, there are places of great interest, I must say!

Charming historic country estates are plentiful on the island, and the local architectural style is - besides charming - rather interesting, since a lot of the architecture has been improvised by the local farmers, using whatever materials have been available at the time. Another thing I noticed, is that just about all of the gardens on the island were very tidy and well-kept! I have a few theories for why it is so. First of all, I believe that living on such an island, with very limited sparetime activities, it seems that gardening is an almost unevitable sparetime activity. Second, since the island is a popular tourist destination during summer, perhaps the inhabitants feel that keeping their gardens good-looking, they increase the charm of the island - thus doing something to attract even more tourists. 

On the second day, we were divided in four groups, which were each assigned to investigate the island at four different areas. During this investigation, we were to take notes on just about everything from statistics on vehicle activity and animal life, to talking to locals and counting airplanes (!). My group was assigned to do research on the island's country road - a very long, straight road, that is the heart of vehicular traffic on the island. This was perhaps one of the more dull areas on the island, since it mainly consisted of flat agricultural landscape around the road, and a few houses. The most noteworthy thing about the road, was that almost all vehicular activity was connected to the island ferry's arrival and departure. On the more interesting side, other groups had greater contact to the locals, who gave them rather interesting stories about the island. It generally seems that the locals are rather proud of Hven. In example, despite the island being isolated in the middle of Øresund (the name of the sound between Zealand and Skåne), the locals rather believed that their location is very central in the area, and no matter which of the major cities they wanted to go to (Copehagen, Malmö, Helsingør and Helsingborg), they were never more than half an hours boat trip away from their destination. Furthermore, they were also fond of the fact that no more than 70 of the island's inhabitants went to the mainland for work (70 of 360 is perhaps still quite a deal if you consider kids and elders on the island) - and during summer, they even have people from the mainland coming to work on the island during the tourist season.

But as I said, we were on the island mainly for our new project, which was given to us on Thursday - The last day on which we were on the island. Our project consists of five elements: A sauna house, a stairway/bridge that connects to a bath house by the sea, changing cabins by the beach and a sun watch. These five elements may be built together or seperatly, depending on our choice. The sun watch, seems to me a rather troublesome element, since I really find it hard to fit in with the rest of the elements (my department fellows agree on this), but then again, that is perhaps a good challenge. I have at this point of time already some ideas that I believe could seem promising, but it is far too early to be sure about them, so I won't comment on them just yet. There were furthermore some places on the island that got me thinking on the more abstract side of life, and I'll make a post on some of my thoughts soon.

Further reading:

- Andy Minchev


It has been a while since I have posted in the blog, but this is due to a workshop we have had recently. As you may (or may not) remember, I mentioned that during the last four works, we have been working on material workshops - Learning more about materials and their abilities and such. First we worked with a project that examined the strength of paper structures, and later a similiar project, but with really thin load-bearing wooden sticks (I haven't posted about the latter project on the blog, since it is very similar to the paper structure project). After these minor structure experiments, we were to choose to work from a variety of four different materials: bricks, concrete, steel and wood. The material I wished to work with was concrete, being the most common building material, but due to an unfortunate day of absence (and yes, unfortunately it was on the very day on which we were to choose our material-groups!), I ended up in the masonry workshop instead.

The masonry workshop was at first sight rather simple. But then again, it was at times surprisingly challenging. We were given 1:5 scale bricks to work with at first, with which we were to create a model of a wall fragment - A brick pattern to put it simply. Being one of those think-out-of-the-box architect types, I naturally started off by attempting to make very dynamic and organic patterns, but I quickly learned that such patterns are very unstable when building with bricks. Due to such structural weaknesses, I ended up simplyfing my design more and more, until I ended up with result above. I have to admit it is a design that I was (and still am) rather disappointed with, but on the larger scale, it actually looks alright (we were to make a 1:20 visualization of our pattern - this is shown later in the post.)

After everyone had completed a model each, 14 of the designs were chosen for real-life construction. My classmate, Jens', model was selected as one of the 14, and together we built it at a masonry high school outside of Copenhagen, as part of our masonry program. During this two-day masonry course, we quickly learned that the art of brick masonry is far more challenging than it seems, and the work is, well to say the least, pretty hard! I can assure you that after about 6-7 hours of working on the wall (which furthermore is much slower than the tempo in which professional masons work in!), the both of us went home with back pains! Below is a photoshop visualization of a facade with my brick pattern. As you can see, it looks almost completely different once you add some windows and doors to the pattern, bringing it to life in a real-life situation (best seen in full screen):

Even though I didn't get to work with the material I wished to work with, I still got a valuable lesson from the masonry course. First of all it is a material I wouldn't often choose to work with, meaning that I wouldn't learn much about it, so I'm glad I got to learn more about it in case I were to use it in a project some day. Another important thing I learned, is that we as architects can often get really comfortable in front of our desks, sitting with a cup of joe and designing buildings in an office, while forgetting that builders at site are doing a really hard work to build our visions to life. I have learned of the hard work that takes place in the building process (at least that of masonry), and I'll remember it as a reminder that we should also mind conditions and challenges that real-life on-site workers must face in order to make our projects realitys.

