The 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale spotlights the art of the many

'Art of Many - The Right to Space' is the name of this year's Danish contribution. The curators have set out to present the extensive social commitment of Danish architects.


In Denmark, architecture practices of all shapes and sizes wage a daily battle to improve our physical environment with respect for society and community. Whether it is day care centres, public spaces, prisons or co-housing schemes, architects challenge themselves and their clients in their efforts to tackle the major challenges facing our age. This is the conviction of the curators, Boris Brorman Jensen and Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss, who scrutinised 300 current architectural projects from both Denmark and abroad before coming up with the 130, which they then selected to be part of the Danish Pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

"We have discovered a wide-ranging social commitment in Danish architecture right now. It has surprised us just how wide-ranging it actually is. There are exciting experiments in many different camps: not just among the big, high profile practices we so often hear about. The front does not consist of a 'one man army'. There are many practices constantly challenging themselves and their surroundings in their efforts both to accomplish a job and to elevate the result to a higher level. That is why we have called the exhibitionArt of Many, not only in the sense of 'art for many people', but also in the sense of 'the art of creating high quality architecture for many people'," says Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss and Boris Brorman Jensen.

>> See the list of projects in the exhibition

The main curator of the Venice Biennale, the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, asked individual countries to select today's architectural front zones: the areas where people are fighting to increase quality of life by means of architecture and urban development. It is to be expected that a number of contributions to the Biennale will tackle major global challenges such as refugee flows and rapid urbanisation. The Danish Pavilion will highlight how Danish architects, in cooperation with planners, politicians and developers, are working on a daily basis to renew the Danish tradition of focusing on the human being when conceiving and building society and social institutions. Boris Brorman Jensen and Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss have identified five recurring agendas, within which they have grouped the selected projects.

Boris Brorman Jensen og Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss, Photo: Stamers kontor

>> See the five agendas 

The Claiming Space agenda includes projects that tackle public spaces in innovative ways: frequently in an assertive way, so that public spaces cater for many sections of the population and many functions, dealing with several challenges at the same time. The goal is to support a social community.

"We do not live in an age of great optimism. It is not the golden age of Modernism's heyday. Nonetheless, architects are more than willing to throw themselves in the deep end, tackling major issues such as the protection of the climate and the formation of ghettos - to name but a couple. The social housing sector is a Danish success story and the standard of Danish housing is generally high. But how do we retain this high standard in a situation of scarce resources and cutbacks? You could argue that we are losing a sense of community. TheClaiming Spaceagenda shows how architects not only accomplish the jobs they are given, but also challenge them. Even though they have not been asked to, architects insist on creating communal space that also benefits the people who do not pay. This is architecture's frontal assault on the bankruptcy of community," says Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss.

The exhibition will be complemented by a comprehensive publication of interviews and essays. They will look at humanism in Danish architecture and examine how the current trends are rooted in, and build upon the ambitions of social democracy, the co-operative movement and the housing movement to shape autonomous individuals and ensure equal access to affordable housing.

Because, even though we are very familiar with the Danish tradition, the curators have been surprised just how vital, and perhaps also somewhat overlooked, it is today.

"The concept of quality in Danish architecture is very wide-ranging right now. The machine is working constantly to expand our rights to space, but what goes on is very fragmented, and maybe architects and the industry are not aware of this. Maybe they do not sense it in everyday life. The exhibition wants to make us aware of what is lurking and going on beneath everyday architectural practice," says Kristoffer Lindhardt Weis.

Even though the curators have been impressed by what they call Danish architecture's current pulling power, they are totally aware that there is a price to pay for the fight for community and the high ambitions of architecture practices. For example, when a fledgling architecture practice canvases a municipality for a job by presenting its vision for a public space and finally succeeds, it may be great for the town, but not necessarily for the architects' finances.

"The practices work a lot of overtime, and Danish architectural firms are not good at earning money and creating jobs: in fact, a lot worse than other professions. And when you take a close look at the Danish Ministry of Finance, it is education that is suffering major cutbacks, and this is another threat to the profession. The price for this struggle is punishment,"  concludes Boris Brorman Jensen.

The next few months will see the exhibition taking shape in the lead up to the opening on 28 May 2016 in the Danish Pavilion in Venice. The exhibition will run until 27 November 2016.

The Danish Ministry of Culture has selected the Danish Architecture Centre as commissioner of the official Danish contribution to the 15th International Architectural Biennale in Venice. The project is supported by Realdania, the Danish Ministry of Culture, the Danish Arts Foundation's Committee for Architecture Grants and Project Funding, the Dreyer Foundation and New Carlsberg Foundation.

>> Read more about the main theme and the 15th International Architecture Biennale in Venice

The five agendas

The curators have identified five so-called "agendas", within which they have grouped the selected projects.

Pro Community
This is about civil society's unique role and opportunities in Denmark. This is a presentation of projects, which resulted from the initiative of citizens, but also projects where private operators play a crucial role. The projects are often community-oriented buildings: for example, the semi-outdoor community hub in the village of Fjelstervang

>> Read more about the community hub of Fjelstervand

Exit Utopia
The idealistic planning of Modernism has failed, not only when it comes to creating decent social areas, but also in terms of tackling climate change and changes in the likes of population growth experienced by cities/urbanisation. All the projects relate to cities and towns and include everything from rainwater management to the transformation of Gellerupparken

>> Read more about the transformation of Gellerupparken

Claiming Space
Towns and cities are under pressure and there is a struggle for space on the expensive square metres in town and city centres. It is the role of architects, politicians and citizens to expand the concept of urban space and of where/how to establish social and public spaces in towns and cities. This is a presentation of projects that create public space in new ways: for example, Amager Bakke and Vinge Station.

>> Read more about Amager Bakke

>> Read more about Vinge Station 

Beyond Luxury
A revised form of the concept of luxury, in which what was once considered as luxurious, has ceased to be so. Today, the likes of daylight, access to green/open areas and decent local materials are in short supply and have become highly desirable. But they are not necessarily in short supply because they are too resource-intensive to produce. This presents examples of simple architecture, which, with the use, say, of local materials, creates positive spaces without being expensive: for example, Almen Bolig +

>> Read more about Almen Bolig+

Designing Life
We are constantly learning how architecture can impact behaviour - learning, conduct, efficiency etc. This agenda looks at the responsibility and role of architecture and the influence and impact, which spaces have on the people who use them: for example, children in schools, patients in hospitals and prisoners in prisons.

Last updated Friday, April 01, 2016