An Interview with DUAL at Gammel Holtegaard
Introduction by Maria Gadegaard
Interview by Aisling O’Carroll, with Sofia Adolfsson, Teresa Fernández Rojo, Camila Stadler Buschle
Gammel Holtegaard — an art gallery for contemporary and modern art — sits in the northern outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark, and is housed in the original country house and garden created for, and by, the architect and building master Laurtiz de Thurah (1706-59.)
The unique historic character of the house and garden is inseparable from the exhibition profile, which is primarily used to show contemporary art. The Baroque architecture and spirit of the location serve as a continuous premise and sounding board for exhibitions held at the Gammel Holtegaard kunsthalle, where we often juxtapose new and older art and architecture.
It is actually a paradox: why show the latest art in a house and garden with such a strong historic character? Why not create exhibitions with only classical works and museum pieces from the archives of art history to extend the historic framework? The answer is: because more of the same can be both predictable and complacent. Thus there is a strong dynamic incentive to acquire new perspectives on history, older visual art, and Gammel Holtegaard itself, as well as the Baroque era. Contemporary art in this context provides a clear source of new viewpoints because the leap into and over time can create a distance that makes new dialogues between history and the present constructive and educational. History and the art-historical works are highlighted anew by contemporary art, and vice versa. Contemporary art can be understood in a perspective that makes active use of this history.
The original garden surrounding Gammel Holtegaard had all but disappeared by the mid-19th century, but was restored from 2001–2009 using Lauritz de Thurah’s Baroque vision from 1756. The entirety of Gammel Holtegaard’s garden reverted to the architect’s original intention: a mini Versailles in a modest Nordic version, offering pleasure and recreation, far away from the overbearing vigour of the city. Today this wonderful garden stands as testament to all the rules of Baroque art: a carefully staged universe, which in its shape, lines, and axes, defines movement around the garden. Visitors can use and enjoy a piece of the historic garden, which is impressively accurate in its Baroque expression and is the core ingredient in the identity of the location.
The cross-pollination between the past and the present has become a central point of departure for everything that we do in our exhibitions. There are four exhibitions annually: three outside and one inside. The Baroque garden is thus considered an extended exhibition space, which, like our other spaces in Lauritz de Thurah’s architecture, is carefully curated and staged.
Gammel Holtegaard’s beautiful Baroque garden formed the framework for the Pavilion I-III – New Architecture in the Baroque Garden trilogy of exhibitions presented in 2015, 2016, and 2017, supported by The Danish Arts Foundation and The Obel Family Foundation. Three temporary pavilions were constructed, one every year: first, an orangery, then a menagerie and, finally, a so-called ”scenery.”
In collaboration with the Danish Association of Architects and The Danish Arts Foundation we issued an open call competition with the aim of encouraging architects in Denmark to come up with the concept for an artistic space on a small scale—a pavilion, which is both architectural and sculptural. The competition was anonymous, and the jury, appointed by the Danish Association of Architects in collaboration with Gammel Holtegaard, consisted primarily of professionals (architects, an art historian and a chairman).
Each pavilion had its own story, with a strong connection to the history of the location. Gammel Holtegaard’s distinctive character as an architectural gem and the dramatic character of the garden and its capacity for staging were challenged by highly compressed architectural projects with enormous visual impact, which contributed to the public’s aesthetic experience of both history and the present in a spectacular and innovative way.
Why a pavilion themed Scenery?
‘All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances […]’
—William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599.
Drama, staging, theatre and choreography are not just words from the world of the theatre but are also widely used to describe the form and life of the Baroque era.
Dramatic effects help to emphasize and clarify the often religious messages of the motif. Theatrical devices delve further into social mores, particularly among the upper classes, where the manner in which people behave towards one another was marked by a form of social etiquette: rules about how to enter and leave a room, how to greet others, and—very importantly—how the various social hierarchies were catered for and clarified through social codes. Staging oneself with the trappings of wealth, wisdom and prosperity was also hugely important in this game(show). In the quotation above, Shakespeare introduces a peculiar worldview in which the world is viewed as a stage and people treat life as if it were a performance. The quotation is resonant today, where the opportunities to perform, dramatize and stage our own lives on various social media are infinite
Dual Design team: Sofia Adolfsson (S), Teresa Fernández Rojo (T), Camila Stadler Buschle (C); with The Site Magazine Co-Editor in Chief: Aisling O’Carroll (A)
A: Can you start by telling us a bit about yourselves and what attracted you to this project?
T: We met five years ago while working together at BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) in Copenhagen, and we found that we shared similar tastes and interests in design. We are really aligned in the way we understand architecture, and in particular small pieces.
S: Since meeting we have done a lot of small projects together, including another pavilion design. When you are working in an office, dealing with technical aspects of regulations and complex projects, it is very nice to be able to step back and explore your own agenda again. This project was about performance, and that was something that really attracted us.
