“If you can make spaces available for festivalgoers in such a way that they can easily navigate them, then the festivalgoers are set free to meet people and enjoy the music, unspoiled. If you create an atmosphere of freedom to do whatever you like, you have a surplus of mental resources to engage in meetings with everything from food, music and people – life, basically. And it can’t get too orderly. You have to have an element of chaos. Like Nietsche said: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
These words stem from architect Jes Vagnby. Recently, he asked himself: How do we build cities that are receptive and responsive to change, and, at the same time, strengthen diversity and individual characteristics, so they become focal points for the development of new types of communities, with room for even more diversity?
The answer is not simple, he says, when we catch him on the phone one late afternoon in June, just before the opening of Roskilde Festival. With more than 100.000 involved people, including guests, volunteers, press and backstage personnel, the annual Roskilde Festival is northern Europe’s biggest music festival. For a period of about 10 years, Vagnby was the chief city architect at the festival, held 30 kilometres west of Copenhagen. That position, combined with over a quarter century working in architecture and design (amongst other things, he still runs his own architectural studio, Jes Vagnby Architects / DemokraCity), has given him the knowhow to talk about the power of temporary architecture and how it can be used in modern urban planning.
“For me, temporary architecture is closely related to a co-creation process, where you involve users in creating the architecture. These days, people focus a lot on the individual, but, in these processes, people experience a clearer sense of community. Not hippie-like, like in the 70s, but an intermediate [stage] between the individual focus of today and the fellow feeling from back then. It is a certain mix that makes for good solutions,” says Vagnby.
Inspired by the Greek
According to Vagnby, city planners and urban-space designers should consider a way of encouraging people to interact, socialise and broaden their perspectives that is borrowed from the ancient Greeks. He himself was inspired by ancient Greek city planning, when he was the one to introduce agora (central spots in early Greek city-states) into the design of the camp space at Roskilde.
“If you look back on ancient Greek conurbations and the agora, people gathered and exchanged words and opinions with each other, thereby creating tolerance and understanding. We ought to try to incorporate the agora into modern urban planning, because it gives space for activities and makes people talk with each other,” says Vagnby.
The positive way in which temporary architecture is affecting Roskilde Festival gives Vagnby and his team the opportunity to experiment, rather than simply designing permanent structures. They have learnt a lot from these impermanent experiments.
With long-lasting architecture, “You want to be more sure that you make the right decisions the first time,” Vagnby adds, pointing to the fact of longer lifespans. When Vagnby creates temporary spaces at places like Roskilde Festival, he tries to create heterotopias. Heterotopias are spaces that exist at a certain distance from reality, as a sort of counterpart to it. Heterotopias make room for thoughts, dreams and fantasies, which are made possible by certain surroundings.
Jes Vagnby’s three approaches to temporary architecture
Open oases or havens
A parallel space, where you achieve detachment from real life, making you feel more free and open to meeting the world.
The experimental aspect
“You have to have the courage to go further than you normally would. It is temporary and, therefore, it does not matter that you cross a line, even to the point where it does not work anymore.”
According to Vagnby, the moment you create a larger community, you not only create an experience for yourself, but you also seek to create a story in a larger context – together with other people. That togetherness has much value.