Denmark Is Design

From the architecture, everyday household items through to the grates in footpaths, lighting in public squares and fashion worn by the Danes, the place exudes style. It is hard not to be impressed by the aesthetics all around you.


Stylish and chic, the design of the schools I visited varied in approach in addressing the challenges we have the world over in envisioning environments catering for a future of teaching and learning in schools. There is no doubt a strong desire to engage the pedagogy of collaborative learning drives Copenhagen school design.In three of the four schools, the spaces beyond the traditional classroom were the focus but encompassed different approaches.


An artist inspired interior design of one school had colour and texture as a theme that pervaded the learning spaces but I am not sure to what end. Using the school as a canvas appeared disconnected with the function of the building and struck me as a little perplexing - as impressive as the artist's expression was. If there was evidence of an integrated programme of discovery and creativity between the artist and students, I am certain a more powerful impact would have been present.


Multi-Storey school buildings are limited in Australia to the degree seen in many places in Europe, for obvious reasons. The pressure on space necessitates developing new schools on a fraction of the area we would normally see. Seeing a new primary school for 900 children based on this model certainly challenged my thoughts on this solution. However, in line with Scandinavian prowess, the interplay between levels and the use of roof top areas for playgrounds explored the dynamics required of this age group of children. The focus on light is part of the tradition in these northern countries where the sun is welcomed to bring life to the built form. Glass is used extensively and drives the interplay of nature within the interior spaces. Using transparency within the learning spaces becomes a natural step from this desire to embrace the soft sunlight of the region. But there was also a feeling of glorified corridors in the way this was handled in a building of such height. The clean and modern design of these spaces at times left me a little cold and wondering "where are the students, where is the learning?" for the aesthetic can appear almost impersonal and as long as there is designer furniture laid out, it appears like a modern learning environment but is more of a photo opportunity rather than a vibrant place of activity.


It calls into question what the role of the educators was in the process or if involved, what was the input on the pedagogy the architects were to embrace. There is no reason these spaces will not work. Creative teachers can transform most spaces into dynamic settings for learning.


The most exciting project was one under construction. The Sydhavn Skole by JJW Arkitekter ( promises to be an exciting learning environment, community focus and creative exploration of the way a building can interface with the street and water at the same time. And this is over 6 storeys! The theme of active learning pervades the design in all its intricacies of different levels, elegant staircases, inviting sun terraces, performance spaces linking learning communities and a clear understanding of how a building can contribute to enhancing learning relationships. As a Norwegian Principal noted though was the inability to have a pedagogical discussion with users at this stage of the project. I hope to further discuss this project directly with the architect, Lars Lindeberg, over coming weeks and will share some of the thought and design processes behind this potentially enchanting school.


 The issue that intrigued me through visiting these schools is the role of architect as 'behavioral manipulator' versus 'aesthetic hero'. Where we as architects and school communities respond to the clearly articulated needs of the user in innovative and beautiful ways, behavior will surely evolve to strengthen relationships. For is that not what we as architects profess to do? Shape space for life? We endeavour to inspire people through defining spatial qualities that imbue a certain spirit conducive for sharing, loving, talking, listening, creating, teaching and learning.


In this special place in northern Europe, at the heart of the Nordic traditions, the architects continue to challenge the status quo, contribute to society in meaningful and valued ways, celebrate the cultural integrity of the Danes and encourage all architects to be honest in our visions of making places for people.

Philip Idle

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