Architect Dorthe Keis has worked for Arkitema Architects for almost twenty years and became the first female partner in the company in 2014. Together with the architectural teams at Arkitema Architects, she has designed dozens of dwellings and housing through the years. We talked to her about new types of accommodation, work-life balance – and how it affects dwellings, and the capabilities of a great architect.
DANISH™: What is ‘hot’ when it comes to new types of accommodation?
Dorthe Keis (DK): Urbanisation means that there is a common acknowledgement that we would like to stay close to one another. We move away from the idea of living in suburbia and in the countryside. There will always be some who think it is cool to live in suburbia and in the countryside, but the majority of people want to live close to each other. Then you start to ask yourself why people want to live as close as you do in a big city. We have researched that topic through some of our development projects. We asked ourselves: What is a modern human? What is it like to be human?
It’s a mixed group of people. Most people today, they want to be healthy, have a career and take care of their family. To do all these things, you need smart living. Thus, you need some communities that can help you do all these things. In co-housing communities, for example, you have shared cooking, shared facilities, you may have a running club, and perhaps you share garden tools and baby clothes. For some people, living is made easier this way.
There are some modern co-living communities that have some pretty visionary thoughts on how they want to live. Their thoughts differ from the collective mind-set of the 1970s. It is not like you put all your salaries in a common box and then share the money equally between the members of the collective. Today, you optimise your ‘living processes’ a lot more, while at the same time you have a need to socialise. The people in your neighbourhood, or community for that sake, matter. People are drawn to the idea of converting time and resources to something valuable.
DANISH™: Today, the line between work time and spare time is becoming blurred for many people. Is this something that affects the way we live?
DK: It does. Definitely. When behavioural patterns change, it is not always that the housing can keep up with new needs and different challenges. We try to incorporate fulfilment of some of these needs in our new projects. But the thing about work and spare time being fused together makes people search for a home that offers more than just ‘a place to stay’. We use the term ‘the collective home’, where you have a private home, and there is a part of the home that is outside of the private home. This outside part you share with other people. We can see that it makes sense for some people to live this way – that you can tap in and out of different communities.
To stay close to a non-committal working space or community is important to others. It can be a local café, or it can be examples of what have been termed ‘hoffices’ – a combination of a home and an office. A new type of space, where people have an empty living room in the weekdays and therefore rent it out as office space to businesses or freelancers. In this way, you can book a part of other people’s homes and use it as a working space. Despite the fact that people work on their own individual projects, most people like to sit together with other people. You do not want to be all-alone at home all the time. When you work in the same space, you can take breaks together, ask each other for tips and tricks, and so on. It is interesting when people have to choose housing. Considerations about the potential for joint ventures in the immediate environment count for a lot. And will do even more in the future, I believe.
DANISH™: How do you keep yourself up to date on new trends within types of accommodation and ways of living?
DK: Mostly, it happens through dialogue. We have dialogues with many types of stakeholders, experts, specialists, users, municipalities and builders, when we engage in projects. Through this almost constant dialogue, we develop our sense of what is trending and what is not. Development projects are also important because we get a lot of input from them. For example, when we do a project with an anthropologist or an urban space planner, we get a lot of insights because these people look very specifically at people’s behaviour. And then there are, of course, articles and books on the topic.
We also have these professional forums at our offices, where we discuss and share knowledge about what is going on in the field that we find interesting. The forums also work as a safety net for us because we then know that we have common dialogue across projects and teams.
At the beginning of our new student housing project in Nørrebro, Copenhagen – Uptown Nørrebro – we established a user group of about 10 students. The user group has helped us to find out what is the best student home, what is the best student life, and so on. The students have followed the project and commented alongside the development of it. Very helpful insights.
DANISH™: As an architect, you can adjust plenty of different parameters. Price, energy savings, function, form, level of sustainability, and so on. What parameters are you not able to adjust?
DK: As an architect, you can create all sorts of fantastic solutions. And it is easy for me to adjust these things, but what is the most interesting part is that each project differs regarding local requirements, regulations and financing. Those parameters decide what type of accommodation you get. The architect’s most important role is to act inside the perimeter of these parameters – to figure out how you can get the best aesthetics, the best social sustainability and the best possible energy-saving solution. That is the important job. And the more you know about how people want to live, the more you can take advantage of the potential that is found in each project.