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Gjøde & Partnere Arkitekter: ‘to create a setting where people can meet’

16 the desert island gjøde & partnere arkitekter (c) ross duggan heredownunder

The Danish practice has designed a pair of poetic interventions between land and water for the Sculpture by the Sea biennale

‘La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée!’ as Paul Valéry put it in his 1920 poem Le Cimetière marin, or ‘The Sea! The Sea! Forever renewed’, with which Iris Murdoch would title a novel in 1978. The rhythmic crash of surf, the slop and swale of the tide, the amaranthine horizon a vault between the waters. Certainly the ocean has, since the beginning of time, inspired rumination on the infinite. The poet, standing on the shoreline, exclaiming metaphors of love and life unbidden in the face of such intangibly large vistas. Only natural then, for man to seek to somehow straddle the divide, grasp at something fixed where all is ever-changing but ever-constant, and seek to staunch the peculiar existential ache of the ocean.

Embracing and exploring themes of solitude, corporate experience, and not without ingenuity and playfulness, a pair of recent projects by Danish practice Gjøde & Partnere Arkitekter act as poetic interventions between land and water. The Infinite Bridge, an elevated circular platform on Aarhus coastline, Denmark, was built as part of the Sculpture by the Sea Biennale in 2015. As the horizon, the circle has no beginning or end – making the elemental shape an apt motif to lay over the shallows transversing beach to sea. ‘Walking on the bridge you experience the changing landscape as an endless panoramic composition and at the same time you enter a space of social interaction with other people experiencing the same panorama’, says practice founder Johan Gjøde. The platform has been used by sunrise joggers, sunset dog-walkers, as a swimming platform, a place for family photographs, a cycling loop (for the brave), a picnic spot, engagements, even a wedding venue (multiple times!) or just a place to sit with dangling legs.

(c) aarhus i billeder [1]

(c) aarhus i billeder [1]

Source: Aarhus/Billeder

The Infinite Bridge in Aarhus, Denmark

Imagine a bridge where you can walk and walk and never meet the end, the prospect slowly turning as you orbit, navigating those you encounter on the way. It’s much the same experience – although, in a way, inverted and arguably refined – at The Desert Island, another site-specific installation exploring the boundaries between art and architecture. Due to be rebuilt on the edge of the Danish Wadden Sea for Wadden Tide 2019 but originally commissioned by Sculpture by the Sea for the Cottesloe location in Perth, Western Australia, in 2018, ‘the idea behind The Desert Island is to add a spatial quality to the infinite horizon that stretches across the sea’, says Gjøde. Conceived as a semi-circular mirror wall that spans 72 metres across the beach, facing the Indian Ocean, the project creates a panoramic, and slightly warped, reflection of the sea and the horizon. The reflection extends the horizon onto the beach to cleverly enclose a space that appears to be a desert island floating in an endless sea – visitors turn within a ceaseless ring.

08 the desert island gjøde & partnere arkitekter (c) gjøde & partnere arkitekter

08 the desert island gjøde & partnere arkitekter (c) gjøde & partnere arkitekter

Source: Gjøde & Partnere Arkitekter

The Desert Island on Cottesloe beach, Australia

The studio is experienced in designing exhibition spaces: for both Painting the 1960s at Brandts Museum for Art and Visual Culture in Odense, Denmark, in 2015, and Framework, an exhibition of selected study projects from VIA University College, during Design Week in Milan 2015, at Ventura Projects, Lambrate. ‘You have to create a setting where people can meet and contemplate the individual art pieces in a new light.’ In the case of The Infinite Bridge and The Desert Island, it is the natural world on which a new light is cast.

From London’s Serpentine to Melbourne’s MPavilion, the current, and unabating, appetite for pavilions and other follies is, at its best, an opportunity to experiment and stretch what architecture can be. At their worst, the extent to which they contribute meaningfully to architectural discourse is questionable – especially in an Instagram-age of selfie-hunters seeking ‘likes’. By saying that a given project walks the line between art and architecture do we excuse it from the robust criticism we dispense to works that sit either in the art gallery or on the street, in the built environment?

02 the desert island gjøde & partnere arkitekter (c) david dare parker

02 the desert island gjøde & partnere arkitekter (c) david dare parker

Source: David Dare Parker

For web drawing

For web drawing

Between the two projects discussed here there is certainly an improvement. With The Desert Island there is greater success in a hermetic experience thanks to the angled trickery of the mirrored wall. At sunset and sunrise the effect is especially beautiful – a place to get lost in, but also one where crowds flock to clown around together.

The clever thinking and simple execution displayed in the work of Gjøde & Partnere for Sculpture by the Sea foreshadows what they could do if given bigger briefs? Their almost-finished Odder Chapel, near Aarhus, seems a promising harbinger of the possibilities ahead for a young practice with an imaginative approach.

Lead image: The Desert Island on Cottesloe beach, Australia (source: Ross Dugan)

This piece is featured in the AR April 2019 issue on Oceans – click here to purchase your copy today