søndag den 28. november 2010

Djursholm - a Suburban Utopia

Meeting-point: Djursholms Ösby. (Stockholm, Sweden)
Date and time: Monday, November 01, 2010

The point of departure for this trip was to take a look at the richest and most expensive residential areas in Stockholm. Without prior knowledge we will move trough Djursholm, and imagine the possibility this place holds if we redefine by manipulating it’s subtext. We will look to space, ownership, property structure, ways of living, architecture and the possible residents of such a place. We come as observers and invite everyone to take part in a redefinition of what this place could be.

What we, as walkers, immediately noticed upon arrival at Djursholms Ösby station, was the lack of or poor quality sidewalks. In a way already an indication of the lack of public life in the area.

The American urbanist Jane Jacobs springs to mind with her analysis of sidewalks as having an important function for the community in terms of safety and human contact. What makes a sidewalk work well in these terms is they should be under supervision of stay-at-home residents and business owners and it must enjoy fairly continuous usage. It should also have a clear demarcation between public and private, and thus, not be something just for you and your neighbor.

Neither of these things were the case. Frequent signs about neighborhood watch, and alarm companies were indicators that people didn’t feel too safe. But maybe more noticeable was that the place was completely empty of people. At 3:00-5:00 Friday afternoon we hardly met anyone to talk to in the streets. Had this been a wealthy neighborhood in Copenhagen there would have been underpaid Philippine and Thai maids walking kids in prams. Here nothing.

Well, we did meet one woman tending her garden. She told us of cultural things in the area; a house by the architect Gunnar Asplund (Villa Snellman, 1917-18) seen above and one villa with a ceiling painted by Carl Larsson. Originally Djursholm was built as a garden city with winding roads. Its reputation also comes from around 1900-20, when artists, writers and cultural personalities lived here. It's an old story of how art can make an area exclusive. But it seems to us that today this place is in dire need of support.

Seeing the low quality of public fittings and furniture, we imagine a new public foundation being created much like the first Danish ; ”Ad Usus Publicos” (For public use or benefit). That fund supported artists and cultural figures in doing their art, but also funded other things of public interest, like the making of side walks. The residents of Djursholm who are some of the richest in Sweden could of course pay for this themselves.

The lack of use of this place, which undeniably has lots of spatial qualities, and in particular, a lot of space per resident, makes us think of how we can maximize the use of this. Apple trees with unpicked apples throughout the area points to abundance of resources, but also lead us to think of the principle of Crop Rotation. “the system of varying successive crops in a definite order on the same ground, esp. to avoid depleting the soil”.

In Spatial Terms that would mean a type of time-share, and we would then propose a daily rotation of people from a poor neighborhood from Stockholm. Those with no current employment would come in the morning and live in Djurholm during the day to bring life and safety to the area. This is also feasible because public transport to Djursholm is fairly good.

One more note on apples; In older times in France they had mobile distilleries moving between all the smaller villages. When it came to a village, everyone appeared with their apples and Calvados was made and distributed. We know there are issues with home-brew in Sweden, but this could revitalize the communal spirit of the now dormant Djursholm.

fredag den 1. oktober 2010

City Walking in Albertslund 1968 and 2010

Our trip to Albertslund the 1th of October 2010 took its point of departure in the city walk, as a method and investigation of urban structures and new cities. This trip also marked Walking Distance’s 5th-year and reiterated the notion that it is still relevant to walk through the city, in conversation, on paths, through neighborhoods, across lawns, over walls, through tunnels and look up and down on what is and is not there.

The trip was guided by Ydre Nørrebro Kultur Bureau including Finn, Kirsten and Ninna. In 1968, a group of artists did so-called dérives in the newly built areas in Albertslund. Together with some of the artists from the original group, we did the walk again.

We began at the square in Albertslund. Where Finn Thybo Andersen presented to us photo documentation from the ‘68 trip of an urban area that was completely new at the time.

When you arrive with the S-train you walk down through the city, and from there you move around on paths, through tunnels and in an area of low buildings (mainly row houses, one and two stories).

