interview: COBE's dan stubbergaard on designing 'urban living rooms'

interview: COBE's dan stubbergaard on designing 'urban living rooms'

over the last decade, COBE — led by founder and creative director dan stubbergaard — has emerged as one of architecture’s most exciting young practices. the firm is currently working on major projects in germany and finland, but it is COBE’s hometown of copenhagen that continues to shape its identity. ‘the city has become a 1:1 laboratory of our work in all scales,’ stubbergaard tells designboom. titled ‘our urban living room’, a new exhibition in helsinki coincides with the re-release of COBE’s book of the same name.

dan stubbergaard interview
a new exhibition in helsinki explores COBE’s past and future work
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST (also main image)



the show — which is on view until november 30, 2018 at helsinki’s laituri exhibition space — compares a selection of COBE’s copenhagen schemes with upcoming projects in the finnish captial. with both the book and the exhibition, the firm examines the city as an extended living room where the boundary between private and public space is erased. to learn more, designboom spoke with dan stubbergaard who discussed his studio’s relationship with the city of copenhagen and the evolution of COBE’s work over the last ten years. read the interview in full below.

dan stubbergaard interview
projects are presented within a giant wooden bookcase
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



designboom (DB): the book is titled ‘our urban living room’. can you expand on this concept and how it informs COBE’s work?


dan stubbergaard (DS): our city is our home, and that quality is what underpins the success of copenhagen today. the more we care for it — as architects, but more importantly as copenhageners ourselves — the better we will treat it. the better it is designed, the more people will want to live well in our city and take pride in it. this is not a matter of beauty, elegance or wealth, but a story of social liveability and urban democracy. in our book and exhibition, we urge people to experience the city from this perspective: as an extended living room where the boundaries between private and public become fluid.

dan stubbergaard interview
a variety of models and photographs document the firm’s growing portfolio
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



DB: how has COBE’s work evolved over the past decade?


DS: we have grown both regarding our portfolio and size. since COBE’s founding in 2006, COBE now counts 120 creative minds. our portfolio consists of both local and international projects, and includes architecture, city and landscape planning and product design. we have created museums, train stations, kindergartens, ultra-fast charging stations, and big masterplans transforming old industrial areas and buildings into attractive neighborhoods and homes. just like our hometown, copenhagen, COBE has grown. we recently moved our office into an old industrial building in nordhavn — so we have now become part of the development and realization of COBE’s own masterplan for the 3.6 million-square-meter harbor area with housing and workspace for 40,000 people.

dan stubbergaard interview
the exhibit had more than 1,400 visitors on its opening day
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



DB: similarly, how has copenhagen changed, and how does the city impact your work?


DS: we have definitely been shaped by copenhagen and its transformation into a bustling, democratic city designed for living. the city has become a 1:1 laboratory of our work in all scales. in its very nature, any piece of realized architecture represents a serious use of resources. we believe in exchanging these resources into increased livability for people. for example, with ‘the silo’ it was the opportunity to transform an old forgotten grain silo into attractive living conditions and public spaces — without losing the history of the building.


in addition, the main characteristic of our projects is that they are not recognizable. the thought of -isms, of iconic buildings — which, regardless of context and function represent a specific form of expression — is foreign to me. if there is something that characterizes our projects it is the way they merge with the whole. we adapt our working method and approach according to the specific place where we work and the people who will actually be using the structure or space: creating architecture that fits into each unique context, always improving the existing conditions.

dan stubbergaard interview
plans for future projects are also on view
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



DB: what do you think other cities could learn from copenhagen’s approach to urban design and architecture?


DS: well, the transformation of copenhagen from being a dirty industrial city into a livable city with a focus on human needs has been essential. copenhagen has become known for the way it is used and designed, and the high quality of life.


let’s take israels plads as an example. the plaza was a vibrant market square, but in the 1950s it was turned into a lifeless car park in the center of the city. with the renovation the idea was to celebrate the significance and history of the plaza and revitalize it, turning it into a lively, diverse plaza for all kinds of people and activities. the surface is elevated above the existing street like a new urban carpet. it hovers over the many cars that used to dominate the square and are now placed in the basement. now there is room for gatherings, children playing, markets, people meeting for coffee, bikes, etc.


another example, that could be an inspiration, is the bicycle culture. it is symbol of modern living. the way we use the bicycle is an inspiration for solving global challenges related to mobility and urban space development.

dan stubbergaard interview
published by arvinius + orfeus, the book of the same name can be purchased here
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



DB: you are currently working on a number of projects in finland, where you have an upcoming exhibition. has this been an easy transition?


DS: due to similarities as scandinavian countries, we find it very interesting to get the opportunity to use our learnings from copenhagen in finland. in the exhibition, which opened at laituri in helsinki last week, our copenhagen projects are compared to current and upcoming projects in helsinki. furthermore, from having a large number of projects in copenhagen, COBE has in recent years also won many projects abroad — including in finland.


to get the chance to have a positive impact on people’s daily life by transforming töölönlahti bay in central helsinki — currently a polluted area — into a new, green, attractive park where people can go for a dip or a swim and enjoy a cup of coffee on the promenade — as an extension of a living room, is fantastic. with the tampere travel service centre in the city of tampere the vision is to unify the city center into one coherent urban structure and introduce a new 21st century transportation hub characterized by ease of travel and sustainable means of transportation, as well as services that meet the demand of today’s tampere. the aim is that both projects contribute to a high quality of daily life.

dan stubbergaard interview
the exhibition remains on view until november 30, 2018
image © rasmus hjortshøj – COAST



DB: what do you think is the role of an architect in contemporary society?


DS: architecture is a way of looking at society and shaping the future we want to live in. our ambition at COBE is to create architecture that is relevant and inspiring for the people who use it. thus, we create architecture that fits into each unique context, always improving the existing conditions. our ambition is to create architecture that is made to outlast ourselves.

dan stubbergaard interview
dan stubbergaard is the founder and creative director of COBE

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