Interview with SLETH

The October issue of A+U magazine features ten young Danish architectural practices and investigates the country’s flourishing architecture and urban planning scene. Among the practices featured in the issue, JA+U interviewed architectural office SLETH, based in Aarhus and Copenhagen.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH © SLETH

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

For some time the Danish architectural skyline has been dominated by a number of larger offices. This situation has forced a lot of the younger offices to go abroad and be competitive in an international context. This has created a generation of architects that has an international focus and who is taking an outset in the Danish mindset of social and environmental responsibility and thereby deals with a lot of the general global challenges that the world faces today.

 

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 see our architecture / diagrams as one -  as 2 sides of the same.

 

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 believe in creating simple solutions as the answer to complex questions. By focusing on the basic challenges and embracing them with a common sense approach, we create projects that often deals with complex situations. By analyzing the complexity of the task we try to make that an outset and an advantage for the development of a project, often either by creating simple layouts or by showing of the complexity of the program in a simple way.

 

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?

The Danish design tradition is in many ways a result of the basic welfare thought: Quality for all. This creates a design approach where the function and the simplicity, also in the production, gives a design that aim for quality for a wide group people. In many ways this reflects the modern Danish mindset of social and environmental responsibility and has become not only a historic but also a modern trademark for Denmark and Danish architects.

 

They also shared with us one of their completed projects, Cultural Centre in Aarhus:

In a northern suburb of the Danish city Aarhus a spectacular building has lately arisen on a windblown hillside.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH - Culture Centre in Aarhus © SLETH


Reminding of a fallen star with point shaped roof top towers, the new cultural centre leaves a distinct impression with passers-by. At the same time the simple and clean cut exterior reminds us that the heavenly structure is in fact a place for daily activities of a large number of parishioners: The building only features window glass, red brick and alu-coated steel when seen from the outside.

Logically the parishioners of the Evangelical Church have named the multi purpose building ‘The Star’. The celestial impression is enhanced by the layout of flagstones around the building. Seen from above they represent the shade of the towers connected with the adjacent part of the building.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH - Culture Centre in Aarhus Site Plan © SLETH

Site plan courtesy of architect

The fundamental basis was nine different functions placed in connection with each other in a village layout.

This village concept has been developed into a grouping of its diverse conventional elements into one interactive building. Nine houses and functions coalesced into one. The philosophy is that every part of the village is independent and unique. However opening the folding walls between functions merges the houses and enhances the community spirit in the village.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH - Culture Centre in Aarhus Plan © SLETH

Ground floor plan courtesy of architect

Thus the layout of the gathered units allows unity as well as diversity. Furthermore the architects have made it possible to combine the intimate feeling with grandness. By opening the folding doors the central courtyard develops into a cross shaped meeting facility accommodating more than 400 persons for services, concerts, drama or other events.

This helps the central utility evolve into a natural place for meeting, chatting, hanging out and interaction between the users of the Cultural Centre’s various functions. Being the focal point in the building it also acts as the main passageway for the regular users and guests who are all bound to meet up and hopefully interact.

The Cultural Centre accommodates a Youth Club, a Radio station, Children activities, Music facilities, a Kitchen, a Café, a large scale Meeting room, Welcome- and information areas and a Central atrium. Each activity has it’s own house.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH - Culture Centre in Aarhus Section © SLETH

Section courtesy of architect

Every one of the nine houses has a unique roof construction reminiscing pointed towers. In connection the visitor has no doubt of the religious context but the setting also allows an impression of modernism.

JA+U : Interview with SLETH - Culture Centre in Aarhus Plan © SLETH

Second floor plan courtesy of architect

The second floor of the building hosts office facilities as well as student accommodation and the attic holds a rooftop terrace protected from insight and cold winds by the special roof structure. This enable users to gather undisclosed though with a fine view of the surrounding area.

 

Find out more about their practice, as well as other young danish architects in the Ocotober issue of A+U.