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Open Mic A conversation with Carsten Primdahl Zeinab Abdi Nina Anani-Manyo Kaitlyn Boniecki Jacob Bryda Caroline Corrao Carlie Critchlow Adam Farley Marc Haas Carly Hansen Kathleen Hawkey Cailey Kurkul Angelina Laudato Josh Myers Griffin Rath Rachel Rebmann Lindsey Reynolds Hallie Schuld Nikolas Theofylaktos Kiernan Weese

Made by students enrolled in the “Video, Media, and Architecture� class taught by professor Marco Brizzi at Kent State University in Florence in Spring 2018.


Contents 4 Biography 6 Interview


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Biography


Carsten Primdahl is one of the principal founders of CEBRA: an innovative architecture practice based out of Aarhus and Abu Dhabi. Primdahl’s methodology centers around what is often seen as societal norms; he believes that the “ordinary is the means to the extraordinary”. This approach is rooted in research and investigations of climate challenges, modern technology, and education, to name a few. Each of CEBRA’s projects is a new opportunity to find a solution to a problem, and with experimentation comes failure, which is another facet of this methodology. Among other outstanding projects, CEBRA completed the Iceberg in 2015, which received many awards, including ArchDaily’s Building of the Year Award for best housing project. It is projects like the Iceberg that exemplify the way CEBRA is able to explore innovative architectural forms while maintaining the integrity, functionality, and affordability that are desired by the client. This building has become a staple for the city of Aarhus and exemplifies the applicability of the firm’s research and problem-solving into built forms. Primdahl’s humanistic and light-hearted approach to design magnifies his desire to make architecture accessible and engaging for everyone.


INTERVIEW WITH

Carsten Primdahl FLORENCE 2018


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

Kaitlyn: Can you explain the importance of your mantra “Architecture with Attitude?” Yes, sure! Actually we do have several mantras, and you will probably hear some of them during the lecture tonight. “Architecture with Attitude” has to do with architects. As architects that are practicing architecture, you need to have a strong opinion about certain topics. Architecture is politics as well; no matter what you do, it starts to mingle with other people's space, it starts to work with the economy, and sometimes you have to validate what you're doing through arguments. If you are too self assured of what you're doing, not engaging with either the community or end user or client, being too strong on your own opinions, you tend to get too detached from reality. We like to talk to people, interviewing them just like you are interviewing me. We are still learning and progressing, talking to a lot of different people to understand their needs, but also the possibilities of creating both exciting and beautiful architecture. Having an attitude towards how to deal with certain challenges is a great way to actually say,:“This is what I stand for, this is what I can offer you.” Zeinab: As students, when we work on a project, we always

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seem to need more time to make changes. As an architect, how do you decide when you are truly done with a project? I know, time is always running out. You know I just talked to Marco, I’ve been so fortunate being here for a couple of days, taking some time off from the office. And I confess I am also sort of envious of you and the amount of time you have to design one building. You can achieve fantastic goals. However, I don't think that more time always produces better results. Sometimes the lack of time actually makes you focus on what is the key concept, you need to prioritize your time, but also you need to prioritize the means of the architecture. Sometimes, when you have a long process, you end up cluttering the conceptual work too much, and then you need to sort of distill it and extract the very core values in order to come up with a very clear design. So I think that when we in the office we spend a long time on one project, it’s because we take ourselves the luxury of doing research or adding extra value into it that is not only becoming part of the design in that specific project but it is something we can also bring along to other projects. So I think that in some way the methodology of designing is specific to each project and we choose our way of working according to the


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needs of the project. Sometimes when you have a process you understand that if you repeat that process in another project it’s actually working as a methodology. And those methods become sort of like a vocabulary or you can pick from the shelves and put them together when you’re doing a design. But of course you need to be very conscious about your time management when you’re doing the design. You need to understand when you can say, “Now we do have the key concept. We can start production.” But as all of you will experience, sometimes in an office, even though you have a long time, projects tend to be very fast. But don’t worry, you’ll get more experience through all of the projects you will do in the next months and years. Lindsey: What have you found to be the most effective method of representing projects to clients? Definitely models. It’s old school, but it works. Everybody understands models. Sometimes we might get too hasty when we have to present projects, forgetting that most people don't have our understanding of drawings; how they can be read three dimensionally and all the complexities implied in a 2D plan or section. Visualizations, on the other hand, tend to be very overwhelming. Clients often

