You know the stereotype in romantic movies when after dating all the wrong guys the girl falls in love with her best friend? That’s kind of like my relationship with design. While I had flings with topics across the board, design has been a constant, probably before I even knew it was a discipline that people studied and perfected. Design is easy to fall in love with because it can be applied to everything.
As a kid, I wanted to be advertising executive and craft compelling and memorable campaigns. As a pre-teen, I even used to keep a folder of what I thought were “great ads” so that when I was older I could cleverly recycle the ideas because no one would remember where they originally came from. That, my friends, is playing the long game. As a volunteer at the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective and Stand Up for Mental Health, I was always the first to put my hand to design a new poster, business card or slide deck, thrilled with what words and images could achieve when woven together. The first thing I do when I move apartments is get acquainted with the form and function of the space and think of ways to transform it so it’s becomes cozy and convenient. In my work, I spend a lot of time reflecting on facilitation and experience/interaction design (of the human-to-human variety) to build effective teams and cultures. No matter where I am and whom I am with, I see design everywhere. I suppose it’s just in my blood.
Denmark is a photographer’s dream because every neighbourhood has its architectural flavour and there are endless colourful buildings to discover that crave attention for the quaint charm.
Denmark is filled with new buildings of the most impossible shapes, the most pleasing shapes, the most mind-bending shapes. It’s a buffet of buildings and there is something for everyone. Dramatic, modern but people-friendly buildings are as much a feature as the famous Little Mermaid statue. I love the mix of old and new, the juxtaposition. It is like adding flakes of sea salt to your traditional chocolate chip cookies and tasting how the sweet and salty flavours bring out the best in the other.
While design and architecture can be about beautiful buildings, they are ultimately spaces for people. I’m fascinated about the relationship between architecture and public spaces and how to build community so naturally, I fell in love with Dokk1, the next generation library-community center in Aarhus.
Dokk1 is an inspiring space and no words that I write here will do it justice. That said, it was so impactful I figure it’s worth a try. Forget stuffy old fashioned libraries, this is how a library should be. Exciting, engaging and fun for kids of all ages. I pretty much wanted to live inside it if I could.
Dokk1 has austere yet harmonious architectural features that set it apart from its neighbouring buildings. Not only does it have a variety of places to stay and play, good acoustics, big windows letting in lots of natural light and pleasant harbour views, it is a cultural space that is rethinking the library through community engagement – to help envision the future of public and community spaces.
Making present day's media use (books, information technology) as the sole starting point for the design of the building would have been problematic, as nobody knows the status of books or how technology will developed and the vision is for this space to be functional and relevant for 100 years so it needed to be flexible, visionary and adaptive.
There is also a clear focus on play, creating space for our imaginations to run wild. Outside, you’ll see children (and adults) clambering around on several wooden animal playgrounds and parkour tables. Inside, there is a wide range of interactive games, a costume box, gaming stations, and an animated big woolly rhino, which shakes its head slowly if you press a button. Unlike a traditional children's library, this space is not set up solely for children to learn/experience. Instead it is intended for children and their families to experience together and throughout the space you see families engaged in play and learning. I was a little envious that I didn’t have a kid to play with at all the interactive learning stations – it would have given me some common ground with the attractive, bearded dad’s chilling out with their brethren on Friday afternoons ;)
Perhaps my favourite feature is the bronze cylindrical pipe bell that hangs above the central staircase in the library. The bell is connected to the Aarhus University Hospital where parents can push a button to activate it when their child (or children) has been successfully delivered. Just last week while I curled up in an armchair to write, it rang three times in one day!
Oh, and it has a fully automatic self-parking system. Mic drop.
Across the water from Dokk1 is the Dome of Visions whose bubble-like look easily catches your eye against the square lego-land of modern cities. As a temporary ‘third space,’ the Dome of Visions offers its ideas about how we can vitalize the space between buildings and the temporary sites that always spring up when new buildings are constructed. Sipping coffee inside what feels like a grown-up’s tree house, you are embraced with the warmth of a calm summer day, the smell from countless rosemary bushes, busy bumblebees and a 100-year-old olive tree. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if cities could feel jealousy, would they all long to be Danish when they grow up? Spaces like the Dome of Visions makes Denmark seem like the cool kid on the block for sure.
In everything that Danish design touches, the emphasis is first on the simplicity of form and function but never at the expense of beauty. I couldn't go a day without whipping out my iPhone to snap some real-world design in action.
To wrap off my complete Danish experience and immersion into all things design, I took a course at the Copenhagen Institute for Interactive Design (CIID)... when in Rome as they say. I loved being in a truly global classroom. There was easily 16 nationalities represented in our class of 20 so clearly others had flocked to Denmark to immerse themselves in the design Mecca as well. The course itself was different from what I imagined but I learned a lot about how my current skills reinforce design processes and strengthen collaborative teams and it also sparked a whole bunch of ideas about how to get my work into the world in new and creative ways.
But the most applicable lessons about design from my week at CIID were super simple and are just good rules for life:
Sometimes you don't know why you end up somewhere exactly but it was just meant to be, So while six weeks in Denmark wasn't in the original plan, I was rewarded greatly with my time spent slowing down and digging in.
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
Learn More >