We need to live better lives. Far more sustainably and ecologically. That is what Vandkunsten Architects have been advocating ever since the practice was established back in 1970. Now, five decades on, when we are facing an ever-increasing climate crisis, their message and work are more relevant than ever.
Hair was long and trousers were wide. There were women’s libbers, hippies and young people living in communes. Everyone in Denmark was listening to Gasolin’ and Steppeulvene.
The year was 1970 – the zenith of youth revolution and free thinking. This was when we started dreaming of greener architecture. Of co-housing schemes, community building, communal meals and recycling.
It was also the year that Vandkunsten Architects was founded.
“Back then, they were the bad boys of Danish architecture,” says Lasse Andersson, an architect and Director of Kunsten and the Utzon Center.
“Vandkunsten drew their inspiration from everyday life, distancing themselves from concrete buildings and alien urban plans. They laid the ground for far more interesting residential architecture in Denmark, with an emphasis on accessibility, community, materials and sustainability,” says Lasse Andersson.
When it comes to the average man or woman on the street, Vandkunsten is not exactly the most famous architecture firm in Denmark, but everyone in the profession knows the architects from the old firm. And we need an exhibition about Vandkunsten. In a future of ever-increasing climate crisis, we would do well to listen to the messages and philosophy, to which they have remained faithful since 1970.
“Essentially, so they’ll challenge the way in which we build and live our lives. That is why they insist on community in their architecture and work on the basis of a belief in absolute sustainability. We are going to have to face certain conditions in the future, so we need to rethink our building materials – and materials in general. This will create a radical beauty, which is attractive, weathered and recycled, and which will require innovation and research,” says Lasse Andersson.
It’s as if Vandkunsten have come full circle after 50 years. They were coloured by youth rebellion: a showdown with modernism and a reaction to the oil crisis of the 1970s. Today they are in a new era of nascent youth revolution, coloured by climate crisis and a global construction sector that is often unfocused, trundling on with turnkey contracts and growth plans.
The exhibition is an opportunity to enter the world of Vandkunsten. You will meet architects who insist on absolute sustainability, total community and radical beauty in their encounter with a rapidly changing world.
Vandkunsten have been one of the most significant architecture firms in Denmark for the past five decades. Their work covers a vast spectrum: everything from minimal housing and co-housing schemes to large-scale, comprehensive urban plans.
But what all their projects have in common is a desire for us to live better lives. To rediscover joy, and create a setting for community and better lives in our houses, neighbourhoods and the world in general.
“Visitors will be inspired to live better lives together and to take their own initiatives, either alone or in cooperation with others. The exhibition features a stunning Vandkunsten town that is recycled and weathered. The town is playful and digital and targeted at children and adults alike. It is an indication of how we can live and create better together in the future,” says Lasse Andersson.
In the exhibition, visitors will have a chance to explore a small town with green plazas. There are mini homes. There are bay windows, an outdoor-indoor kitchen, a greenhouse, chickens, a community centre, a playground and a studio. It is a small, living community and town.
There is a cosy atmosphere with coloured lamps, roof terraces and digital tree crowns, encouraging residents to enjoy a nap in a hammock. But this is serious stuff. The practice has a manifesto made up of five statements that invite us all to join in the discussion about how we can live better lives, both now and in the future.
Because everything in the exhibition was created as a declaration of love for recycling and the noble weathering, with which age and use invest materials. The fact that the exhibition is diametrically opposed to perfection and glam is entirely in the spirit of the firm and of our times.
Just take the title. The Danish for ‘Living Better’ is ‘Bo Bedre’. That is also the name of a magazine, and the magazine is also part of the exhibition.
“Bo Bedre has been looking at how we live our lives for as long as Vandkunsten has. If you take a look at an edition of Bo Bedre from the 1970s, and then at a range of Vandkunsten’s gems, you’ll see a clear correlation. The 1970s has simply caught up with the 2020s. It’s like a kind of journey back to the future in order to create a new, shared quality by living and building well, with a focus on sustainability, community and quality materials. The Utzon Center would like to reach as many people as possible in collaboration with Bo Bedre, Vandkunsten and the Danish Architecture Centre, because it’s all about living better lives in the future,” says Lasse Andersson.
The exhibition is a collaboration between Vandkunsten, the Danish Architecture Centre and the Utzon Center. Funded by Realdania, it is part of the Utzon Center’s exhibition series, In the Architect’s World, in which trend-setting architects create holistic architectural images that reflect their work now and in the future.
The exhibition is part of the series In The Architect’s World, which the Utzon Center launched in 2018 with Reiulf Ramstad Architects.
“From the outset, the firm fell in love with the fringes of society, farm buildings, old sheds and holiday homes. Anything patched together, random and utilitarian. Though it goes against the grain of any design logic, wear engenders a beauty, which is a result of randomness, and compositions that are almost impossible to conjure up as an architect. Even today, we are still busy recycling outworn building materials. Yes, it’s about sustainability. But it’s also about investing our environment with more beauty and history.”
Let’s live smaller-scale, better lives
Let’s share more
Invite nature in
Let’s take charge, together
Leave things alone and see the beauty
'It is excellent'
'Resoundingly well communicated'
'I am so thrilled'
You 'walk around using all of your senses'