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Brian Vargo MDesS, Real Estate and the Built Environment Professional Design Work

jaja Architects is a growing young firm with 15 international designers tackling issues in architecture, urbanism and everything in between. The firm focuses on how individual interests can be met with a solution that simultaneously defines a common identity, often using a minimal palette to explore the most essential of architectural qualities. The recipient of the 2011 Nykredit Motivation Prize and featured in a variety of acclaimed publications, the firm is most recently known for its place as a forerunner in the New Wave in Danish Architecture (Danmarks Arkitektens Forlag, 2012). While grounded in the Scandinavian context, we continue an international presence with a variety of progressive projects in Asia and Europe. I have included a selection of work that addresses the relationship between public and private interests through urban design and architecture. I am a major contributor or the project leader in all material presented.

Reykjavik City Center, Iceland 5,000m2 Urban Plan and Boardwalk with jaja Architects, Buro Happold Engineering My role: Project Leader, Concept Design, Visualization

Reykjavik City Center: Hotel and Urban Plan The Kvosin district in the city of Reykjavik is one of the most historic places in Scandinavia, with its oldest buildings estimated to be constructed over 1000 years ago. The competition for a new hotel and urban plan for the city center must balance the ambitions of a 7,500m2 development within this rich historical context. Our proposal focuses on meeting the scale and urban quality of the existing buildings, while defining an open ground floor that connects three adjacent squares. The new hotel snakes around existing buildings to articulate a perimeter block and frame the public space of Reykjavik’s city center. Working together, the combination of new and old create a coherent, yet diverse, environment. It is this quality that will both add value to the quality of the proposed hotel and promote the urban activity of the Kvosin district. This environment is further defined by limiting the nearby roads to only pedestrian access, and articulating each of the three squares as having a different level of urban activity.

Hotel Plan

Working at this scale involved a detailed understanding of the complex urban conditions in a historic cityscape, construction of historic buildings and local Icelandic culture. Our proposal was one of six finalists in an open competition with over 70 entries, and was acclaimed for its comprehensive vision of Reykjvaik’s city center.

Urban Plan

Hillevåg, Norway 20-40,000m2 Urban Plan, 1st Prize with jaja Architects and Aspland Viak, Construction 2014 My Role: Project Leader, Concept Design, Visualization, Management

Flexible Urban Planning Hillevåg is a booming Norwegian oil town with rapidly changing demographics and an uncertain future housing market. The new development requires a robust scheme to turn a former industrial area into qualitative space, but the uncertain market conditions require the flexibility to withstand systemic changes in total building footprint size (20-40,000m2) as well as the scale of individual apartments (65-125m2). We focus on a highly efficient solution that allows extreme flexibility while ensuring spatial qualities that relate to the human scale.

Our proposal synthesizes these criteria into a flexible urban strategy that frames two major public spaces - a protected inner courtyard and linear view corridors towards the adjacent fjord. Only two simple modules - a ‘tower’ and ‘block’ - create a variety of spatial conditions while maintaining the utmost efficiency in construction and ensuring that each apartment has a view towards the waterfront. These two floor modules are easily adapted into a variety of floorplans (above) to meet changing demographic needs without hampering constructability or urban quality.

Diakonissestiftelsen Master Plan, Denmark 50,000m2 Urban Plan, Shared 1st Prize with Cubo Arkitekter and Henrik Jørgensen Landskab My Role: Concept Development, Visualization

Diakonissestiftelsen Master Plan The Danish Deaconess Foundation is a non-profit organization based in a series of historic brick monasteries in a quiet Copenhagen neighborhood. The foundation’s further development will include adding substantial amounts of living, working, and educational programs, greatly increasing the area’s density. This competition requires a strategic development to transform this historic context into a series of vibrant urban environments without disrupting the natural beauty of the historic architecture. Our concept focuses not on adding new buildings, but rather on extending the existing building-structure’s natural rhythm and using the variety of green spaces between their masses as a connective element. The new Diakonissestiftelsen will be linked by this green spine, allowing for diversity in scale and program while maintaining a cohesive identity. Such a gesture is infinitely flexible and allows for various collaborators to partake in the design process over the coming decade.