OPEN MIC

interpret visualizations as being the real thing. So if something is there, in the image, then they think it's really there, and they might ask: “Why is this guy eating an ice cream?” You have to be very careful when you are showing visualizations. While models become more like spatial diagrams, and clients can easily understand them. Josh: Since you do like to communicate with models, do you ever have a problem, if your work gets published, with it getting misrepresented? No, actually today most of our publications, if it's on the Internet or it's printed, you receive it back from those who are actually doing it, and you read through it or guide them so they come across the right way. People have a good understanding of the necessity to tell the story the architect wants and not come across in the wrong way. Jake: In your company profile, you say that "Architecture is inextricably linked with significant social, environmental and economic implications." How do you address these challenges during the design process, and what are some means to help strengthen the connection between the two?


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. Children's Home of the Future. Watercolor sketch by Mikkel Frost.


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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. Children's Home of the Future, 24-hour care centre for marginalized children. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

This is a topic that I will also address in the course of the lecture. It has to do with an understanding of change itself and how we, as architects, are linked to what happens in the world around us, to society. Maybe technological development doesn’t have that much of an impact on you because you’re digital natives [laughs], but I come from a generation that actually has a leg in both fields, if you will, where we did analog work and then ended up working with digital media. Change for us has been dramatic. So, those three elements: the social, environmental, and economic, of course, all have to do with sustainability.


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. Children's Home of the Future, 24-hour care centre for marginalized children. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

Sustainability is a way of coping with change, and, as you know, there are different ways of dealing with it. You may try to confine it into definitions and sort of "boxes", saying: “Okay, you have to do this, you have to do that.� Different kinds of certifications and standards like LEED, BREEAM and others, tend to make the design process somewhat stiff and rigid. This is why I think that the more you exercise the understanding of those three elements, the more capable you are of putting emphasis on one thing at a certain time, and then suiting up and diving into another one. Trying to find the bridges is a possibility.


"Using toons and diagrams and sketching is very important to us. Even though we are an office that has a very technological approach, we also have a very artistic approach." 12

OPEN MIC


CEBRA. Skovbakke School. Photo: Adam Mรถrk.


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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. HF & VUC Fyn. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

But what we usually end up doing is, of course, considering the economic aspects. You do have, most of the time, a budget, and whenever you have a budget, it’s not a limitation itself. Ambition, the client’s ambition, is the thing that makes something happen inside the budget. So if you as a client are able to actually consider alternative choices of materials that are not your first catalogue, you can actually do exciting stuff. That’s also something that I want to show in the lecture. The social aspects are also really important. You have to consider that the people that are inside that building are the ones using and supporting the activities as well. So, and that,


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. HF & VUC Fyn. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

with regards to the social values, you really do have to put yourself in the place of the end user, and if the end user is detached from the dialogue, you have to either do research like interviews, like we are doing now, in order to get an understanding of the needs, and actually define your own brief, with regards to the social aspects. And let's talk about the environmental aspect of building. When people talk about extreme climates, usually they refer to the Sahara or the Poles. But in reality, some of those climates that are “in between� are more extreme because you might have a sun angle that is vertical during summer and almost horizontal during


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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. The Experimentarium. Photo: Adam Mรถrk.