C: Yes, and the pavilion is part-architecture, part-art piece so we had more flexibility to explore a concept through it and create an experience in a way that we couldn’t in another building because we didn’t have to deal with the same restrictions and requirements.
A: You mentioned that you were attracted to the project because of the performance aspect. How did you interpret the element of performance for your project?
C: Performance was part of the history of the site, and an element of the baroque period, but the pavilion expresses our own interpretation of performance and scenery. The pavilion is a stage, but it can also be the audience. The different levels of the pavilion allow you to see the spectator and the performer in different ways. The two roles are constantly switching here, you can be both spectator and performer at the same time. For someone in the garden, the performance happens on the pavilion, whereas for someone at the top of the stair, the performance is in the garden. We named the pavilion “Dual” because of this inherent duality. As you walk around the pavilion you see it in completely different ways from different perspectives: from the front, the red stair is very bold, while the thinness of the material disappears in profile, and the metal underside reflects the ground and surroundings. In this way the pavilion recreates the illusion of set scenery as well.
A: This idea of duality seems very important, in how you explain both the pavilion and your work philosophy. You have described duality as referencing the relations between architecture + landscape, user + spectator, and past + present. Can you speak more about these dualities in the project, in particular how you consider the element of time, past + present, in this piece?
C: As a fixed object, the pavilion registers time and change over the course of a single day. You can see this in its shadow, or in how people use it. But at the same time, as an architectural element, the staircase is temporal — you use it to move from one place to another. It is a connection, a transitional element. And we will always need this function. The stair is a universal, eternal element; we will always need it in architecture. In an abstract way this pavilion references that history because it is simply a stair.
T: If you look at how the Spanish Steps in Rome are used today, they have almost the exact same function as these stairs offer: a place to sit and face the sun. The Elements of Architecture exhibit that OMA presented at the 2014 Venice Biennale looked at this topic exactly. It looked at the fundamental elements of architecture, the stair, the wall, the ceiling, etc, and how each element has evolved over time and yet remains fundamentally the same. We still have only these same fundamental elements in architecture.
S: What we also found fascinating was that stairs in the baroque period always had a fluid movement expressed through the carved stone. The baroque stair is typically round, and it creates a sense of space, and enclosure, and simultaneously is a place for public spectacle. We looked at many examples of grand baroque stairs of theatres and public foyers. We wanted to express these qualities through our interpretation and modern materials, so the metal material of the stair creates this flow, and the proportion and scale of the circle offers a sense of enclosure even within the garden.
T: Yes, we were trying to recreate the intention and experience of the baroque stair, but through new materials. The element is still the same, the question of time is the same, and yet it has changed.
A: The design of the pavilion is very directly informed by the form and style of baroque stairs. How important is it to you that people understand the reference, or make the association? Is it necessary that the audience understand the history and background narrative of the project?
S: Although the element of the baroque was a central inspiration, and critical to the design process, we were most interested in recreating the effect or experience of aspects of that period in a contemporary way. Our pavilion is a contemporary manifestation of the concept of the world as a stage that was present in much of Baroque architecture and culture. In a sense, the translation of this concept has already happened through our design process, so it is less important that the audience understands the historical references.
T: And still, I speak about the baroque when I describe this project because this garden is very special. I think it is important to understand that the project was designed as a pavilion in a baroque garden, but you don’t need to know much more than that! People can then use it and interpret it as they will.
C: For us it is more important now to see how people use the stair. The pavilion is very versatile: children can run through it, people will sit and hang out here, others will want to climb it, to look out and see the view, to take a selfie, to explore.
A: Can you speak more about how the “theatrum mundi”—the notion of the world as a stage—informed the project, and the relevance of this concept to contemporary culture?
T: I think as humans, we have always had an interest in spectacle, in attracting attention. There was a time when the “stage” was in the theatre, and in the spaces connected with these social, cultural programs, and then the stage spilled out into plazas and all public space. Today, with Facebook and Instagram, the performance has an even broader audience.
C: Yes, I agree that the fascination with the “theatrum mundi” has always been there. As architects and landscape architects we can embrace this and support it by considering what draws people to certain places and how they are used. These are things we need to think about while designing to ensure public spaces are successful. We don’t often discuss the baroque period today when designing, so it was very interesting to have the opportunity to think about it and consider what elements and themes are relevant today.
A: I love that you decided to work with a stair. It is so simple and effective, but there is also something a little bit absurd about it: it is an essential element of architecture, as you described, usually a connection, transition piece, even a moment for spectacle, but here you have taken it out of any context and that connective element becomes the object, the destination. Does this offer you a new idea of what a stair is? Or what a stair becomes once it is the object?
S: From the beginning we had the intention of connecting landscape and architecture through the pavilion. In this context, the stair is an architectural element, but it also connects with the garden. So although the relationship is less about connecting two points, the pavilion connects different elements and experiences within the garden. And as a destination, the stair offers an extension to the garden, and a tool (a platform) for exploring your surroundings.