P.S. We have just started on our new project today, and on that occasion, we're going to be spending the next three days on the small island of Hven (an island between Denmark's Zealand and Sweden). Expect a post about the trip and the new project when I return.

- Andy Minchev


Lately I'm busy with yet another workshop at the architectural school, so lots of material is to be expected by next week. In the meanwhile, here's a thought-provoking project that I found on eVolo's website - a website that focuses on innovative architecture. The project is, as the title of this post implies, about an artificial tree.

The interesting thing about this tree, besides it being a pretty litteral example of biomimicry, is that it has vastly superior environmental impacts than that of a normal tree. This artificial creation has the carbon neutralizing effect equivalent to over 100 natural trees! This incredible feat is achieved by various technological elements that are implanted and integrated into the tree structure. Furthermore, the artificial tree is made to fit in the urban landscape, with features such as benches by the roots and a marvelous lighting system during nighttime. The entire system of the tree runs on sustainable off-grid power systems that harvest the wind and the sun. The structure is designed for the city of Boston, and is thought to be built in plenty of numbers, so that the city's polution is minimized, and so the negative impacts of industrial developement can be minimized.

Personally, I think the most interesting topic about these artificial trees, is centered around their possible impact. Let's say that the Boston city council approve construction of these structures, and they turn out as effective as they are assumed to be on paper and drawing. What if this concept spreads around the world. Sure it will be a postive thing, being able to neutralize carbon so easily, while also adding beautifaction to global metropolises, but is it ethically right? I'm a very open-minded person regarding many contemporary subjects and as in this example, also technology. But the ability of being able to create trees, that are more effective than real-life trees, won't that be a bit of a problem? I imagine cities cutting down "the old trees" to build such ones. Imagine the urban landscape without any actual vegetation, but rather boulevards of artificial robo-trees. Such a development could lead to extinction of wildlife in urban areas, and with time, even justify massive woodcutting in the developed world, as well as the more fragile parts, such as the rainforests. My vision may be pretty exagerated, but then again, the world developes quickly, and you never know what might happen.

Further reading:

- Andy Minchev 


As our four weeks of architectural technics workshop continue, this week, we are working with buildings' construction - load bearing and such. Our lectures on the subject are accompanied by minor projects (usually two or three day projects really), which test our understandings of the whole engineers' point of view. As our first mini project assignment for the week, we were to design a load-bearing structure entirely out of paper.

The assignment was more specific than that though. We were to design a load-bearing paper structure out of no more than two A4 sheets of paper, and a single 5cm piece of string. This structure was afterwards to be placed on a 25cm gap - Like a bridge if you will - And attempt to carry as much weigth as possible, before collapsing. Having had a quick introduction to paper as a material, we quickly learned that it is stronger than one would expect. I would have shown photos of our design to make things easier, but unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me on the day, and my cell phone has issues uploading pictures - So instead, above and bellow are our concept sketches (we were in a three student group, if I didn't mention this before). We started off by attempting to build a triangular bridge structure, which obviously had potential, but wasn't strong enough yet. After that, we tried a round tube, which made great use and strength of the paper, but still lacked some stability. Having tried both ideas, we decided to shove the tube into the triangular structure in order to make an unstable exterior structure, while maintaining a solid, strong interior structure (as illustrated above). The structure was added a thin paper "line" to the construction, where a hook could hang for the weights that were to be placed, and also so that the pressure from the weights is sent to the massive structure, furthering its strength.

The result was a highly efficient load-bearing structure. During the try-outs today, it did rather well - It managed to hold 6,5 kilograms before collapsing (our paper construction weighed no more than 10 grams!). In other words, our paper structure was able to hold 650 times its own weight! Unfortunately our structure didn't score first prize amongst the different paper structure made by the other groups. We managed to get a 4th place among about 14 groups. The 2nd and 3rd place went to two structures that had a similar concept to ours, but apparently ones that were more stable. The first place went to an entirely different concept, and I must admit, one that was most impressive. It went to two boys who had made a spider-like structure that rested its columns on the edges of the gap - Thus concentrating the pressure created onto four different points. They used solid, massive paper columns on a vertical plane, which dramatically strengthened their structure. It went on to hold about 20kg! The known record is assumed to be 28kg at the architectural school, while our workshop teachers claimed that paper structures created by professionals have managed to hold weights at about 50kgs! This excersise has really been a huge eye-opener for me on the subject of paper constructions. Having always had an interest in the works of architects such as Shigeru Ban, I am glad to finally have a clear understanding of the potential of paper, and who knows, perhaps I might try out working with it some day.

Further reading:

- Andy Minchev