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

“Architects design buildings people are going to use in their everyday life. All of their activities, their feelings and emotions are going to be influenced by the spaces they sit in.”

winter time. You have shifts in temperature: hot and cold. And the building, being solid, needs to be able to cope with all those changes. In the country where I am from, we try to implement these aspects as an integrated design parameter. It’s a natural thing to do for us because it’s part of our regional background when we do design. Josh: So you're saying that the firm has a set of design principles that they apply for those specific climates. Do you think that we, as

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architects, should strive to have design principles that are universal for those climates? How do you share that kind of knowledge with firms in that climate and is it the architect’s responsibility to do so? The lecture is going to be split in two parts. One that tours the works of the office, and the other one going a little bit more in depth with projects that have to do with educational programs and some of those projects we did in different climates. One in Siberia, and one in the Middle East. What you will see is that there is a mindset that is the same but the design is totally different. The approach is the same but the results are totally different because the input is different. I will show you how similar programs become radically different projects. As we truly believe that each building has to connect with its context to stay relevant. You notice how signature architects tend to replicate their signature all around the world. You can easily spot a building done by a certain starchitect. Well, at CEBRA we don't want to have any signatures. There is of course a fil rouge coming across our projects. But they connect to the context. And the context, which is a main driver, is not just a geographical context, but also a cultural context, a social context, etc. Lindsey: At what phase of the

project are things like diagrams and “toons” most important? How do you use these in various phases and with clients or among the design team? We do toons all the time. There's a lot of humor in our work. It's liberating. The design process is also very free spirit at the office. No matter if you just joined the studio or you've been there for many years, you find that everybody has something to say and we expect the young interns to actually take part in the discussion and debate. For us, the drawing is the most important thing. That is our common language. You can easily do a drawing that communicates a lot of things that would take several hours to talk about and still not have the same mental image of where you’re heading. Using toons and diagrams and sketching is very important to us. Even though we are an office that has a very technological approach, we also have a very artistic approach. We don’t think we can put the architecture into a recipe, we think the artistic part is very important. To do that you also need to be practicing by actually doing the drawings. One of the guys I started the office with, he’s actually the one doing the toons on the website. I really admire him for spending the time and developing his drawing skills. He is in his mid-forties, but he's still enjoying every hour he can


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. The Iceberg. Watercolor sketch by Mikkel Frost.


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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. Skovbakke School. Photo: Adam Mörk.

diagrammatic level, but also to convey a feeling or an atmosphere. Most of our clients really enjoy the very informal approach because, keep in mind, many clients don’t build that many buildings during their life. Some do because they’re developers. But for most of them this is their only opportunity to mingle with architects. They have a learning curve and to actually use this kind of drawing makes them relax a little bit, and it also enables them to interact with the architect. I think that's a really good thing.


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. Skovbakke School. Photo: Adam Mรถrk.

spend by doing drawings. He promised himself he'd do at least one drawing each day. In some ways, it's rehearsing, and, in another way, it's a zen moment for him. We do the drawings during the conceptual phase, then we start to produce the design drawings. Sometimes we have to distill again and re-evaluate the key concept. So it's not that we start the concept here, do the drawings here, and do the end production here. We might have a few iterations, but we do loop all of it back. We try to put the key elements of the concept into a few drawings that are easily comprehensible, not only on a


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Angelina: Do you think if the designer who invented the “toon” style left, would you continue to use that same method or does he have ownership over it? No, it’s not like that. The water coloring summary is actually done after the project is built and after we hand in and submitted the work. Sometimes he does a phase where we do it in detail documents for construction. It is a way for us to put in a milestone so we have a collected memory about the projects we need. In an office like ours, we need to have a lot of transparency, and we need to manage the content of our designs to use them across projects. So the guys who are doing the design, if they have a sort of shortcut to the way of understanding the forces of what we call bookmarks, than you can actually look through our works. Kathleen: In your project Magneten, you worked in an area struggling socially and with unemployment. Did this have any effect on your design for this housing complex? The project is based outside of Denmark, in Malmö. The area has been very progressive with regards to city planning. They did some of the most interesting social housing there. The Magneten was part of a project for a social housing organization, and it was

