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Pedagogy: KADK, Copenhagen

The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts continues to prioritise research in the pursuit of architectural knowledge.

Recent managerial appointments across the board at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) have set in motion, according to Katrine Lotz − an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture − ‘a long-term change in the academy culture’ rather than targeting easily-defined objectives. The institution is engaging students and staff alike in ‘a transparent process of hearings and debates’ ostensibly framed by the 2011 merger of the Danish Design School with the Academy’s Schools of Architecture and Conservation. Emphasising both internal connections and external collaboration, KADK hopes to reinvent itself for the future and, in so doing, to reappraise its continuity with an august and dignified past.

Founded in 1754, the school − which was originally an academy of ‘painting, sculpture and building’ − was a birthday gift for King Frederick V. During the early years of the institution, the king would regularly attend its meetings; his intense involvement underscoring the pivotal role played by culture and its historical association with Europe’s nobility. Placing building alongside painting and sculpture, the academy’s formulation of culture aimed to unify craftsmanship with the fine arts.


Karin Björsmo, study model for her Mausoleo de la Revolución in Cuba, testing forms.

Equally significant has been an insistence at KADK, since the mid-20th century, on prioritising research in the evolution of architectural knowledge. Such enlightened attitudes have contributed to the popularity of a school which grew so rapidly in the 1970s that a restrictive admissions policy was introduced. KADK hopes to recover a reputation for being ahead of its time, especially in regard to the role of research.

Peter Thule Kristensen, the new Head of School, specifies the integration of research ‘including research by design and artistic development’ with studio teaching as crucial to KADK’s current processes of transformation. In addition, he highlights the need to balance a desire for consistent standards across the school with promoting difference and innovation − especially in the teaching of design. There is nothing new about a school of architecture, particularly at diploma or master’s level, promoting its programme in terms of diversity: as a menu of studios offered to students. This suits both the academic superstructure’s natural wish for broad appeal and also the design tutors: those who teach each studio, often on a part-time basis, charged with providing a distinctive approach.


Karin Björsmo, study model for her Mausoleo de la Revolución in Cuba, testing light properties

And yet, at KADK the desire for difference overshadows claims to a collective vision; Niels Grønbæk suggests that he and his tutor colleagues consider the very idea of ‘one school’ to be ‘restrictive’. As Lotz clarifies, this is not just about exercising the right to assert a point of view. ‘We are really embracing difference − what it means that some things are different from others but have to coexist. Perhaps this is a challenge to our culture of consensus.’ Grønbæk agrees: ‘Copenhagen is not one thing.’ Celebrated for its liveability, the city is regularly characterised as a democratic venue for multiple viewpoints rather than a single vision.

The implication of mapping this multiplicity back, from city onto school, is that difference is vital if architectural culture is to flourish. For Lotz, this entails more than passive acknowledgement of plurality, ‘not only allowing for differences but actively pursuing how they are done’. The resulting debate is played out across a range of pedagogical attitudes in the master’s level studios at KADK.A project by Grønbæk’s student Karin Björsmo exemplifies such an approach.


A distinctly different approach to studio work taken by tutor Niels Grønbæk informed his student Karin Björsmo’s proposal for a historical archive in Havana. Experiments with multiple exposure photography and sequential modelling were used to generate a tectonic form for the project

Her Mausoleo de la Revolución proposes an archive for historical reflection in Havana. A series of exhibition and study spaces display documents and artefacts, excavating Cuba’s revolutionary history in settings that progressively dig deeper into the ground and swing out to describe an arc in plan. Björsmo uses drawing and imaging techniques − sequential sections and multiple-exposure photographs − to test ideas about time, notation and recollection. In Grønbæk’s studio, representational methodologies are exploited for both their creative and critical potential.

By contrast, Charlie Steenberg’s studio adopts an emphatically practical approach to address ‘how things are actually done’. Although most master’s level students are well-acquainted with the wider challenges facing architecture, a ‘feeling of deficit’ often holds them back. In her teaching, Steenberg aims to balance conceptual knowledge and technical capability. Student Mari Proll Lien’s project investigates the pressing problem of energy efficiency, but with a focus often overlooked at architecture school: renovating old buildings. Lien’s proposed alterations and additions to a Modernist scheme aim to bring its technical and social performance into step with current demands. Her project emphasises detail, building an argument for strategic intervention in the existing fabric only when necessary.


KADK tutor Charlie Steenberg encourages her students to adopt a practical approach to their studio projects. Here master’s student Mari Proll Lien attempts to address the concern of effective energy optimisation in a historic setting. She proposes a series of alterations to an ageing Modernist campus in Copenhagen. Rigorous realism in detailing the scheme allowed Proll Lien carefully to enhance both the technical and phenomenological performance of the refurbished buildings


This article is part of a series examining the state of architectural education across the world. More discussions of academies and schools from other nations can be found in Pedagogy.

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