AARCA – research in the Anthropocene

My work at the Aarhus School of Architecture on and along the Aarhus River in both my research and teaching has led to the development of AARCA – a research based and artistically driven project in which I address the challenges and potentials confronting landscape architecture and urban planning due to the entanglement of urbanisation and anthropogenic processes.

The project utilizes the Aarhus Bay Watershed as an area of interest with a strong focus on the Aarhus River Catchment Area (AARCA) as a specific territory of urbanisation. The Aarhus River itself is 40 km in length and the catchment area is 354 km2. Apart from being the reason why Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, is located where it is, along the East Jutland coastline, Aros, the original name of the city, literally meaning ‘at the mouth of the river’, AARCA is also the territory in which the Aarhus School of Architecture is situated.

Read more about about AARCA here and follow AARCA develop and unfold on AARCA.DK


Urbanism in the Anthropocene

On May 9th I will begin a three week long course with 40 3rd year students at AAA on Urbanism in the Anthropocene.

The course takes its point of departure the fact that natural scientists think of our contemporary age as a new geological epoch. The Holocene has given way to the ‘Anthropocene’ as human activities have significant impact on the transformations of our planet, its ecosystems, and geology. Concurrently, urban researchers think of our age as ‘the urban age’ since more than 50% of the population of the Earth now lives in cities. The percentage is expected to increase in the coming decades.

In short: the future of humanity most probably will be fundamentally marked by both urbanization and the human impact on the planet Earth.

The course kickstarts with a two day international public seminar, which addresses the challenges confronting urbanism (urban design and planning, landscape urbanism) due to the entanglement of urbanisation and anthropogenic processes. The speakers are Simon Marvin, Professor in Geography at the Urban Institute at Sheffield university and good friends Jens Christian Svenning, Professor in Biodiversity at the Aarhus University, who participates in the development of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory, and Thomas Sieverts, Professor Emeritus in Urbanism, who supervised my PhD.

On May 10th I I will present my ongoing work on the Aarhus River Valley and the establishment of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory on a former waste deposit right next to the river, only a short walk from the future location of the Aarhus School of Architecture. An area which is also the focus of the 3rd year students participating in the course.


Let’s Walk Urban Landscapes

I have just returned home from the design research symposium Let’s Walk Urban Landscapes held in Hannover on Sep. 1st to Sep. 3rd where I had the great pleasure of meeting old friends from Germany again.

The symposium was arranged by Studio Urbane Landschaften and, as the title of the conference suggests, was based on the engagement of the symposium participants in order to discover and discuss new pathways in design research and practice. Divided into six different workshops we were encouraged to co-create the symposium by walking different areas of Hannover in teams.

I had the daunting but surprisingly wonderful experience of walking Roderbruch, an urban district in Hannover namely dubbed Roderbronx, with a team run by Emanuele Braga from Landscape Coreography. Braga took us for a collective, and intuitively coreographed, walk through the urban district of Roderbronx with the aim of discovering, and conveying, forgotten, hidden or otherwise unnoticed spatial relationships in the urban fabric of the Bronx.

Despite (probably) looking ‘out-of-place’ from an outsiders perspective we encountered microworlds of water fountains, hidden creeks, invisible boundaries and in-between spaces by immersing ourselves ‘in-it’. Encounters that could have been ‘overlooked’ if we had used other, more traditional, mapping techniques.

Rethink Urban Habitats

On March 5th I will participate in the conference Rethink the City organised by Centre for Strategic Urban Research. Here I will present the two interrelated projects Rethink Urban Habitats and Aarhus Landscape Laboratory.

Early in the morning, prior to my presentation, I will walk with walker extraordinaire Henrik Schultz from Studio Urbane Landschaften. We will walk from the landscape laboratory in Dead Creek Valley along the water of the tributary into the valley of the Aarhus River to where the water meets the harbour and the Bay of Aarhus.

A fitting way to prepare for a presentation: River walking in good company.

Designing landscapes through walking

According to German landscape architect Henrik Schultz walking can help to intensively perceive and understand traversed space, to generate knowledge, to stimulate intuition and grasp single spatial elements as ensembles, to recognize and exchange perspectives and ideas.

Based on more than 100 experimental walks in as diverse territories as the Swiss Alps, the Scottish Highlands, Patagonia and metropolises like Berlin and London Henrik Schultz asks how we can walk to design? How can we make sure that all the prospects of walking can be operative? Are there any rules for “how to walk”? Can we learn to apply walking to the tasks of large-scale landscape design? How can the findings be transferred in order to make them applicable for large-scale landscape design?

Henrik Schultz will discuss this and more in his lecture Designing large-scale landscapes through walking on March 4th, 3 pm. in the Main Auditorium at the Aarhus School of Architecture…

…and everyone are welcome!

Associate Professor

Today I officially begin my Associate Professorship in landscape architecture at the Aarhus School of Architecture.

