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A garden for everyone

Geir Brendeland’s presentation

Architecture is a concrete phenomenon. It comprises landscapes and settlements, buildings and characterising articulation. Therefore, it is a living reality. Since remote times, architecture has helped man in making his existence meaningful. With the aid of architecture, he or she has gained a foothold in space and time. Architecture is therefore concerned with something more than practical needs and economy. It is concerned with existential meaning.

Christian Norberg-Schulz, Norwegian architectural theorist
‘Meaning in Western Architecture’, Praeger, 1975

It’s not usually possible to enter into this type of discussion in projects we work on, but sometimes, there’s a brief, a question, and a client that enables us to start thinking or trying to conceive of larger questions. We hope that ‘Hage is a project that deals with these issues.

The brief for our involvement in Råängen was extremely open. We knew that this was a public project and that it should result in something that is for the good of everybody: a construction that would allow people to gather, hold discussions, and play. It was also important that it would be a positive start for the whole development of Råängen, which ultimately is about how we treat our planet and how we should live in the 21st century.

There are many urban developments currently underway in Sweden and beyond, but there are very few that become examples of how we can re-think the way we live.

There were various observations we made about the site and the project before we began:

The site sits on the edge of the town.

We questioned what would happen to the rich soil when the development got under way.

This is a beautiful landscape located within a strange, dramatic context (the nearby scientific research facilities add to this)

The site will transition from farmland to urban form.

The project presents a perfect opportunity to design the city of tomorrow.

We developed a proposal based around the idea of metamorphosis – that the land would change from farming to gardening; from the planting of wheat to apple trees; and the movement of the rural to the urban.

Lund is a medieval town that has a lot of ‘in-between spaces’. You see glimpses into hidden backyards and vegetation as you walk around the town. There is a formal side to the place and an informal side – this is the specific grammar of Lund. We used this grammar of walls, divisions and gardens as raw material for our project and developed the idea that a central part of Lund had escaped and moved outside the town. Our garden will be the first part of the development at Råängen.

The discussion around publicness and public space is an important part of our teaching methodology and we try to remember this each time we begin a project. Hage is a very simple idea: we create a public space first, in order to secure quality for everybody in a future community. When New York decided to make a new park, an expedition was sent out into the landscape and they set out the corner posts. What was once outside of the city ended up becoming a void in the city. We are trying to do a more modest version of this at ‘Hage’!

Our proposal is based on materials and things we can find in the centre of Lund. A wall, bricks, water, gardens and orchards. The size of the garden is based on the size of the surrounding farms (approximately 40×40 meters). I think of it as a formal French garden gone mad. There will be a gravel surface with islands, trees, contemplative spaces and areas for children to play.

When you sit under the canopy at the table, you are in an architectural space between a garden and a big landscape. You’ll be looking south east.

‘Hage’ will begin as an object and become a void as buildings arrive around it.

The canopy will be made from weathering steel. Working with London-based engineers Price & Myers and Pro-Swede, a steel contractor on the outskirts of Lund, we’re developing a space-frame using unique laser-cut components, joined  together with rivets, which will make the structure extremely efficient and elegant, with a hand-made feel about it. It’ll look like an old English train station with a contemporary feel. We want to do something very simple, very well. The handcrafted element to our design is very important – we’re working with bricklayers, fabricators and suppliers to create something that is humble and will last for decades to come.

Råängen team discussion

Lena Sjöstrand, Chaplain Lund Cathedral and Co-Director of Råängen:

The table we build will be three times the size of the altar at Lund Cathedral and is naturally a kind of bridge between the meals celebrated in that room (the church) and the meals that will be celebrated at this table (‘Hage). Both are about sharing life and experiences.

There are several elements of ‘Hage which have connections – both physical and existential – to the cathedral:

The water mirror reflects the well in the crypt.

The trees reflect the columns in the Cathedral.

The bounded wall surfaces of both offer a kind of protection.

Working with Geir and Olav we have witnessed the transformation of our basic values ​​into architecture. ‘Hage has also shed light on things that already exist and others things we are working on in the Cathedral. This is a very exciting way to discover how a rewarding interaction can feel.

 

Mats Persson, Lund Cathedral Treasurer and Co-Director, Råängen:

The ‘Hage wall will be made from 50,000 recycled bricks sourced from the recently demolished Björnekulla jam factory in Bjuv, Skåne. It’s important to us that the bricks are durable and that they have had a previous life in Skåne.

The topsoil of Råängen will be removed and redistributed on adjacent farmland. In my previous job I was a farmer – I know about the importance of the land and its worth – both practical and metaphorical.

 

Jake Ford, White Arkitekter:

We wanted to work with Brendeland & Kristoffersen because many of their past projects are scruffy, real and not over designed. They’re obsessive in the right way and interested in conversation. There was no competitive process and we didn’t give them a conventional brief. The process has already given us so much material to work with when considering the larger development. We are doing rather than planning.

 

Jes Fernie, Råängen curator:

‘Hage will become part of Lund’s cultural narrative. We are building up a visual archive of the process of developing Råängen which will be placed in Lund Cathedral’s collection as well as the Skissernas Museum collection. In 2050, residents of Råängen will have access to the story of the development of their neighbourhood.

 

Lena Sjöstrand:

This is an important task for the Cathedral – to carry the memory of this place into the future. We very quickly forget what came before, when a new building is built, or neighbourhood comes to life.

A key part of the whole Råängen project is to work with, and highlight, various questions that are meaningful for the Cathedral and society as a whole. What does it mean to claim land previously used for cultivation? How can we do it in a respectful way? How much of this cultivation can be replaced by another type of cultivation?

If one speaks in theological terms, there is reasoning in a ‘through death, to life’ situation. After all, there is something dying in the Brunnshög area now, a current way of life, and something new will be born. How can we create the conditions for this new life to arise whilst also looking after the environment and climate? Good Friday and Easter Day – events at the core of Christian faith – are inspiration for our way of living and for urban planning. To give up as something life-giving and life-shaping.

Every element must be treated with care and respect. For example, although the recycled bricks contain vulnerability within them, they may not be as strong or easy to build with, there is a precious quality about them that relates to time, longevity and use.

We mustn’t rush to build this garden or new community. It does not have to be completed immediately. In 1123, the original altar was inaugurated in the Cathedral. Working within this timeframe, we have plenty of time. Maybe we can also create a counterforce to our fast-paced, frenetic society.

Audience discussion

The discussion with audience members covered issues relating to:

  • provision for wildlife – in particular birds and light interference at night;
  • the contrasting aesthetics of the canopy (high tech) and the rest of the garden, wall and table (natural materials);
  • the unusually open nature of this phase of the Råängen development;
  • the need to celebrate projects that prioritise aesthetics and craftsmanship;
  • the fact that it will take decades for the Hage garden to become properly ‘rooted – the relation to time in Råängen is particularly interesting;
  • how the space will be maintained and protected from vandalism;
  • let’s see a female artist or architect commissioned for the next Råängen programme!
Speakers:
Geir Brendeland
Mats Persson
Lena Sjöstrand

Jake Ford
 
Chair:

Jes Fernie
 

Photos of the event:

Henrik Rosenqvist

 
Watercolour:

Geir Brendeland

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