The buildings themselves are imagined as a simple texture of brick and glass that compliments the historic architecture without competing with it. They are simply urban infill, maintaining an efficient profile to engender a comprehensive vision of the entire area. Our proposal was awarded a shared 1st prize and noted for its strong urban concept, its general flexibility, and its distinct relationship between new and old architectural elements.

Ålesund, Norway 150, 000m2 Urban Plan 1st Prize with jaja Architects, City Plan expected 2013 My role: Concept Design, Visualization

historic harbor

Blue Urban Space

The picturesque Norwegian city of Ålesund aims to build 150,000m2 of cultural, residential, and commercial program along its southern waterfront. But how can this be achieved without compromising the inherent quality and small scale of a regional tourist city? How can a new development reconcile its scale within one of Norway’s most historic fjords?

new culture harbor

Our proposal focuses on the historic qualities of the city in guiding its future growth. The city has historically centered around a natural sound that runs through its oldest quarters. As both a vital natural resource and an incubator for public activity, this water space is the heart of the city, fostering urban development within a wide open landscape. In essence, the ‘blue space’ acts as the civic plaza, creating the gathering point for generations by concentrating the city’s activity. Further development should extend the urban qualities of the sound to create a series of protected harbor spaces. Our strategy orients the added elements of the city into urban-themed ‘blue spaces.’ For example, the culture harbor (visualized here) gathers the variety of cultural programs to be added to the city into one public space. This will demarcate Ålesund as a progressive city focused on the inherent qualities of its unique urbanity, while still addressing the needs of its future population.

historic harbor

new fishing harbor new culture harbor

Aandalsnes, Norway 5,000m2 Urban Plan and Boardwalk 1st Prize with jaja Architects, Construction expected 2014 My role: Project Leader, Concept Design, Visualization, Management

Low-Density Investment The city of Aandalsnes is a small harbor village in Isfjorden, one of Norway’s most celebrated fjords. The city has been selected as a heritage area for further development by the Norwegian government, encouraging alternative investment strategies that can strengthen the town’s identity while maintaining its small profile and low density. Our competition-winning proposal involved articulating the city’s connection to the fjord by concentrating investment along the waterfront in a series of landscaped spaces that foster a variety of nautical themed activities without involving large-scale structural changes to the city’s urban structure.

Our work on the project has included extensive cooperation with local stake holders and city planners to develop a multiphased approach that creates a series of spaces along the future boardwalk. Further development and eventual construction is expected, beginning 2014.

Phase 1: Outward Space

Phase 2: Inward Space

Phase 1 will be limited to water spaces along the coast that explore a variety of nautical themes - a fishing point, a small harbor, a natural rock garden, and a buoy playground (pictured above).

Phase 2 is held in accordance with the individual stake holders and involves collaborative investment. Owners along the waterfront are encouraged to match the city’s initial proposal with the more comprehensive environments that we have envisioned. This extends the nautical theme inwards, creating a unified environment that blends the natural qualities of the fjord with the intended programs of the land owners. The Buoy Playground extends inwards to become a dynamic landscape and a playful environment for the city’s youth.

Phase 1 will be lead by investment from the city, concentrated only on the public water space. The current stake holders of water-front properties regard the coastline as their ‘backside.’ By creating a dynamic boardwalk with attractive public spaces, the city aims to flip this perception. The Buoy Playground, for example, will begin with a simple gesture that brings the promenade down to a water space protected by a series of cost-effective buoys.