Together with my good colleagues at Platform Urbanism & Landscape I will be building, dreaming, drawing, talking, walking and writing (occasionally simultaneously!) landscapes of the past, present and future. But most importantly I am humbled by the fact that I get to stand on the shoulders and follow in the footsteps of brilliant teachers in landscape architecture before me. People that have shaped my understanding of landscape architecture as an aesthetically and ecologically grounded discipline in which the sensuous goes hand in hand with a fundamental care towards our common surroundings.

Most importantly my own teacher Preben Skaarup who is not only an incredibly gifted teacher and landscape architect, but also, during my own studies, gave me the most important advice of my career and to whom I am deeply grateful.

In her Fantasiens Have (1993) writer extra-ordinaire Malene Hauxner describes how the Nordic modern garden, in the talented hands and minds of G.N. Brandt, C.Th. Sørensen, T. Erstad, A. Andersen and more, offered:

[…] openness, resurrected sensuality fulfilling the wish for fellowship with animals and plants, and an anti-authoritarian life, which would leave room for individuality and imagination and thoughts unbound. The point was that nature, once brought into the garden, could be used not only to demonstrate something but to encourage users to think for themselves.

There are many good things in this small quote, but especially Malenes last point is important. It is, I think, a prerequisite of beauty: That it is open towards the possibility to invest one-self in it and that it makes room for engagement, imagination and participation.

It is, maybe more than ever, the responsibility of landscape architects, among others, to ensure this openness and thus to approach nature, in all its forms and variations, not only in terms of what nature can be used for – or what it is worth for us – but as some other thing in which we invest ourselves as a way of giving something back to our surroundings. In his Forests – the Shadow of Civilisation (1993) Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us ever so eloquently that nature, after all, is a profound part of what it means to be human in the first place.

Later today I will walk along Dead Creek and the urban habitat we are in the middle of developing. Everyone who wants to join me in my walk – despite the cold and snow – are more than welcome to meet up at Ormslevvej 55, 8000 Aarhus C at 2 pm!

Approaching Landscape Laboratories

For five great days from December 2nd to December 6th I visited the good people at the Faculty of Architecture at Liege University to talk and walk experimental landscapes and discuss Scandinavian experiences with the landscape laboratories in Alnarp, Snogeholm, Sletten and soon-to-be-Aarhus.

I was in the good company of passionate people like Catherine, Rita, Paul, Roland, Erik, Jitka, LarsOla, Martin and many more who are all engaged in critical thinking about and practicing new urban habitats.

Apart from giving two presentations of our new and ongoing landscape laboratory experiences in Aarhus I walked the Meuse Valley along the Meuse river and visited both the former and current botanical garden of Liege. The first garden being just outside the doors of the Faculty of Architecture, the latter being on the forested slopes of the Ourthe valley south of the Meuse River.

Also, I had the great pleasure of walking old terrils in Martinet near Charleroi close to the border of France and, driving home through a winter cold Germany, the former military airport of Kalbach Bonames, which has been converted into a new urban habitat just outside Frankfurt.

Arkipelaget – Book launch at Kunsthal Aarhus

The Aarhus School of Architecture will host a book launch of Arkipelaget issue #4 – 6 at Kunsthal Aarhus on October 8th at 4 – 6 pm.

Arkipelaget #6 is entitled LUCUS and includes some of my photographic work on forest clearings. Also, I have written a text about landscape photography in which I describe my photographies as double images:

“At first sight, they depict their subjects, but on closer perusal (more or less visibly, so to speak), they reveal the opposite angle and a shadow portrait of the reflective photographer at work ((Wenders, 2001). In that sense, my camera is a lucus in itself. It is a transformational space, which intermittently allows light into the negatives, which constitute the physical foundation of the photographs.”

Some of the photographies in LUCUS were recently exhibited at the Aarhus School of Architecture.


Into the boreal with the Danish Art Foundation

With great support from the Danish Art Foundation I am now working on a larger project, which will shed new light on urban forests and nordic landscape architecture – the focus of my own research.

The first part of the project is beginning to take shape and over the coming months I will be venturing into the boreal of Norway, Sweden and Finland to work on the next pieces of the project.

I look forward to show the results during 2015.


Landscape Experiments and a walking exhibition

I have had the great pleasure of working for a full week with good colleagues, almost 150 bachelor students and the land artist Mikael Hansen on what has been the first workshop in the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory.

Together with good man Martin Odgaard I have been working for more than half a year on creating the foundation for the landscape laboratory and there are still a lot of work to be done. So it was a humbling experience to see so many students among the hawthorns, hazels, heat pipes and muddy waters along the Aarhus South Highway in Dead Creek Valley!

The students worked in collaboration on 15 landscape experiments and the beautiful results were exhibited in a week long walking exhibition, which was a first possibility for the public to see the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory from the perspective of students.