Thursday, February 19, 2015


(flashback to September through December when my life was Architecture Thesis)

Now that I was back home in Seattle, I had the chance to revisit my experiences in Copenhagen. I was able to step back and take the bird's eye view. It was a great place to be, an extension of my trip in many ways.

Continue to read below for a compressed version of my thesis work - a thoughtful look at experiential public space.


By Erica Brissenden
Thesis Committee: Robert Hutchison, Jennifer Dee, Cath Brunner


We need places that are more than functional spaces for physical activity and ecological balance. Places that also offer spiritual relief, emotionally and space to dream; things that today are more commonly found in cinema or art but that, in my view, can equally be provided in outdoor spaces.

- Rein Cano, Topotek1


The city is made up of familiar elements: streets, buildings, cars, people, bikes, and trees. These commonalities are knit together to paint an image of an urban character we can all imagine. These conditions can be found in every city in the world, regardless of size or location. 

There is also the space between buildings where the urban block opens to create a wide range of public venues diverging from the grid. Currently, these spaces provide a chance to mingle, to meet a neighbor by happenstance, or set up a picnic with some friends in the park. It provides us with a venue for social interaction, a backdrop for everyday life.

I am interested in breaking from the common cityscape to explore another version of shared space. This thesis explores unconventional ideas about place making, driven by experiential response rather than function. It is an attempt to escape the ordinary, through the lens of architectural intervention in public space. It is about perception of space through atmosphere, physical sensation and emotive space.

Looking for a term which could help define this idea, I have found the “third form” that Michel Corajoud uses in his description of Water Mirror in Bordeaux, France. The project lies somewhere between city and nature, not quite belonging to either realm. It explores how to experience the cityscape in an atmospheric way, using water and mist to create space, identity of place, and inspire joy, reflection, and awareness. 

I am slightly altering this definition – the third form is not the building or street, nor art or architecture, but the space between. It is something out of the ordinary and engaging. It is a quality focused on bodily perception in public spaces rather than function. The third form explores how a person can experience a space where sense, awareness, and response are primary. It is about creating an atmospheric quality within the public realm, similar to the feeling produced from a beautiful work of music, dance, or art.  The focus is on the individual bodily experience.

A shift toward perception [the ability to hear, see, or become aware of something through the senses] in public space  is largely missing from the public realm. 

This thesis explores unusual public space and its positive effect on the human psyche. Documenting public space in Copenhagen, Denmark has exposed the periphery condition (between the urban and suburban) as unresolved and lacking any particular public quality.

Design through sensory response and shift in perception, as done by artists Ann Hamilton, Olufar Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, has driven my architectural response to public space at the periphery. The proposal connects the city to the Harbor of Copenhagen, using the water as a medium for experiential quality. There are a series of interventions that makes engaging the water publicly accessible. 

Third Form - 
a quality of heightened 
perception found in 
unusual spaces.


Perhaps the one ingredient of the Danish Landscape that is uniquely native is the quality of light. The Danish light is special in its quality of cool, Nordic character, even though it varies considerably from locality to locality. Surrounded by water and featuring a damp climate, this kingdom of islands is bathed not only in a soft light with many middle tones but also a particularly intense light that is experienced most clearly on the coastal spits and peninsulas.
-  Steen A.B. Høyer, Things take time and time takes things. 

In January 2014, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to study Architecture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts for six months. During this time, I studied the city's design approach to public space most famously established by Gehl Architects as a pedestrian oriented, human-scale space.

I found that public space within Copenhagen’s city center is working very well. It is at the periphery of the city, between urban and suburban, that public space becomes challenging. These areas are rapidly changing from industrial to residential zones in order to account for Copenhagen’s growing population. Adjusting to a new building typology has resulted in many leftover, unresolved spaces. These leftover conditions at the periphery of the city can be found worldwide. This thesis is sited in Copenhagen, and the design approach is specific to it, but the principles and strategy of the third form can be applied anywhere. 

Living in Copenhagen has revealed three qualities specific to Denmark: flatness of terrain, quality of light, and the art of hygge. The combination of these things cannot be found elsewhere in the world. 


To be able to move about easily and confidently, to be able to linger in cities and building complexes, to be able to take pleasure in spaces, buildings, and city life, and to be able to meet and get together with other people - informally or in more organized fashion - these are fundamental to good cities and good building projects today, as in the past.

- Jan Gehl, Life Between Buildings



When mapping and describing these spaces two things became apparent: year-round use and linearity.  

Copenhagen is a wonderfully bright and warm place for about three months of the year. It is filled with public parks and they are used at capacity during the summer. However, the remaining nine months of the year can be relentlessly grey and gloomy.  The Danish use hygge to combat winter melancholy, yet it rarely extends to outdoor space. 

These mapped spaces offer access to the outdoors year-round by providing protected gathering space and benches as well as retail and restaurants in immediate proximity. It is possible to walk or cycle through these corridors and stop for a coffee along the way. 

Linearity is ingrained into the grid of the street, and many of these places have been re-established as public spaces. It is possible to read linear space at the street-scape as well as at a city-wide scale.