Sliparen Solna, Sweden 5,000m2 Tower Complex, 1st Prize, Awaiting Approval with jaja Architects, AI Architecture My role: Concept Development, Visualization

An Urban Gate





Sliparen Towers is a proposal for a new vibrant gathering point and entrance into Solna business park, outside of Stockholm, Sweden. The site lies on a highly exposed corner that demarcates the beginning of the larger urban area. An area undergoing rapid change from post-industrial facilities to a modern business community, Solna requires an attractive icon to spur its further growth. Our ambition is to turn this factor into an attractive quality by redefining the site as the gate into Solna. By using two towers to frame a green ’valley’, an attractive connection and lively gathering space gives the site an identity. This urban feature establishes both an icon and a human-scale space in an area currently dominated by large scale warehouses. To further humanize the development, the facade takes on a textural dimension. The facade is scaled to individual office spaces that ungulate in a repetitive system, creating a dynamic play of light, shade, and shadow without sacrificing the need for a functional assemblage. This geometry has significant performance benefits, as the compartmentalized facade disperses wind pressure, thereby protecting the quality of the valley below. Moreover, the angle created by the geometry allows windows to point northwards, ideal for mitigating heat gain and allowing indirect light within.

Straume Centrum, Norway 15,000m2 Urban Plan and Tower with jaja Architects, C.F. Møller, and Tredje Natur My role: Concept Design, Building Design, Visualization

A Natural History Straume, Norway is an area long-known for its spectacular natural qualities. The small town has one of the highest growth rates in Norway and is expecting to double its population within the next ten years, creating a concern that urban sprawl will harm the town’s natural surroundings. Political leadership and local stakeholders aim to focus the city’s expansion into the densification of its existing center - currently a conventional 1960’s strip mall with a perimeter parking lot. Straume Centrum’s redevelopment will transform its existing parking facilities into a vibrant urban area that maintains the city’s unique identity. This involves the addition of 15,000m2 of residences, office space, cultural venues, and a hotel, but also the seamless manipulation and phasing of the existing and future developments. Rather than limit the city as an element separate from nature, our proposal draws the wild into the new town square, creating a backbone for the future development of the area. By creating a rich narrative of landscape and focusing urban development into strategic areas, Straume Centrum will balance its upward ambitions with its natural qualities.

Natural Icon

Landscape, Architecture, and Urbanism.

Straume Centrum’s focal point will be a mixed used tower, comprised of floating elements that act as a beacon heralding the town’s public space. We envision the tower as the ‘mountain face’ that brings the narrative of the landscape below to the iconic centerpiece of the city. The facade further articulates this sculptural analogy through its materialization. A play of three simple elements - polished granite, rough granite, and glass windows, alternate in a simple pattern to create a rich, natural texture that grounds the new tower within its delicate context.

The tower is equally focused on its programmatic presence. As the center for the urban area, the tower should foster a dynamic daily life, filled with a variety of activities. Three floating volumes negotiate pragmatic requirements to support a hotel, offices, and conference hall without betraying their functionality. Each volume is separated from the next by a lobby level that brings the activity of the ground floor to the midst of the tower. Their juxtaposition creates a dynamic, sculptural play to be shared with the city, but also a clear connection between public space and iconic tower.

The robust concept enables a flexibility that spans the changing requirements of the city’s development. By blurring the scale between urban plan and architecture, a larger, more cohesive urban environment is formed. The natural qualities of the landscape in the outdoor public spaces are drawn into the public ground floor, creating a diverse play of public and private space while only requiring a simple manipulation of functional elements. The identity of Straume Centrum can become a comprehensive whole that brings forth the qualities of the larger concept to every level of design.


