Interview with jaja

JA+U interviewed one of the practices featured in A+U 505, Copenhagen-based jaja, headed by young architects Kathrin Susanna Gimmel, Jan Yoshiyuki Tanaka, and Jakob Steen Christensen. As their name – jaja means yes yes – suggests, their answers exhibit an infectious optimism. They also have a determination that architecture can create a sustainable future. They have also shared their project to earn an award in Asia: “Between Books and Trees”.

JA+U : Interview with jaja © jaja

What explains the overall success of Danish architects despite the global recession?

One of the key factors has been the optimism ignited by organizations like Realdania, which have initiated and supported more than two thousand small to large-scale projects since they started twelve years ago – also during the recession. The Danish Architecture Center also have a large role. They have successfully managed to promote Danish architects and architecture globally. Especially during the Venice Biennale where they have created exhibitions that won them a Golden Lion for the Best National Pavilion in 2006. And finally, the great mass of talented young architects in the last decade (spearheaded by Plot) managed to seize the opportunities that were put in front of them.

JA+U : Interview with jaja © jaja

All the things combined to create quite a vibrant architectural scene in Denmark, which mobilized us to create jaja to give a sense of optimism about what architecture can accomplish. It was an optimism that was sparked in the building frenzy of the early 00's (while we were still in school), which somehow survived the worst part of the recession and created the fundamental mindset of our office today.

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What creative role do diagrams play in your work? How literally should we interpret the relationship between the final building design and the diagrams from which they seem to originate?

We use the diagram to communicate. It does not have a creative role per say. We rather see the diagram as a medium that communicates and something that can help us emphasize the architectural concept - not create it.


Danish design is famous for a kind of form-follows-function simplicity, epitomised by Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen, etc. Does your work challenge or embrace this legacy of Scandinavian design?

We both embrace and challenge it. Form-follows-function is an architectural output that we, to a large extent, strive for in our work – but also something we daily challenge in our design process. Function is to us not only the basic amenities introduced by modernism but rather a reinterpretation that also includes social values, cultural, political, sustainable and more. All these factors are something that inevitably will and do affect us all - and something that we consciously discuss, process and boil down so we, with minimal means, achieve maximum experience - for the individual and the collective community.

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Denmark's welfare society seems to be at or near the top of so many global quality of life indicators. High taxes and social policies are clearly an important factor. Does Danish design also play a role?

Yes, 'Danish' design does play a role. But it is important to emphasize that good 'Danish' design is the combination of product and approach. It is the designer's ambition to create something that is functional and beautiful as well as the aspiration to create something that benefits the general public. It is the two combined that for us sums up 'Danish' design, which is also something we aim for in all aspects of our work.


The designs featured in this edition of A+U seem to be united by formal statements that are most perceivable at a vast scale. What are some of the driving forces behind the quality of BIGNESS in recent Danish design?

One of BIGs greatest achievements have been their ability to communicate their projects to the general public. It is their ability to communicate it in a way that the end user actually understands the architecture that they are inhabiting. In the end, they are the ones we are designing for.

Due to print space restrictions in A+U magazine, we can never publish as much work as we would like. Is there a project or topic you would like to discuss that was not published in our recent magazine?

There is a topic that I would like to bring up.

All these questions seem to be retrospective. In our mind, it would also be interesting to discuss what lies ahead.

The entire "Super Danish" generation goes more than ten years back. And obviously there is a common starting point but the trajectories of the different offices are completely different. The interesting is not only where the "Super Danish" started but also where it is heading. If you would go through the offices - one by one - it would show a palette of offices which is (starting to become) more varied and more diverse in their architectural explorations.


To better illustrate their responses, jaja has shared a recent work which was awarded 3rd place of the Daegu Gosan Public Library competition.

Between Books and Trees

Between Books and Trees is a public library that dissolves the boundary between public space and interior collections. By minimizing the formal language of its architecture, the new Daegu Gosan Public Library can capture the textures of the existing trees and the books within to create a cohesive experience that celebrates both.

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The project’s site is adjacent to a wide park strip that protects the future library from the nearby traffic of a growing cityscape. We propose to extend the unique quality of this park into the experience of the building. The building is defined by thin floors that float among a forest of columns, blurring the transition from exterior to interior with a delicate play of light. The library cantilevers above, defining public space for events outside the tradition library like book markets, parades, and outdoor exhibitions.

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Ground floor plan

The stepped geometry of the library shades itself, allowing significant transparency that lets the library’s books become part of the facade’s expression. 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.

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Second floor plan

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Third floor plan

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 autumn library casts the hues of red and orange fall leaves into the collection space. Meanwhile the summer library is naturally more shaded and protected, using the trees’ lush canopy to diffuse excess light into interior spaces.

JA+U : Interview with jaja © jaja

The interior environment is shaped by the negative of the stepped floors and celebrates the beauty of the library’s entire collection in one space. Bookshelves wrap around the entirety of one central space, creating a heart of the building that is ideal for reading and study. The library is ultimately defined by this gesture - an open space surrounded by books, belonging to the city.