The interesting thing about Danish architecture studio Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter is that, looking at their diverse projects, many of which involve renovation of heritage buildings, a design philosophy emerges not through a stylistic idiosyncrasy, but a consistent and relentless sensitivity to context. The immanently Danish attunement to social dimensions of designing urban spaces offers only a partial explanation; even in light of this regional specificity, the exceptional work done by the Copenhagen-based studio is among the most grounded, unpretentious, yet engaging architectural examples coming from this small Nordic country.
Still, it is safe to assume that the firm’s design philosophy is informed by the involvement of Ms. Dorte Mandrup, founder and sole owner of the studio, in the work of the national council for the preservation of historically significant buildings. With a portfolio dominated by projects involving renovation and alternation of heritage and existing buildings, the broader theme of social responsibility is further validated by the studio’s impressive experience with designing community centers and facilities for kids and youth.
Regarding the role of architectural preservation within the industry, Ms. Mandrup relates that, preservation, in her opinion, “is about keeping the memory alive, and the cityscapes dynamic and overlapping over time, and sometimes forcing a new creativity in developing architecture for the future that gives quality back to society that you would not have gained otherwise …
“The thing is, not all that is new is good, and not all that is old is bad.”
Munkegaardsskolen, Gentofte, Denmark
In dealing with heritage buildings, architects often encounter difficulties of introducing new systems — meeting current fire safety standards, new heating, ventilating, air conditioning, etc. — into old structure. Of the several renovation works that the studio has undertaken over the years, Ms. Mandrup singles out Munkegaardsskolen in Gentofte just north of Copenhagen. Originally built in 1957, this famous Arne Jacobsen-designed school was given the status of a listed building in 1995. Its restoration, conversion, and extension was entrusted to Dorte Mandrup Architects with the intention of reprogramming the spaces and modifying them to suit a more contemporary and collaborative educational approach.
The repeating quality of the structure and the courtyards were complemented with a new underground extension with crystal-like openings. The restoration introduced an element of informal learning and interaction while creating subtle references to Jacobsen’s original design and detailing. “We solved the challenge with overheating and energy renovation as far as we could within the existing detailing and geometry,” she notes. “We designed hidden intakes for air and improved natural ventilation and reduced the heat loss by going from single-layer to energy glass, all within the original geometry of the existing mullions.”
Community Centre Herstedlund, Albertslund, Denmark
Meanwhile, the Community Centre Herstedlund, based on a system of concrete columns, filigree slabs, glass panels, perforated aluminum plates, and steel, addresses communal spaces in an entirely different aesthetic way compared to the previous building. The industrial, high-tech appearance of the structure relies on color and abundant natural light to achieve an optimal level of warmth. Bright yellow walls and floor-to-ceiling glass surfaces create a playful atmosphere for the 600 families living in the area.
The building refers to nature not only in its abstractedly tree-like appearance, but also by meeting Tier-2 Energy-Efficiency requirements with solar panels, efficient ventilation and lighting control, soil heating, and rainwater harvesting mechanisms.
Jemtelandsgade Neighbourhood Center, Copenhagen, Denmark
Another renovation example is the Jemtelandsgade Neighbourhood Centre built in 2001. The team was commissioned to turn a former industrial building from the 1880, located in the Holmbladsgade neighborhood in Copenhagen, into a community center. In the attempt to create a strong connection between the various activities of the new center across two levels, the architects partially removed the existing floor decks and introduced a new, triple-height foyer space running the length of the building. A steel truss system resting on a row of twin wooden columns was mounted on the façade to compensate for the structural role of the removed horizontal slab.
The addition, dubbed “the children’s treehouse,” is a freestanding structure enveloped in glass. It rests on concrete columns and houses a large hall accessed via a closed footbridge connecting it to the main building.
Children’s Culture House Ama’r, Copenhagen, Denmark
Meanwhile, the widely published Children’s Culture House Ama’r in Copenhagen, winner of the 2014 WAN Education Award, takes visual cues from the neighboring brownstones and whimsically redefines their uniform fenestration. The charming, child-like allusion to the building’s surroundings is further emphasized by extending the lines of the existing buildings and gradually lowering the roof line to allow the sunlight to reach the neighboring courtyard. Inside, the architects created myriad spaces where kids can play and socialize. Custom furniture and mountain-like organization allow for a range of spatial experiences and are meant to support creativity and active participation.
If there is a recurring theme in the architects’ oeuvre, within the educational typology in particular, it is the frequent introduction of mountainous forms and sloping and cascading structures that engage with and challenge kids’ motor skills and nurtures their love of play. “Buildings for educational use have to be based on state-of-the-art principles for learning,” Mandrup notes. “That means that you have to be up to date on pedagogical principles and to work very closely with the educational team that will operate within the building in the future. We are careful to design the buildings to be flexible and to support differentiated and individual ways of learning. For me, a very important part of designing learning environments for kids and youth is architecture that supports physical movement and social interaction.”
Children’s Culture House Ama’r
Denmark is brimming with great architecture, but the small country’s limited capacity for building projects has motivated many designers to build abroad. Most of Dorte Madrup Arkitekter’s projects are located in Denmark and Southern Sweden, but the firm is looking to expand their practice beyond national and regional borders. Taking Scandinavia as their natural starting point, the firm is consciously working on establishing an international portfolio that spans different typologies. Among other projects, they are currently working together with KGS Arkitekten on a competition proposal for a school in Cologne, Switzerland.