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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 12:50 GMT
Communities 'key' to Danish housing
By Thomas Buch-Andersen
BBC News, Copenhagen

New Garden Village Project
The New Garden Village Project revitalises existing Danish villages
Danish design is known to be cutting-edge. That's also the case when it comes to modern housing.

But while architects from across the globe are looking to the small, innovative Scandinavian country for ideas to shape buildings, Danish town planners are finding that the future of housing is not in the houses themselves.

Rather, it is in the spaces between them.

"Architecture is a mirror of the surrounding society," said town planner Jan Gehl, who is a lecturer at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts' School of Architecture.

To the award-winning architect, modern housing is not about the way buildings look. It's about addressing the needs of the people who are to occupy the houses.

"The future Copenhagen is green and open. We are returning to the times when the streets and the exterior were symbols of exclusivity.

"For years, focus has been on the interior, the actual flats in the building.

"But people in cities are becoming more concerned with the potential of engaging with the communities," said Mr Gehl, who is seeing his ideas being adopted by city councils in Britain, across Europe, North America, Asia and even Saudi Arabia.

Too much stress

According to Mr Gehl, housing has always addressed the diseases of society. Today, he argues, we suffer from alienation, crime, drug abuse and loneliness.

The cure, Mr Gehl insists, is to realise that life outside the four walls of a flat is more important than life inside.

Thus, in 20 years' time, Copenhagen will have many more squares and parks where inhabitants can enjoy each other's company.

Mr Gehl's vision is backed by a recent report by the Danish Institute for Future Research.

The research suggests that people are reacting to busy careers, growing stress and too much self-realisation by forming closer communities and closer friendships.

"Until now, individualisation has been an important trend in our society," said Niels Boettger-Rasmussen, who has led a research project into the values Danes and their housing preferences at the institute.

"You can choose whichever life you'd like. And you yourself are always the most important project.

"But increasingly, people are facing the drawback of an overly free society and they are moving back into closer social communities.

"People are searching for what they haven't got."

Countryside communities

While inhabitants in the cities are expanding into and occupying the urban spaces, farms on the countryside are being abandoned.

Each day, more than five Danish farms are shut down - a development mirrored across the rest of Europe, including Britain. Thus, the Danish government is supporting research into re-vitalisation of rural areas.

The award-winning "New Garden Village" project aims to present a solution to the problem.

Proposal for Jiading, a suburb of Shanghai
Danish architects have been involved in development in Chinese cities

"Rather than demolishing old farms, we want to build new villages in correlation with existing buildings, landscape and nature," said Hans Peter Hagens of the New Garden Village, which won The Architectural Review's Future Project Awards 2006 (MIPIM-AR).

He and his partner have already been headhunted by Kent County Council to help develop rural areas in southern England.

The idea is to construct modern villages by complementing the existing farm house with 30-50 small new houses.

"In the New Garden Village, the farms are centres for local production of food and other natural produce: local cheese, meat, dairy produce, wine and beer brewery, ecological fruit and vegetables, and so on.

"Furthermore, the farm provides the framework for cultural activities and can be adapted to commercial use such as shops, small restaurants, handicraft, day-care centres and youth hostels," said Hans Peter Hagens.

The aim of the project is to combine the creation of new attractive opportunities for habitation, jobs and recreational activities in the rural districts.

The architects behind the plan hope to give rural districts a new identity and opportunities for creative development and a less stressful everyday life closer to nature.

By reinventing the old principle of villages in a new and modern way, these new communities would integrate countryside life with the need for belonging to a community.

The sense of togetherness is the key word for future housing in Danish.

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