OPEN MIC

sort of like a community house. The Magneten’s concept is that as a magnet it draws things to it. It starts to assemble the context, the elements in the context. So therefore, you find such things as a Hammam in the Magneten which is a Turkish pool. There’s also other elements of social understanding in the project but basically that was very easy conceptually, there are no real drawings other than a pre-concept or an illustrated brief. In this case, for example, the brief was very minimal. It was mostly about the community housing in this socially diverse area. The Magneten was a concept for us to show them how they could sample several different elements from the context of the site, lifestyle, etc. and put them into one place. Marc: Some of CEBRA's projects incorporate a form of urban design. One example in particular that I found interesting was the StreetDome. When planning this social meeting space that involves physical activity, what was the deciding factor to incorporate a skate park, parkour, street basketball, canoe polo, and bouldering into the design? That project is actually really cool. It was actually designed for another area. What they found is that they left a spot down by the harbor side where they built too


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. The Iceberg. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

many square meters of office buildings and housing, and they needed something to contaminate this sort of too regimented program. It was becoming too stiff, too polished, and therefore the municipality actually was the one that came up with this cool idea of taking it from one place and putting it into another. So, actually it was designed offsite. Of course, we did not just transplant it from one place to another. We redrew it. But the program was more or less the same from the other place. In this project, it was actually the skaters who did the brief. And this small town came up with this idea that


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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. The Iceberg. Photo: Mikkel Frost.


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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OPEN MIC

CEBRA. Street Dome. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

if they could create a building for street activities, and it could have a certain volume, it would actually start to attract people coming from a more organized, disciplined sport. It could cross-contaminate and create more social connections. And also maybe inspire those people coming from the sports to actually do some of the street activities. But also the other way around actually. Introducing some of the informal sports to more of the traditional sports. The dome is actually right next to an adult educational center which is used mostly by people that either dropped out of college or people who need to sort of


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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CEBRA. Street Dome. Photo: Mikkel Frost.

re-educate themselves because the type of employment they used to have is not relevant any longer. Putting the Street Dome right next to it is like bringing in something totally and completely different that in a way takes a little bit of the functionality of the surrounding buildings as well. Kathleen: In your company's “Cebralogy,� it states that CEBRA's work is the alchemy of human empathy and architectural expression. What do you mean by this? Any particular examples that come to mind?


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I used to study at SCI-Arc, and I consider one of my professors as being my mentor. His name is Neil Denari. He said to me one “Well, you are a benevolent architect.” Now, the word benevolent is a big word, it implies many different meanings in the context of architecture. I really didn’t understand the comment because of course, why not? As architects, we are doing work that at the end people use in their everyday life; all of their activities, their feelings and emotions are going to be influenced by the spaces they sit in. So of course for us being benevolent was a natural way to be architects. I think it has to do with the Danish society. It's a social welfare country, and whenever we build public buildings, the budgets come from the taxpayers' money so you need to consider the taxpayer as the end user a lot. I will get into that when we start talking about content driven design tonight, during my lecture. As an architect, you have to consult people who are inside the building, using the building, in order to get an understanding of how they want to use it. You have to put yourself in their place, and that’s where you have the empathy. I think that if we look into the future, empathy is going to be the next really, really big thing. It's not many months ago since Jack Ma from Alibaba did a speech where he

OPEN MIC

talked about skills of the future, and it's on the list of world economic forum that as soon as we come into an era where more artificial intelligence and numbers take control of a large part of evaluation and design automation, we need to do the other thing that the computers are not doing. I think some of the best things that we can do is start to allow ourselves to feel again. To put ourselves in the place of the people that we’re actually doing the work for. I think that the link between architecture and empathy has to do with what we want to create: memorable spaces. When you put something into people’s memory, it is actually quite a big thing. In CEBRA’s work, we try to at least create a memorable space and architectural expression no matter the budget. I think you'll find some pretty interesting examples of that in our work tonight. Cheap ones, too. Cheap tricks. Nikolas: Our ongoing conversations with previous architects in this series has explained to us one major point: In order for a city to function, there must be a mixture of residential, commercial, and retail functions located in the same area/same building. The Iceberg residential complex in Aarhus is located at Aarhus Ø (Aarhus East),


AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

essentially a large harbor. Your intention for the project is to create a new vibrant neighborhood in the previous harbor container region. How do you plan on this redevelopment to take place given the lack of other functions? It’s a very, very good question, actually. You asked me a lot of questions that I’m going to talk about later on so, it’s totally messing up my lecture [laughs]. The project was designed in late 2006. Then we came around in 2007-08. There was the financial crisis. All the developers were scared. You couldn’t look three months ahead or anything like that. So everything was put on hold. All of the projects were put on hold. The client we did this project for, he actually was like a house of cards. He had to talk to a lot of banks. For the same client, we also were doing a huge project outside of Aarhus. It’s a new town. He convinced people that this would be the golden calf for the future, but he had to sell off the other projects. So this project, The Iceberg, was originally designed for him. He is a very visionary guy. They sold it to a retirement fund. They considered the project to be a high prestige project. And they also considered the clientele to be rich people. They also said that, “Okay, you have 180 apartments. Now we want 210.” So everything was so compromised by

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speculation instead of agenda. Consider that the initial scheme for The Iceberg was actually two thirds this initial client and one third social housing organization. They agreed that the apartments should be rented out or sold. So the developer picked two apartments, then the social housing organization picked one; and then two and then one; and so on. In this way, the social housing apartments and the others would have been mixed all through the building, renters and owners, side by side. The reason why The Iceberg was the first building built on the harbor side, was exactly that reason, that it was social housing. It was creating social housing in the front row of the area. The municipality did a political agreement where they said that, “One-third should be owned housing at the harbor side, one-third should be rental purposes, rental housing, and last should be other types of owning ownerships, shared ownerships.” This allows, not only the municipality to get a more mixed group of people inside the harbor. In Aarhus, you will find that the dormitory that we designed is actually located on a very expensive plot. Still, it is possible when you do the cheap tricks. I’ll get into the geometries of The Iceberg in the lecture, so you’ll understand the design principles that actually made it possible to create an expressive building


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OPEN MIC

in the design process for us is the main driver, not necessarily budgets. Nikolas: Is it important to work for An interesting thing, though, about The Iceberg is that I think they totally had clients who are visionary? It’s never difficult to deal with a visionary the wrong picture of who would be the end user. As it turned out, they were client. It’s always difficult to deal with expecting people to wear polished shoes a guy who doesn’t have any vision. and suits, of course, because they were Especially if everything is a discussion about money. Because usually you don’t trying to make it an upscale project. As it turned out, there are actually skaters achieve good architecture by budgets hanging out at the banks of the project alone. and you’ll experience more sneakers You can actually have a really huge at the stairs. It’s actually pretty cool budget and end up doing really bad architecture if the client doesn’t have any clientele. I think that's happening because the Iceberg has so much to do with vision. You can do magnificent project if the client is ambitious, even if he has a expression, it also has to do with people with a specific lifestyle. low budget. A client with a vision is what drives you, as an architect. I think that exploration with this type of content at this site.


“It’s never difficult to deal with a visionary client. It’s always difficult to deal with a guy who doesn’t have any vision.” AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSTEN PRIMDAHL

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This interview with Carsten Primdahl was focused upon his growth as an architect, design process, research, and the globalization of architecture. It was a collaborative effort among students of the Video, Media, and Architecture course at Kent State University Florence. Guest lecturers were brought in from all over Europe for a Spring lecture series and students were tasked to create an interview before each of these lectures. After analyzing numerous interviews with other architects, students researched and explored the work of the visiting lecturers. Questions were then devised by each student, and these questions were analyzed based upon their thematic similarity and their relevance to the work of each lecturer. The most appropriate questions were chosen for each interview, and the specific students who created these questions then were charged with interviewing our guests, using the chosen questions as a base and posing any other questions that flowed with the interview.

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY | FLORENCE PROGRAM \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ COLLEGE OF ARCHITECTURE AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\

Profile for Kent State University, Florence Program | CAED

Open Mic. A conversation with Carsten Primdahl  

Made by students enrolled in the “Video, Media, and Architecture” class taught by professor Marco Brizzi at Kent State University in Florenc...

Open Mic. A conversation with Carsten Primdahl  

Made by students enrolled in the “Video, Media, and Architecture” class taught by professor Marco Brizzi at Kent State University in Florenc...

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