Nordic Urban Weave: On Domesticity and Civic Continuity

Set within Copenhagen’s post-industrial Nordhavn District, the studio investigates the global challenges of water resiliency and housing—a common yet complex condition in many harbor cities that face the transformation of water-edges. From Boston to Hong Kong, this shift among port cities often involves a transition away from previous activities of shipping, commerce, and trade, and toward new civic and domestic models of public space and housing. Yet, the evolution of the water’s edge is seldom a tidy process, offering a unique opportunity for critique, intervention and design imagination.

Traveling to Copenhagen over spring break, the studio seeks to reconcile the specific forces at work in Denmark, at the confluence of a water-shaped civic landscape, a porous matrix of aggregated dwelling, and the Nordic concept of ‘Hygge,’ loosely defined as domestic coziness or togetherness.  What is a contemporary interpretation of hygge and how can this culturally specific concept recast traditional modes of housing and provide alternatives to market-driven criteria?  How is hygge rooted in climate and material culture, and how might we create a personal response to the evolving legacy of Danish modernism? Can emerging low-carbon material and construction technologies contribute to an architectural expression while addressing needs for water management and resiliency?

Copenhagen exemplifies a proactive approach to climate resiliency, and investment in its vulnerable waterfront, resulting in an on-going master planning effort, won in competition by the Danish firm Cobe in 2008. Aimed at integrating existing and new infrastructure, transforming Nordhavn’s water-front edges, and satisfying Copenhagen’s need for housing, the Cobe plan and other realized architecture and landscape projects, will serve as a foundation for our study to explore and advance site-specific housing proposals.  

Dense urban housing typically manifests in repetitive patterns of unit aggregation, mirrored and stacked pragmatically, relying on double-loaded corridors for efficiency, and often stuffed into arbitrary envelopes, absent of a socially binding civic promenade, geometric variation or domestic ambiance. As a counterpoint to the repetitive stack and its proclivity for alienation, we will conceptualize housing and urban landscape as a contiguous, fully connected pedestrian terrain that wends its way horizontally and vertically, seeking light and air, re-imagining the ground plane, and offering unique opportunities for architectural expression—in other words, we will integrate hydrology, housing, and hygge. Implicit in this act is a resistance to an overly privatized landscape and an active study of grade and circulation as collective tissue. Housing is thereby imagined as a porous container set amidst a terraformed landscape and skin, a shaped vessel that owes as much to its interior contour as to its exterior figuration. This approach questions the distinctions between private and public realms as typically defined by building skin, aspiring to reconcile a programmatically rich interior with an architecture of sculptural, civic and ecological presence.