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.


Mikael Hansen in the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory

I have once again had the great pleasure of working closely together with Danish landscape artist Mikael Hansen on a week long landscape course for 150 1st year students at AAA. Something which I have been looking very much forward to since we ran a similar course in 2014 and 2015.

The course took place in Eskelund, the new site for the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory, where the students, in almost constant rain, hail and sleet, had to propose and build an intervention that qualified a certain spatial quality in the landscape laboratory.

Despite the enduring challenges of bad weather the result is 15 wonderful, crazy, ephemeral, beautiful and quiet interventions that are being exhibited in the area from April 29th to May 20th.

Aarhus River Walk

A few days ago I carried out my fifth river walk – the 50km Aarhus River Walk together with my walking compatriot Thomas Juel Clemmensen. For a full fourteen hours we walked in and along the banks of the Aarhus River. From Astrup Mose through the undulating river landscape of farmland, forests, villages and hills into the Aarhus River Valley where the river runs into the Bay of Aarhus close to my office at the Aarhus School of Architecture.

The river was one of the main reasons for me participating in the 50th IFLA conference in New Zealand in 2013.

As our planned walk along Skjern River has been postponed to the spring of 2016 the Aarhus River Walk was a fitting sequal to our first river walk in May 2013, where we carried out the Aire Walk together along the banks of the Aire River from its springs in the mountains of France across the national border into Switzerland to where the river disappears underneath the city of Geneva.

During the final stretch of our Aarhus River Walk, walking a pitch black September night, we passed by silently what was once the minor site of one of the major gardens in 20th century Danish landscape architecture: Sven’s Garden on the northern slopes of the river valley.

From 1965 to 1980 Sven Hansen was Professor in Landscape Architecture at the Aarhus School of Architecture. In 1948 he co-founded IFLA. His garden beautifully exemplified how certain landscape architects in Aarhus have related their work to the city’s overarching narrative of water, topography and territory.

A narrative we are now continuing through the establishment of the Aarhus Landscape Laboratory placed in the valley of Dead Creek on the southern banks of the river directly opposite Svens garden. A garden that was closely linked to the territory we traversed on our walk.

So, to some extent our Aarhus River Walk was also a walk through time and Sven’s Garden


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.

Skjern River Walking

In late August I will walk for several days along Skjern River with my colleague and good friend Thomas Juel Clemmensen. We will walk some 100 km from the source of the river towards the windbeaten west coast of Denmark where the river flows into Ringkøbing Fjord and the North Sea.

Our walk will begin in Tinnet Krat and end in the Skjern River Delta.

For a river walker Tinnet Krat is a special, almost mythical, place. Here both Skjern River, Denmark’s largest river in terms of flow, and Gudenåen, Denmark’s longest river, begin their watery journeys only a few 100m from each other. The two rivers are seperated by the watershed running along the topographical spine of Jutland. While Skjern River flows westward crossing the flat plains of western Jutland, Gudenåen flows northeastward through the hilly and forested countryside of the Danish lakeland district towards the east coast.

After three days of westbound walking we expect to reach the Skjern River Delta, where the largest, and most advanced, drainage and land reclamation project in Denmark’s history took place in the 1960es. Thomas has been working extensively with the nature restoration of the river delta, which was initiated only a few decades after the completion of the land reclamation in 1968. In his research, some of which was recently published in the Journal of Landscape Architecture, he has questioned how nature is referred to as ‘the nature’ or simply ‘nature’, as if it was something objective or selfevident:

[…] who defines, or decides, what nature is, and what kind of nature should be restored? And is not ‘nature restoration’ a contradiction in terms with regard to our deeply cultivated landscapes?” (Clemmensen, 2014)

Some of his research builds upon the renaturalisation of the Aire River outside Geneva, which we visited together for the second time in 2013. Here we walked the river from its source in Mont Saléve to Geneva. During this walk I completed my Aire Walk Series, the first of several series of photographs on rivers – and the highly cultivated landscapes they traverse. So walking Skjern River together with Thomas seems to be a fitting sequal for our shared river walking and a photographical continuation of my expanding river series.

Two rivers, two watersheds, two walks.






While walking along Dead Creek with landscape artist Mikael Hansen in April I met a man waist deep in the creek. Drawing. He was mapping the flow of the water. Immersing himself in the creek. Walking its invisible bottom. Of Dead Creek and other waterways of the Aarhus Bay watershed.

After a good talk about walking in water and how Dead Creek has shaped the landscape of the valley over millenia and itself been re-shaped over the course of the last decades Mikael and I continued our walk along the creek to explore the possibilities for our second landscape workshop to be held in the landscape laboratory the following May.

Here Mikael gave me the book Gå. Eller kunsten at leve et vildt og poetisk liv (2007) (Tramp. Or the art of living a wild and poetic life, translated to English in 2010) by Norwegian writer – and walker – extraordinaire Tomas Espedal, who eloquently writes about walking and mapping:

The best maps can not be bought, they are drawn by people you meet on the way. And people you meet on the way are both more welcoming and precise. It applies to all countries. The best maps are communicated orally and with gestures, sometimes with a pen and a piece of paper. Occassionally the one who show the way will follow suit and show you where the road splits in an unmanageable way, a difficult turn, and that is how you become familiar with the landscape and the roads by a method, which is both direct and precise; A shortcut, a secret trail, we all know these roads that no one else knows. They are our roads, our own trails that criss-cross what the map and the main roads tell you.

I think that roads and waterways like Dead Creek are alike in so far as they in similar ways are steeped in stories and local rites, some visible in the lay of the land, others hidden from plain sight. If that is the case then Espedals words about roads goes for waterways like Dead Creek as well;

The best maps on rivers and waterways can not be bought, they are drawn by people you meet on the way. That is how you become familiar with them by a method, which is both direct and precise: A shortcut, a secret creek, we all know these waters that no one else knows.

They are our waterways.


LAND-SHAPE is a large land art initiative in Northen Jutland under the Cultural Agreement for the region. I recently participated in the jury of the first Open Call to select 10 winning projects to be realised in the region during 2015 and the coming years.

For an intense period of screening and selecting I was in the highly inspirational company of a handful of passionate and creative people:

The jury of LAND-SHAPE has found 10 excellent land art pieces of great variation to be realized in North Jutland within the next 2 ½ years! We have recieved 171 proposals in all from 34 countries from all the world. The level of the proposals has been very high and our 5 censors: Ben Tufnell (GB), Wolfgang Buntrock (DE), Charlotte Bagger Brandt (DK), Trine Rytter Andersen (DK) and Stefan Darlan Boris (DK), have spent a great effort to finally selecting the 10 winners. We now have a wide range of different types of land art project that we plan to realize in North Jutland!

The winners can be seen on LAND-SHAPES website and in different locations in Northern Jutland over the coming period. Also, some will take place during the first LAND-SHAPE 2015 Festival in and around Hanstholm in the first week of June!

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!