The city is Copenhagen, and Blox is the latest innovative building for activities and services in the Danish capital: more than just a work of architecture, it represents a community. Designed by OMA/Ellen van Loon, Blox hosts the new headquarters of Danish Architecture Center, which forms the core of the building with its exhibition spaces. Interni had a preview visit
Photos by David Zanardi – Text by Laura Ragazzola
Some stats: 26 meters in height, and 17 meters below ground; almost 30,000 square meters of area (four football pitches) of which 5900 are set aside for exhibition space; 10,000 for startup offices with a focus on sustainable development of cities; 3300 for apartments; 1800 for fitness (the gym faces the sea); 1200 for kids; 950 for food (restaurants and cafes on two different levels); 4700 for parking cars and bikes.
We are in Copenhagen (the bike park immediately points to a Nordic location) and the building, as we were saying, is called Blox, the latest new presence on the bay. A project designed by OMA let by partner Ellen van Loon is the new headquarters of Dac, Danish Architecture Center: the architect and ceo of Dac, Kent Martinussen, tells us all about it in this exclusive interview.
Dac is moving: from a historical building, an icon of the old port area of Copenhagen, to a contemporary building, Blox. What was the reason behind this move? What is the added value?
The answer is quite simple. The world is opening up, and as a result the construction sector is getting globalized. This means that while in Denmark there is a high level of urban quality, to maintain that level it is always necessary to grow, to evolve, to open to the world around us and to other countries. So the answer to your question is that we want to gain visibility, greater impact. Blox, in fact, is in a more strategic position with respect to the old facility, close to the Parliament and thanks to a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, the Lille Langebro, ready this coming autumn, it will be part of a sort of infrastructure that will connect two different parts of the city.
In short, Blox is a catalyst capable of attracting visitors and promoting the culture of Danish architecture, or more precisely the culture of sustainable architecture. In practice, we will continue to do what we do, but on a larger scale and in greater depth, creating stimuli not only for the Danes but also for all those who come to visit Denmark and want to know more about the values of our culture.
Is that the mission of Dac?
Yes. We believe architecture can change the world, contributing to improve the quality of life of people. In concrete terms, we work to stimulate what we call a “culture of outstanding architecture”: to stimulate a sharing of intent between citizens, sector professionals (architects, contractors…) and the municipal government, to work together in the development of future solutions in a perspective of sustainable growth of the society. With its initiatives and exhibition activities Dac sets out above all to create a new awareness through which everyone can take part in an improvement that is both collective and individual.
How is this commitment organized?
We start by spreading architectural culture already in the schools: we welcome about 10,000 children per year, and some of them prefer taking architecture courses instead of going to play tennis or football… In short, architecture becomes an integral part of their educational path.
This happens in the structures of our facility, but we also organize guided tours of the city, to understand its history and what direction it can take in the future. Starting with children, it is possible to bring up a new generation that is active and ‘enlightened,’ able to recognize the quality of the constructed environment, and above all to demand it…
Transforming people into protagonists of the city…
Precisely. You can have an architectural culture only if there is strong engagement, acceptance and comprehension of the importance of the quality of the environment on the part of those who inhabit it.
So you want to have visibility not just in Denmark, but also abroad?
Exactly. We want to have international impact.
The new Dac was designed by OMA, a Dutch firm. How did you reach that decision?
Through an international competition. The ‘think tank,’ or the group responsible for the project, in which I also took part, decided first of all on the location of the building: whether to move towards the areas of growth of the metropolitan belt of Copenhagen, or whether to remain in the historical center…
In the end we opted for a very central area, close to the Parliament, on a lot that was still ‘free’ at the inner port of Copenhagen. The second important decision had to do with the organization of the competition, to make it involve architects from all over the world. From over 100 submissions, we selected six: three foreign firms and three Danish firms.
How did you narrow the field to decide on the winner?
We used the so-called three-P method: project, people and process. The studios had to demonstrate their ability to make such a complex project from the viewpoint of the urban scale and costs: the cost of overall development is about 2 billion Danish kroner (about 270 million euros; Blox was funded and built by the philantropic association Realdania, ed.). They had to present the team of designers who would be involved in the project, and then to illustrate the process with which they planned to move forward in the relationship with the local community, the municipal government of Copenhagen and the client. Based on these parameters, the proposal by OMA was the most convincing.
The architect Ellen van Loon, OMA partner-in-charge, has proven to be our perfect partner. Above all, we appreciated her idea of metropolitan architecture, not to simply create a work of architecture of high aesthetic or formal quality, but also to offer Copenhagen a place that would be more than just a new building…
A micro-city in the city: this is Blox. The facility is a place not only for ‘our’ institution, but also for apartments, offices, exhibition spaces, two restaurants, cafes, a bookstore, a fitness club, education and play areas for kids, a parking facility for cars and another for bicycles…
It is also a ‘street’ that connects two areas of the city that were previously divided. In short, the project by OMA has created a sort of complex urban fabric, capable of responding to what we call the ‘collective desire’ of those who live in the city: namely to spend time together.
And about the first exhibition at Dac?
The title of the first exhibition in the spaces of Dac is Welcome Home, meaning welcome to our new home. But the show sets out above all to offer a wide audience a vision of the house of the future. Our aim is also to go beyond architecture per se, to also explore the territory of art and aesthetics. So we have created a special space for artists, known as The Golden Gallery: the first artist to show there is Olafur Eliasson, who presents Multiple shadow house.
What kind of project is it?
The artist has constructed a “house” to offer an emotional experience: when visitors enter, they realize that the empty, uninhabited house comes to life, when they fill it with people and motion. I am reminded of a famous song by Dionne Warwick: “A House is not a Home” (when there’s no one there). Eliasson’s work makes us think precisely about this: the house is not merely a work of architecture, a physical space, but also and above all a place to meet, that thrives on interpersonal relations.
Just like Blox…