”In the so-called finger plan from 1947, conducted by the architect Peder Bredsdorff, guidelines were made for the expansion of Copenhagen through five stolons (fingers) from the city center. Albertslund on the ”finger of Roskilde” got its master plan in 1957. The building south of the railway was erected in 1963-66 after the plans of Peter Bredsdorff and Knud Svensson and had a great significance on other similar buildings in Danish cities. The street network is rectangular, the running and pedestrian traffic are separated, and the varied dense-low housing of predominantly small yard houses are designed as an alternative to high-rise and detached houses.” (Den Store Danske)

This lack of horizon makes one feel a bit disoriented and can cause a loss of the sense of direction.

Here you see one of the canals that collect rainwater.

Albertslund is laid out like a garden city; inspired by the English Garden City Movement, which was established in 1898. The intention was to create an area with a balanced relationship between residential areas, industry and countryside.

Here are some of the row houses along the canal. If you look closer in the next image, you can see the changes in the houses’ surface.

The houses are covered with eternit, and it looks like in a later stage the surfaces have been covered with boards, maybe the plates are beginning to erode, the green fungus formations suggest it.

A number of estates have already been renovated. This housing unit is among them. But it has had an enormous effect on the rents which are expected to increase up to 50 %. Going from affordable housing, the rent on a three bedroom 90-sqm apartment will rise to above 10000 kr.

Along the canal and apartment houses is a small supermarket and a Chinese restaurant.

The only ”meeting places” we have seen outside the city center.

We continue along the canal and it leads us out of the residential area into a small wilderness.

Here is the hill that was originally created out of the extra dirt from the excavated city.

From the green area we move towards the built-up area again.

The modular system that Albertslund are built on is visible here. It does have similarities to an area of detached houses, but instead of being individual houses on their own lot, the houses meet, not in straight rows but staggered, so an inner room is created between them.

The yard houses each have a private area, a little yard shielded by a wood fence. The entrances of the houses are facing the street. Here it is possible to get a glimpse down into the gardens from an elevation.

From this side it is possible to look down on horses, goats and rabbits. On a beautiful autumn day like this Albertslund appears to be on its best behavior. If one ignores the worn houses and the relatively deserted streets.

What possibilities does Albertslund hold? Is it still an alternative to a city life far to expensive? Or does the cost increase prohibit that. Is there still the possibility of a vital social existence? Maybe Albertslund is an experiment that still needs to be tested out...

lørdag den 5. juni 2010

Examined Examined – Welfare institutions in Bispebjerg and Copenhagen NW

On this walk we shall be looking at the architecture and placing of welfare institutions in the city. How is equality installed in the urban scene? Are the institutions fairly distributed geographically? We start from Bispebjerg Hospital and pass some of the municipal institutions that have recently been established in the district.

Meeting-point: Bispebjerg S-train station on Tagensvej.

Bispebjerg Hospital was inaugurated in 1913. It was designed by Martin Nyrup, who was also the architect behind Copenhagen City Hall. The style is art nouveau with a strong focus on craftsmanship and concern for detail. The first part of the hospital consisted of a main building and 6 pavilions.

The facility is symmetrical and on a scale that makes the spaces between the buildings intimate and inviting. Light, air and vegetation were to contribute to the healing process.

The surrounding park is closely integrated with the hospital. Originally there were fruit trees and kitchen gardens between the buildings, which provided a degree of self-sufficiency.

Later additions to the hospital were of gradually poorer quality: from building L to the psychiatric emergency ward, which was originally built in 1968, unmistakably on the cheap.

The landscape architect C. Th. Sørensen designed a number of parks, and most of the courtyards in the new apartment blocks and social housing in Copenhagen NW and Bispebjerg. He says that ”most of the gardens established in connection with apartment blocks were created as fine gardens with lawns, trees and flowers, but without anywhere for the children to romp”. This was a practice that he discontinued. Most of the housing is of really high quality – also aesthetically – like this example, for which Sørensen also designed the open spaces.

In the 1920s the housing situation in Copenhagen was desperate, which led, among other things, to the City Council building three apartment blocks on Tomsgårdsvej. The apartments were small, 1-2 rooms without baths or hot water.

In the 1980s it became the practice in district psychiatry to release psychiatric patients to their own homes; in many cases this meant the 1-room apartments in the municipal housing on Tomsgårdsvej. In 1994 Copenhagen City Council sold its 20,000 apartments. The Council has right of referral to 1/3 of the homes in social housing, among other things the apartments administered by Foreningen Socialt Boligbyggeri in Bispeparken.

