After a tiresomely long research assignment (the first half of the Atlas assignment), we finally got a design project! Having not designed anything at all during the entire summer vacation, I was really excited to once again be able to put my creative skills to use. The joy was limited though, since it was only a model workshop that lasted mere two weeks.

The goal of the workshop was primarily to learn more about a method of design through trial and error with concept models. The workshop was done in groups of two, and for this, I joined creative forces with Guru. We were told to basically do as many models as possible and keep trying them out until we get a concept for our site that was right. Secondarily, our goal was to practice working in a larger scale (one that is between local and urban planning). Our site was located directly by the beautiful lake areas of Inner Copenhagen as shown above. 

The existing area on the site is a home for the elderly, and our goal was to redesign the existing slab complex into a more pleasant and vibrant area. Function-wise, the area would remain for the eldery, though with an addition of a kindergarden. Our first thoughts were to (quite obviously) preserve the opportunities for views of the lakes for the elderlys. This was a high priority, though not our primary. Our greatest focus was to open this rather large plot towards the public and allow for caf├ęs and public recreational areas. By planning the site with a somewhat dense city structure, we have tried to create small spaces and passages between the newly created buildings on the plot. We believe that this narrowing of the site will create more spaces for activities and relaxation, as well create a balance between public and semi-public spaces.

Our approach towards achieving this vibrant new area, was firstly by sticking to a contextual design. At first, we took our first steps through mimicing the Copenhagen block structure, which is basically a closed rectanglur structure with a private inner court. We took great efforts in reading the surrounding area, and placed our structures according to the existing trees on the site, pedestrian movement lines, the surrounding road connections, building heights, etc. After having placed our abstractions of the Copenhagen blocks around the site, it still seemed to closed and uninviting. This led os to reverse our perspective on the Copenhagen block, and rather take the qualities of the very diverse inner courtyards of these. By doing this, we ended up with three large buildings (formally in the shape of the Copenhagen block), which were now fragmented into smaller connected structures with different shapes, heights and perhaps even facades. This design strategy creates a sort of city-within-city kind of development, that appeals to the human scale, and also avoids looking like a hospital-like structure (something we also took great measures to avoid!). Finally, our kindergarten was placed in the upper right area of the plot. The kindergarten is a stand-alone building, but it mimics the design language of the elderly home and creates an almost replica-like structure. The area between the kindergarten and the lake opens up as a completely public green area with facilities such as a small football plane and a green belt that connects the lake path to the street on the other side of the plot. All this should be visible on the plan photo above.

The most interesting part of this workshop, was to work with this model-based method. This method is very popular among young Danish architectural firms such as JAJA Architects, Adept Architects, BIG and so on. The model is (and has always been) a very powerful tool during the design process (in my oppinion), but personally, I believe this method has its issues. One thing I noticed very early during the design process, is that the shape and form of the created models is too dominant. It felt like working with shapes rather than context most of the time, and personally, I am against that sort of architecture. As a matter of fact, Guru and I had to stop after the first week and rethink our entire project through a process in which we primarily focused on the context for a start (which is more like our normal design method). This approach led to much more specific concepts and in the end led to our final model. My personal conclusion was quite simply, that thorough study of the site's context in the beginning really pays off, rather than taking a more form-based approach. This is undoubtfully a personal matter, but nevertheless my own oppinion.
As for the crit; the majority of the comments were largely positive towards the result of our work, while our design process was slightly questioned. The latter is without question due to our change of method towards the more contextual one, but since the result was welcomed very warmly, I am quite satisfied with our choice of sticking to our own methods.

P.S. This site has an actual competition that is completed at this point of time. The result of the winning proposal is expected to be made public within the coming few months, so it will be very interesting to see which group in the class came closest to the winning proposal (if any). I'll post about this in the future.

- Andy Minchev