What if architecture could change the world?

Great question. Especially when posed to participants of Hanbury's 15th annual Jane Cady Rathbone Design Retreat, this year taking us to Denmark (with a side bar to Sweden) and leaving a lasting impression that architecture just may have a significant role to play in addressing the universal environmental, social, and life style challenges we face.

Architecture alone can hardly address these significant challenges — it’s not the answer — but architecture can be an enabler or medium of change. Architecture can provide the setting for community, encourage connections, accommodate activities, capture the energy of people engaging, encourage particular behavior and celebrate life. We saw this in Denmark.

It made us ask, what if…

a flat city could have a mountain?

vertical urban housing had neighborhood sidewalks… front porches… gardens? 

everyone had access to sunlight + air? 

cars were subservient to people?

more people biked than drove – or at least more biked and took mass transit? 

we exported our recycled matter as manufacturing raw materials?

high efficiency clean incineration allowed us to be paid to incinerate other’s garbage?

we mixed heavy utilities and recreation?

residents and restaurants grew their own food?

churches doubled as meeting places, education, and performance spaces?

our buildings generated so much power that we exported it?

we valued pleasure and quality of life over first costs?

Visiting contemporary and mid-century modern Danish architecture — in part on a full-day bicycle tour — walking wonderfully pedestrian historic Copenhagen, visiting the office of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), and closing each day with relaxing discussions of what we’d seen, all worked together to impress upon us how holistically advanced the Danes are. The 2019 edition of the Design Retreat also made clear to us that what the Danes have accomplished by carefully designing policy, environmental strategies, and buildings and spaces, with foresight and discipline is all within reach.

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