At 17-19 Tomsgårdsvej the municipality dispenses doctor-prescribed heroin. The reason for deciding to place the centre here was, among other things, that "a large proportion of the patients are resident in Copenhagen NW", which is partly a consequence of the housing policy. Another reason was that "premises at Tomsgårdsvej are vacant and can be rented at a competitive price". The relation between the institution and its design and architecture is non-existent. A new library is at present being built on an adjacent site as compensation for the placing of Ungdomshuset [The Youth House] on Dortheavej.

søndag den 22. februar 2009

Present the evidence

On the third walk “Present the evidence” we visited the courts in Copenhagen together with our host for the day, the jurist Thomas Bugge. The idea was to have a kind of hearing, in which the participants in the walk would be able to ask questions about the effects of the anti-terror package. To what degree do the courts have an independent role, and how did the three-fold division of powers in Denmark function historically and how does it function today?

Meeting-point: In front of Copenhagen City Court, Nytorv 25, Copenhagen K.

At the City Court we reviewed the definition of terror. In several ways the definition is unclear, which can lead to arbitrary reactions and the possibility of political misuse.

The terror packages opened the possibility of telelogging, sniffer programmes, secret home searches, etc., all of which violate the individual’s right to privacy. These measures are subject to judicial control. But figures from 2006 show that of 3572 requests the courts acceded to 3477. This means that the police were given the go-ahead by the courts in 97.9 percent of the cases. At the same time it must be concluded that the increased powers given to the police and the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, PET, which were motivated by anti-terror considerations, are being extensively used in cases not related to terror.

At the High Court we discussed, among other things, how the terror legislation has affected the status of aliens. One of the changes makes it easier to expel persons from Denmark without recourse to the courts. This can be done by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service recommending to the minister of justice that a person should be expelled, after which the minister of justice recommends expulsion to the minister for integration, who makes the decision.

The Tunisian Case is an example of a case in which no evidence was presented. PET chose to keep its evidence secret in order to “protect its sources and partners". Thus it has become possible in Denmark to deprive people of their fundamental rights and freedom without having to present evidence in open court.

At the Supreme Court we discussed the role of the courts and the legal rights of the individual more generally. The courts do not seem to be curbing the increased powers to encroach on the privacy of the individual. The balance between the freedom of the individual and the State’s power to control and penalise seems to have been shifted. With unclear and comprehensive definitions of terror, civil disobedience may come under the terror legislation, thereby limiting the individual’s possibilities of acting politically and with adverse effects on the democratic life of the country.

søndag den 15. februar 2009


The second walk “Intelligence” for Os Dem Demos [Us Them Demos] takes its point of departure in the streets of Copenhagen, in which there is already camera surveillance. We wish to look at the surveillance culture as something both concrete and something we imagine, and at how it affects our action space. We suggest that participants should wear an eye patch as a metaphor for the camera’s ’one-eyedness’ and also to make us visible as suspicious types in the street scene. Birgitte Kofoed Olsen, jurist and vice-director of the Institute for Human Rights, was our guide.

Meeting-point: The stairs in front of Copenhagen City Hall, on City Hall Square.

The walk started in Strøget, Copenhagen’s main pedestrian street. In connection with the planned installation of 200 CCTV cameras along Strøget and in the centre of Copenhagen Deputy Assistant Commissioner Michael Agerbæk says: "This is a completely new world for Copenhagen Police, and this is only the first step. It’s impossible to say where it will end."

Birgitte Kofoed Olsen described the extent of CCTV surveillance in Denmark. There are 300,000 surveillance cameras in use, and security firms are now putting up 50,000 cameras a year.

In 2007 the law on CCTV surveillance was amended. Shops, banks and discotheques are now permitted to monitor facades up to a distance of 10-15 meters, which in the pedestrian street corresponds to the entire street and everybody using it.

The High Court of Eastern Denmark: If the police and the Danish Security and Intelligence Service want to have data on who we have talked, mailed or texted with, that requires a court order. But with regard to where we fly, what we borrow at the library and the content of most official registers, the Service can get the information without a court order.

The Danish Data Protection Agency is the authority set up to ensure that the Danish Data Protection Act is complied with. The Agency is also the authority that handles complaints. Previously CCTV surveillance had to be approved by the Agency. That is no longer the case.

