What can we learn from the next generation of voices in architecture?
In two weeks from now, Copenhagen aims to find out.
15 Jun 2023

Every three years, the UIA (The International Union of Architects) hosts a congress in a different country. Early July sees the 28th edition — and for the first time in the Nordics, in Copenhagen, which also happens to be the World Capital of Architecture 2023.

— We’d like to see it as an invitation for everyone interested in a greener future. It’s about the extra push that is needed for people to come together, meet, and agree on a future vision, says Line Luna Thygesen, Next Gen Manager in the organisation, who’s responsible for involving and engaging the next generation, the students, young professionals, and ultimately our future leaders, in the process. According to her, when speaking to these young people, they’re surprised that she listens to them.

— And they are also surprised to be offered a platform for expression, that the focus is on them at the congress and that we want to know what they think. It is a new experience. Now, getting people together from the whole world and the potential planetary collaboration that can follow, is what makes this project unique. I think it’s important that we think about how we can come together from the Global North and the Global South and learn from each other, she adds.

Why has Copenhagen been chosen for this edition?

— Sure, there are many great things that are being designed in Denmark, and we often feel that we are very good at working with sustainability, architecture, and design. But we also have a lot to learn. I think Copenhagen is the perfect backdrop for an event like this and it will be buzzing with activity around the city in early July, with the official programme that is topped with inspiring people, tours, and exciting side events, such as swimming in the harbour, dinners, and talks, and the SDG pavilions. These are constructions around town from Danish architecture studios that try to answer some critical questions about our future and sustainability.

Dong by BIG in Copenhagen has offered homes to low-income citizens. Photography: Rasmus Hjortshøj 

You mentioned the programme, what’s not to miss?

— If you ask from my perspective, I would really highlight the opportunity to learn and discover something new, challenging your perspective and participate in a talk or a workshop that you normally wouldn’t experience. My advice would be to try something unknown, and the programme is packed with exciting sessions. Obviously, the Next Gen sessions — in all transparency, that I have worked on to facilitate — are all worth your time. If I had to highlight one, I would mention Turning the tables – Enabling young voices in the green transition which challenges formats. A panel of mainly young people from the architectural world will be listened to by a panel of experienced people. By changing the balance, it highlights how normally the power structures are not necessarily aware of how hard it is to speak up and to be taken seriously when you are young, and how you need the confidence to be able to bring your perspective forward. Hopefully, this session will show how the right tools, format, and facilitation create a safe space that favours confidence and makes it easier to get your point across. It’s important to feel that the other part is listening to you, but we all know that is not always what happens, says Thygesen. She continues:

— We’re also collaborating with DTU Skylab (The Innovation Hub of the Technical University of Denmark) on an innovation initiative that will be unleashed at World Congress. Called Next Generation City Action, it’s a project that aims to engage and empower young people to take an active role in shaping the future of their cities. This is a global engagement, with people from multiple countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, India, Korea, Mexico, Colombia, and Denmark, with more than 125 selected young students, early-stage technology entrepreneurs, and young leaders from diverse backgrounds. They will challenge existing practices and contribute with their innovative solutions, all focusing on sustainability and inclusion.

If you were to pick out one new, special thing from Denmark and architecture, what would you choose?

— I’m impressed by engaged student-driven organizations such as the Climate Group from the Royal Danish Academy – Architecture, Design, Conservation. They are so dedicated and have their own way of communicating and creating action, instead of not just talking, for a better future. We got them to collaborate with us through the installation What about Utopia – Dreams of a better future, which will be exhibited at the World Congress and invites to enter a space created and dedicated to utopian thinking. To change our current situation, from the state of crisis, we need to not only think of solutions that can be realized within our current systems but also practice the act of thinking outside of those systems. Dreaming is a part of moulding a new world. 

What about Utopia. Photography: Peter Rasmussen

Thygesen also highlights urban spaces that are created to invite people to meet, incorporating play and activity.

— One of my favourite spaces in Copenhagen is Superkilen, a park in the Nørrebro area that supports diversity and invites locals to meet. It’s kind of an exhibition of everyday objects from all over the world, including benches, lampposts, trash cans and plants, making it an urban space that invites locals to interact with not only each other but also the many playgrounds and sports elements left seemingly unorganized but is anything but. It’s also visually very aesthetic.

Superkilen. Photography: Mark Damgaard Pedersen

Aside from working hard with the World Congress for months, Thygesen has also initiated a pet project together with a friend.

— We’re collecting the dreams of the Danes, she explains. I believe it’s important in times of change to open our fantasy so we can get an image of what kind of society we want to live in. It is a physical installation constructed as a pop-up artwork in public spaces, like libraries, that helps people share their dreams with each other. We then collect the input and create a shared sum-up to be shared with communal authorities as inspiration to think up something new. 

To get more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter here

* indicates required