|Improving Life In Suburbia|
|Written by grapevine.is|
|Saturday, 02 April 2011 10:37|
Two years ago a fresh cohort of architects returned to Iceland from their studies in Denmark. The six of them wanted to do something together and decided to unite under the name ‘Skyggni Frábært’ (‘Visibility Fantastic’).
“It all started on Culture Night 2009. Everything really sprouted out from there. That project led to the next project, which led to the next one after that,” Ástríður Magnúsdóttir recalls. She is one of the six architects behind Skyggni Frábært. Although past projects have very much been on the side with other work or school, Ástríður and another one of the six, Gunnar Sigurðsson, are now working full-time on a new one.
In cooperation with the city of Reykjavík, Skyggni Frábært has taken on a project to improve urban space in the Fell neighbourhood of Breiðholt, the district of Reykjavík corresponding to postal code 111. Drawing on the ideas of Danish Architect Jan Gehl, Gunnar elaborates on the importance of urban space. “The city is defined as what happens between the buildings,” he says. “The city is our playground and should be furnished. Furnishing the outdoors is like furnishing your room—you have to think about how you use it and how you want to organise it.”
A NEGLECTED SUBURB
Despite a tight city budget, Breiðholt has been flagged and money has been promised to the area. “It’s the largest district in Reykjavík,” Gunnar tells me. “If it were an independent municipality, it would be the fourth largest in Iceland, larger than Akureyri, and very little has been done there for years.”
“It was built from the late ‘60s and into the ‘80s.” Ástríður continues describing the neighbourhood. “At that time there was a scarcity of housing. People were still living in barracks left over from World War II. The barracks were supposed to serve as temporary housing for the army, but then there was such a great need for housing that Icelanders started living in them. The last Icelander to move out of the barracks didn’t do so until 1960.”
Breiðholt was built to address this housing need. “It is the first comprehensive planned community in Reykjavík to be designed and built in one-go,” Gunnar says. “And the building strategy was to maximise the amount of housing as quickly and cheaply as possible,” Ástríður adds.
Not only that, but the style of the buildings is 20th century modernism. “At that time, architecture in Iceland was dominated by a very strict, rigid, controlling European modernism style. It was very effective, impressive and utopian,” Gunnar explains. “But it’s just too rigid and too controlling. So we’re working on softening the area and making it more flexible.”
WITH A NEGLECTED URBAN SPACE
Ástríður opens her MacBook on the coffee table and pulls up a presentation detailing their vision, starting from square one. She shows me a diagram of the area that Skyggni Frábært will be working on. It’s located behind a 300-metre long apartment building that sits at the highest point of Breiðholt. “Because it was expensive to construct gables, it was decided to build one 300-metre long building to get away with just two gables. As a result, there are twenty stairwells in the building,” Ástríður says.
Behind the building is a long walkway, or “pedestrian highway,” as Gunnar calls it. It’s this area that Skyggni Frábært is tackling. “It’s quite central, surrounded by a school, a gymnasium and a swimming pool,” Ástríður says. “If you’re out and about in the Fell neighbourhood you are likely to pass through it. You always seem to end up here.” The problem is that the walkway is very dark and kids try their best to avoid it, especially at night— and the nights can be long.
“Last fall we were working with ten to fifteen year old students at the Fell elementary school. We met them once a week for eight weeks to define the space with them—how they use it, what they think about the area and how to improve it,” Ástríður says. “So, we were basically programming the design phase with them.”
TO BE SOLVED BY A VISION
Ástríður and Gunnar click through to the plans. First they show me some ideas for the surface, which involve replacing the broken up concrete with different materials, including asphalt, the soft track and field material, grass, wood and pavement. “We’re going to mix it up,” Ástríður say, “getting some softer material in the squares to break up the monotony of the pathway.”
Then Ástríður explains that there are three meeting points where small local paths which intersect the main walkway. “The area is very homogeneous and at points there is an opportunity to create small plazas, which can create a local atmosphere,” she says. “We may use the same colours or the same theme, but each plaza will have its own character.”
Gunnar points the diagrams, which show a variety of neat fixtures. “We don’t want to just put down traditional benches. We want to do something that allows people to dream up their own games, to do something inventive. At the same time, it’s important that people have a sense of place and space. If you want to go out to read a book, you need a good space to do it.”
Third, they address the two-metre tall wall that divides the pedestrian traffic from the car traffic. “We are going to open up the wall in a number of places,” Gunnar says. “The wall blocks the natural flow of walking traffic. Today some people climb over it so that they don’t have to walk around some extra 200 metres. We are humanising the rigid system.” Not to mention, Gunnar adds, “At best, the wall casts a shadow over half the path, which means that half of it is always cold and damp.”
Lastly, it’s the issue of lighting. They’ve come up with a combination of overhead lamps, ground reflectors, which will guide bike traffic, and spotlights cast on the wall, which will make for fun shadows as people walk past.
FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Their vision should come to fruition over the next three to four years with the first phase starting this summer. “We want this to come slowly from within the neighbourhood, rather than something that comes suddenly from the outside,” Gunnar explains. By that token, Ástríður and Gunnar say they would like to get students from FB, the local high school, involved in designing the remaining portions of the wall, taking on one wall per year for the next few years.
Ultimately they hope this small improvement will have a compounding effect on other aspects of life in Breiðholt. “It would also be great if this would inspire people in the neighbourhood to activate and improve other areas,” Ástríður says optimistically.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 17 November 2011 23:09|