T: And today you can find more and more examples of staircases that don’t lead anywhere—the stair in Israels Plads (Copenhagen) for example, is a gathering place, seating, and a destination.
A: Has your view of the pavilion changed at all since it has been constructed and opened? Have you been surprised by how the pavilion has been used?
S: I suppose because we were designing the pavilion for a museum, I always imagined that people would walk calmly around it. It was so nice to see children running over and through it at the opening!
C: The feedback was also interesting because people see architecture in different ways. People ask questions of the proportions, the height, the shape, and often people see the space quite differently. They also ask different questions, or focus on different elements, depending on their background or interests.
T: We always wanted to have a performance in the pavilion—to see it used as scenery and stage. We are planning a piece to be choreographed by a dancer and filmed, to document the pavilion and its use.
A: More generally, what do you see as the relevance of “Future Legacies” for designers today?
S: The best architectural spaces I have visited always have some relation to history or other cultural layers. I think architecture performs best, integrates best, and creates the best experience when it is not an isolated object, but rather it connects to something beyond itself—even something that connects to a garden, like here. This connection gives it a sense that it has always been here, or at least that it belongs, even if it is new.
When you bring in another history or narrative, a project becomes more timeless. We can’t always read references to the now as they are often too immediate, and often these references are too short-lived.
T: Yes, architecture is absolutely related to time. In a physical sense, you see the durability of a structure over time in how the material evolves or weathers. But you can also read time in the use of a building, or even its program. There are “trend buildings” that go in cycles, like a period of time when all the competitions are about museums, or projects that need to be completed before an election—you can see in these examples how architecture becomes driven by external forces and reflects its moment, or period in time. Nowadays we often tend to think about architecture as we think about an iPhone, or our clothes, something you can use but also replace, but it doesn’t work this way.
C: Architecture must be considered differently, on a different scale than this.
T: Architecture is more permanent, and we need to consider its future life. As architects, I think we have to be a bit visionary! We have to think about how society is evolving. We can’t predict the future, but we need to be able to accommodate change.
C: We bring something new to the meaning of a place through design, and this impacts how it is used. The space must be flexible enough to allow different uses and different interpretations. This pavilion is simple, it is a stair, but it is how we placed that stair in a new context, with a particular perspective, that makes it effective. We removed the stair from its interior and placed it in the centre of the garden.
S: There are elements of the baroque that clearly influenced our thinking, so that design history is built into our project. The focus on the baroque made us think about how you move through the space, how you view the pavilion and what you see from it. It informed the experience of the site here today, however, now we are more interested in looking at how people use the pavilion, how they could continue to use it, and what the future is for this project.
A: One of the strengths of the projects is in it’s simplicity—that you could draw a narrative from history and distil it down to something as clear as a stair is extremely effective.
S: So many people have said to us: “It is such a brilliant idea! It is so simple!” We thought many competition entries would propose stairs, but that was not the case. Everyone interpreted the idea of scenery and performance differently. The challenge of how to transform these notions, how to transform something from the baroque to modern day, raised some really interesting discussions and questions among us. The design process has been really rewarding.
Drawing 1: Drawing by DUAL
Drawing 2: Drawing by DUAL
Image 1: Photograph by Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen
Image 2: Photograph by Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen
Image 3: Photograph by Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen
Image 4: Photograph by Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen
Image 5: Photograph by Astrid Maria Busse Rasmussen
Image 6: Photograph by Bjørn Pierri Enevoldsen
Image 7: Photograph by Bjørn Pierri Enevoldsen
Image 8: Photograph by Aisling O’Carroll
Film: Credit to Jose Mato Millan and Carlos Alvarez Clemente
DUAL is a collaboration that develops projects by focusing on the human scale and creating unique spaces that encourage social interaction. Our approach comes from our own diverse backgrounds, as well as the duality we see within architecture, art, and landscape.
Sofia Adolfsson (Swedish) is an Architect MAA with a Master in Architecture from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture and with professional experience in Denmark, Sweden, and the UK, at architecture firms such as BIG, CRAB Studio, 3XN, Tredje Natur, and Holscher Nordberg.
Camila Stadler Buschle (Brazilian) is a Constructing Architect MAK who graduated from VIA University College and Aalborg University in Copenhagen, where she received a MSc. in Sustainable Design. She has gained professional experience at architecture firms such as COBE, BIG, Tredje Natur, and Valrygg Architecture.
Teresa Fernandez (Spanish) is an Architect MAA with a Master in Architecture from ETSAM (Polytechnic University of Madrid) and ENSA Paris-La Villette. She has gained professional experience in Denmark and Spain at architecture firms such as BIG and COBE.
Maria Gadegaard (b. 1976), Mag. Art and MA, Art History and Museum Studies at CUNY, New York, Director of Gammel Holtegaard since 2013.