CAFx exhibition responds to “ridiculous” big-budget projects
An exhibition in Copenhagen features the work of students who have been tasked with developing projects for extreme environments to come up with original design solutions uninfluenced by “castle in the sky” constructions and architecture blogs.
Titled New Methods for Grand Challenges: Architecture and Extreme Environments, the exhibition was commissioned for this year’s Copenhagen Architecture Festival (CAFx).
It was organized by David Garcia, founder of local studio MAP Architects and associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy’s Institute of Architecture and Technology, where he teaches a master’s course called Architecture and Extreme Environments.
The exhibit showcases the result of the students’ work on the program, which sees them living and working for weeks in harsh places like Alaska and the Gobi Desert.
There, they must seek to build and test design prototypes that benefit communities living in these harsh environments by leveraging available resources and collaborating with local people.
Garcia said the aim of the course, in addition to responding to climate change, is to give students no choice but to produce original architecture – without the temptation to copy what they see online.
“I wanted my students to start in a very difficult place where there is no precedent, pushing them into an extreme context for them to think again,” he told Dezeen.
“It’s partly based on the idea that it’s hard for students to separate themselves from the images they see on architecture blogs. These websites have a huge impact on students, who crave inspiration, but it can be overwhelming because there is so much readily available.”
He added that his own experience working on big-budget projects for wealthy clients at leading UK architecture firm Foster + Partners was behind the design of the course.
“I spent many years designing castles in the sky and that was key to delivering this program,” he said.
“I realized that from a resource point of view, and from a world problem-solving point of view, it was ridiculous. I’m extremely critical of these kinds of projects, even though I I myself have worked in the past.”
The exhibition begins with enlarged versions of brochures produced by MAP Architects exploring architectural concepts in places like Antarctica, Chernobyl or Earth orbit.
For example, one brochure suggests that the constant extreme cold of Antarctica be used to cool seeds in a global seed bank, as an alternative to central Svalbard in the Arctic where air conditioning is sometimes needed due to fluctuating temperatures. .
Among the projects presented in the main exhibition is a desalination device made by a student placed in an Inuit community in the Bering Strait, where only salt water is easily accessible.
The student’s research revealed that melting saltwater ice initially produces potable water because it melts faster than saline solution.
Via a series of tubes and chambers, the device takes a block of salt water ice and turns it into a glass of cool water overnight that can be drunk in the morning.
Meanwhile, Pavel Liepins’ orange Inxect suit aims to tackle plastic pollution and food safety issues in the Faroe Islands.
It channels body heat and moisture generated by movement into an adjoining habitat for plastic-eating, non-toxic, protein-rich mealworms.
Some exhibits play with materials, such as an insulation product made from pine needles by a student placed in Alaska and a method of creating bricks from sand by a student sent to the Gobi Desert in China by Gabriele Jerosine .
Not all projects have worked successfully, including a device to wrap around the stilts of homes in flood-prone Manaus, Brazil, to generate tidal power, which turned out to be too complicated and fragile to work.
“I personally don’t care if their experiments work or not, and I don’t have a specific aesthetic that I’m looking for; it’s not as relevant to me, I’d like students to explore their own aesthetics,” said explained Garcia. .
“What matters to me is that students work with the goal of improving the environment, and to do so in their own way,” he added.
Garcia’s own work is also present, in the form of a passive heating tent developed for the Atacama Desert in Chile, where temperatures get very high during the day but drop dramatically at night.
The tent uses a self-activating piston to expose a stick of soapstone, an effective thermal storage material, to the sun to be heated during the day before being pulled back into the tent at night where it gradually emits heat to provide heat.
Some student-produced projects on the course – which receives between 20 and 25 each year – have worked so well that they have been left for community use.
One such example is a project that used the electrolyte properties of urine to power a toilet light in rural Zanzibar, to make women feel safe using it at night.
New Methods for Big Challenges: Architecture and Extreme Environments is being held at the CAFx space at Halmtorvet 27 in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District and runs until November 20.
Copenhagen Architecture Festival is hosting a series of events in Copenhagen and Aarhus, mostly from October 6-16, 2022. Check the Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place in the whole world.
The photography is by Francesco Martello.