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Hearts and bones


HEARTS AND BONES
by Nathan Romero Muelas

On Christmas Eve I walked from Trianglen to my office, near Sankt Hans Torv. The short ascension got me thinking about something that troubles me in recent architecture in Denmark. Namely, the disappearance of the structure. Or more precisely, the divorce between structure, façade, volume and space.

I passed by the new extension to the Rigshospitalet, “nordfløjen”. The grave old mansions (sombre but stately, and very well built) by Fælledparken, have been substituted by a big building done in what I could call "Nordic corporate": generic, cool, not too bad, not too good either, good looking and all that.

My concern arose not from the bland architecture product, but from the crying inconsistency of its construction. The muscular triangulations of the structure that apparently the cantilever required are, if not elegant, at least honest in a cautious engineer manner. The playful facade that plasters this structural feat is, however, rendered impotent and disconnected from the real thing going on underneath. A bodybuilder parading a ballet tutu. If you look carefully, the concealed thug smiles through the feminine windows. Our mighty ballerina forgot again to shave her legs.

My mother often said that beauty was a matter of bones. The names of Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck always followed: good bones. In architecture, there use to be a correspondence between the structure and the facade. I know that in many great buildings this doesn’t happen, especially in those ahead of what the building industry of the hour allowed. But it was at least an aspiration.

STRUCTURE WAS AN INTEGRATED PART OF THE BUILDING, UNDERPLAYED OR EMPHASISED, BUT PRESENT. NOT ANYMORE, REALLY. NOW IT SEEMS A NECESSARY, CONCEALED EVIL. OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.

Beyond the anecdote of this particular building, no worse than many others rising up today, I think the tendency is alarming, and it has to do, I fear, with the absurd distribution of roles and influence between architects and engineers in Denmark. We dress the body someone else engineers.

Our office has not noticed it, frankly, but just yesterday I was told, by people who must know, that we are enjoying a building boom in Danish architecture. Without any wish of pontificating, let my worries be a reminder of some fundamentals without which our profession may succeed in a political, social, economic perspective, and fail in aspects like constructive integrity, which is a precondition for good architecture. Some could say that such issues are over sophisticated or academic. They would be wrong.

On my New Years resolution list, I had piously written: "concentrate on the good stuff others are building, do your thing, stop complaining". Bad start.  I´ll stick to the next one, the one about a healthier diet. Very happy New Year to everyone!

(To Marulu Muelas, my mother)


Photo by Nathan Romero Muelas

Originally published on The Danish Architectural Press.