Fitness Lounge


Office Lounge Conference


Hotel, Floor 7-13

Office, Floor 3-5

Conference, Floor 1

Helsinki Central Library, Finland 15,000m2 Library, Open Competition Entry with jaja Architects, WE Architecture, Buro Happold Engineering My role: Project Leader, Concept Development, Visualization, Management

Learning Landscape The new national library in Finland’s capital can connect to the country’s unique cultural value of its beautiful landscape. Our proposal, the ‘Learning Landscape,’ will create a library that brings the qualities of nearby Töölönlahti natural preserve into the heart of Helsinki. We propose to lift the library’s volume above a completely open ground floor to extend Töölönlahti’s landscape directly into the city. This gesture creates a topography of programmed spaces within the ground floor lobby. The inside spills out and the outside flows in, creating a dynamic terrain of public life, active spaces, and imaginative reading nooks. The lobby is the library’s major interactive space, completely transparent to the exterior and extending over the entire footprint of the ground floor.

The dynamic space shaped by the terrain of the landscaped lobby are complimented by a simple volume containing the library’s collection above. The library’s need for flexibility is accommodated by two efficient floors of collection and reading area, contained within a regular envelop. This anchors the landscape to a reference point and signifies the building as a timeless cultural statement. By shifting a conventional atrium into a stepped topography, the Learning Landscape extends the park from the ground floor directly into the library. Visitors can expect to casually meander from the park to the collection area, without being constrained to a specific route of travel. This space frees the library from its normative perception as a place of study, to a more qualitative, protected public domain preserved by timeless design.

Daegu Public Library, Korea 2,500m2 Library 3rd Prize among 553 entries, with jaja Architects, Buro Happold Engineering My role: Project Leader, Concept Design, Building Design, Drawings, Visualization, Management

Between Books and Trees As a model for other community libraries, the Daegu Gosan Public Library should embody the universal access of information and knowledge sharing, letting its activity spill out and public life flow in. Our proposal uses the qualities of the existing site to create a cohesive environment that blurs the line between public space and public building. The library will merge the exterior and interior through a series of spatial transitions that create a reading space between books and trees.

The existing site is framed by a line of trees and is adjacent to a wide park strip that protects the future library from the nearby traffic of a growing cityscape. The special quality of a green space within a dense city provides an opportunity for the library to take on a special meaning. By minimizing its architecture, the library can extend the experience of the trees into a profound reading space for the community to share.

Simplicity Mastered The plan is organized around a central void that brings light from top to bottom. Desk spaces frame the perimeter of the central atrium, leaving room for large, flexible areas on each floor to accommodate a variety of shelf configurations as the library meets its changing needs. Group rooms are arranged on opposite sides of the plan to support functions beyond the central reading space.

The HVAC design follows the same structural principle of the architectural concept - minimal and highly efficient. The stepped volume is shaped by the angle of the sun’s average path throughout the year, minimizing the interior cooling load. The large, open interior atrium lets natural ventilation supply fresh air to all interior spaces.

A forest of columns on a regular grid supports three simple floors above the ground level. The plan is designed with universal dimensions that enable the use of standardized elements. Group rooms are arranged on opposite sides of the plan to accommodate a variety of uses beyond the central reading space. The specific spaces and functions can be easily adjusted while maintaining the overall qualities of the design concept. This combination - both a robust identity and a flexible system - constitutes a design that can artfully adapt to the changing requirements of the program which will inevitably arise in further development.

The library is in constant dialogue with its context through a minimal vocabulary. Its cantilevering floors shade each other, allowing profound transparency that brings the library’s books directly to the exterior. As visitors arrive, they follow a transition from the texture of the trees to the texture of the books. The glass facade is the minimal boundary between the two, framing a profound connection that defines the experience of the library. As the seasons change, the trees become a backdrop of color and light that creates a variety of experiences. For example, the winter library maximizes the amount of ambient light when it is most needed within the interior. The fall library casts orange and red hues within, shaping a dramatically different experience.

The fundamental relationship between the architecture and its context guides the library’s quality more than its formal gesture. By using the spatial qualities of the exterior trees, the library makes a timeless cultural statement that appeals across generations.

Our proposal was awarded 3rd among 553 entries and noted for its elegance and imaginative vision for the library’s identity.

Vargo professional work