Nørreport Station: the platforms are under surveillance and so are the S-trains. The cameras at the station are linked to a surveillance centre in Esbjerg on the west coast of Jutland.

lørdag den 14. februar 2009

The architecture of anti-terror

In connection with the exhibition ”Os Dem Demos” [Us Them Demos] Walking Distance is arranging 3 walks inspired by the anti-terror packages and their relation to the judicial, the legislative and the executive powers. We shall confront the anti-terror packages and the authorities by placing ourselves in public spaces – visible, vulnerable and questioning. We wish to raise questions about the consequences that the legislation involves for our freedom of action and our legal rights as citizens and artists.

Meeting-point: In front of Christiansborg Palace Chapel.

On the first “The architecture of anti-terror” tour, which took place by bus, we looked at the administrative authorities involved in carrying out the anti-terror legislation. These include the Danish Immigration Service, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service and other authorities charged with implementing the anti-terror packages. About 50 people participated in the tour. Architect Merete Ahnfeldt-Mollerup was the guide together with Nis Rømer.

Christiansborg was the starting-point for the bus tour. In reaction to 9/11 a majority in the Folketing enacted the anti-terror package in 2002 and later adopted a number of additional provisions in 2006. The anti-terror packages gave expanded powers to the Danish Security and Intelligence Service and the Police in particular, but at the same time it also introduced limitations in the individual citizen’s civil rights.

Architectonically Christiansborg was already outdated when it was built. Rather than expressing the democratic ideas of the day, the architecture reflects the institution of absolute monarchy that the introduction of democracy was designed to break with.

The Supreme Court. It is remarkable that here the threefold division between the legislative, the judicial and the executive powers is cancelled out by the architecture. The home of the Supreme Court is physically attached to Christiansborg. In Denmark there is no other kind of constitutional court, which means that the judiciary has only limited possibilities of controlling laws and the legislators and ensuring the citizens their rights.

The High Court of Eastern Denmark was originally built as an opera house and rebuilt as a court in 1919. Here Fighters+Lovers were given a prison sentence of 6 months for supporting FARC and PLFP. The case has now been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Kastellet, the Copenhagen Citadel, is the home of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service. Section 17.1.1 of the Defence Act states: ”In wartime or under other special circumstances the Defence Minister may without a court order introduce measures concerning Section 72 of the Constitution in regard of telephone conversations, mail and other forms of communication.” In other words, the Defence Act permits the Defence Minister ”in wartime or under other special circumstances” to initiate surveillance and phone-tapping of Danish citizens.

The terror fence in Nordhavn was erected in consequence of the new threat picture that emerged after 9/11. The fence extends endlessly and closes off almost the entire area from public access. The terror assessments on which it is based are secret and therefore cannot be publicly challenged.

The USA embassy is one of the places where anti-terror measures have been given their most direct architectonic expression. At what was originally a site that sought to promote openness and freedom, there are now massive anti-terror flower tubs, a fence and cameras. Ugly but secure, as a major German paper wrote of the new American embassy in Berlin.

After a corruption scandal the Refugee Agency was rechristened with the use of Orwellian Newspeak as the Danish Immigration Service. Together with this Service the Danish Security and Intelligence Service can without recourse to the courts reject applicants that they suspect of terror. Architectonically one is struck by the reflecting glass together with the surveillance cameras on the facade. It is said that the walls are so white because of the graffiti and the repeated repainting this has necessitated. Historically this was once one of the poorest districts in Copenhagen.

The area around Glasvej is characterised by potholed asphalt and buildings of only modest quality. The so-called Glasvej Case resulted in sentences for planning terror of 7 and 12 years respectively at Glostrup Court in October 2008. The case has been appealed to the High Court of Eastern Denmark.

The normalisation of terror and anti-terror can be seen reflected in the architecture. The Danish Security and Intelligence Service is situated in a district with one-family houses.

Its HQ could be mistaken for the main office of a computer firm. Mediocre mainstream architecture, perhaps with a slightly higher frequency of window blinds.

We served rolled spicy meat and aquavit in the visitors’ parking lot. Later the police turned up in strength and registered all the participants in the lunch even though nothing illegal was taking place.

The Copenhagen Police Headquarters was the last stop on the tour. The building was designed in neoclassical style by the architect Hack Kampmanm, Aage Rafn and others – a fine example of the architecture of power that doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is.