The periphery condition is found between urban and suburban Copenhagen and is unlike the standard building typology of the inner city. Most of the buildings have been constructed within the last 15 years and do not conform to perimeter blocks, but stand as individual volumes. This results in an unclear street grid and leftover, in between spaces.

These graphics show the difference between the inner city block and the periphery city block. The city center block is made up of several buildings knit together to form a continuous street facade. The street facade frames the street which is approximately 25 feet wide by 60 feet high. This ratio allows for pedestrian oriented streets, mainly because the street is too narrow to support motor traffic. Many of these streets have been converted into walking-only retail corridors (Strøget).

The periphery city block is a much different character. The individual buildings are oddly shaped and large enough to make up one city block, therefore standing alone. The street scale is increased to as much as 85 feet wide for a two lane road, bike lanes and extremely wide sidewalks. The buildings are also eight stories high instead of the typical six, rendering 96 foot towers. The ratio of building height to street width feels awkward, and does not leave any framed space for the pedestrian to be guided through. 

Public space at the periphery is undefined because there is little framed or special space, every “in between” feels the same: large and out of scale for pedestrian use. 



If a work of architecture consists of forms and contents which combine to create a strong fundamental mood that is powerful enough to effect us, it may possess qualities of a work of art. This art has, however nothing to do with interesting configurations or originality. It is concerned with insights and understanding, and above all with truth.

- Peter Zumthor, A+U 1998 Special Addition

The goal of this thesis is to design emotive and evocative public space at the periphery condition. I chose to work with this site because of the relationship to the harbor and Amager Fields. There are views outwards towards the water and the park, and there is room for experimental intervention. The location offers unique qualities found only at this specific spot. The horizon and flatness are exposed because the of the extra room. 

The intervention uses water as a means of designing experiential public space because of the direct adjacency to the harbor and because of Copenhagen’s limited access and engagement with water. Pairing the public space intervention with a bath house allowed for public facilities and another level of engagement with water. The function of the bath house changes as the site condition does.  

The site also lends itself to linear relationships, it is possible to guide the pedestrians from one side of the site to another via an informal path and visual incentives. The linearity fits within the greater network of Copenhagen’s linear spaces.

CONCEPT: Strong horizon line with shifting planes. 
These planes carve down and lift up. The viewer can occupy these planes which shifts the viewers perception of Copenhagen’s strong horizon. 


The approach is carving down and lifting up to break from the strong horizon and flatness that is found in Copenhagen. These shifting planes immediately alter the impression of the landscape. The architecture occurs at the edges of the shifts, it often occupies the space underneath. 

The carving down at the harbor creates a protected space against the strong winds that travel up the channel. This shift creates a large salt water pool which functions as an active space. It is used as a swimming pool during the summer and an ice rink during the winter. 

The lifting up occurs at the East side of the site, adjacent to Amager Fields. The shift happens within the abandoned parking garage and lifts up to expose the view out to Amager Island and the øresund Sea beyond. This shift holds the bath house and a waterfall and the edge of the parking garage. 

Connecting the harbor and Amager Field allows for linearity that fits within the framework of Copenhagen’s public space. The pool and waterfall are connected through the existing street scape. 
The site strategy employs the three qualities specific to Denmark: flatness of terrain, quality of light, and the art of hygge. This space is intended to be used year round, and changes as the seasons do. 


A large plane carves down to create a subterranean vessel for a 25 foot deep pool. There is a bridge that floats above and a perimeter wall that creates a room within a room. The public can sit on the edge of the wall or the bridge and look on to the pool, or jump from the wall. This is a place for loud, extroverted activity, or completely quiet singularity. 


There is a sense of vastness that echoes that of the harbor. The pool is expansive, but also protected.  I chose to maintain the edge of the harbor to differentiate the design from the series of inlets that break the edge. It also maintains the boardwalk that connects the north and south end of the site. 

There is a hot tub and hearth, bringing hygge to outdoor space, at the east and west sides of the pool. These function as a places for gathering on a cold winter night. There is also a bar/coffee shop underneath the bridge in the subterranean space. At the east side of the pool there are basic changing rooms. 

From the street above, there are a series of ramps which lead to the pool. These ramps also act as benches, and receive the maximum amount of light during the day. The pool receives the most light during the afternoon and late day, especially during the long summer days. 

Above the pool is a series of steps, another location to sit and watch the activity of the water. This intervention lays at the widest part of the site, between two residential towers. 

The salt water of the pool is sourced from the Harbor. There is an underground piping system that allows the tide to fluctuate in the pool echoing the harbors tide of one to two feet.


This space is less designed to allow the public transform it. It is a flat surface and also receives the most sun light in the morning to afternoon. This could be a place for a vintage clothing market, a seasonal Christmas market, a place for public art installations, dance performances or the start of a marathon. The space is intended to be flexible. 

The street is flanked by the two water interventions, the salt water pool and the waterfall. Each piece has visual pull and this streetscape is what links them together. 

The street edges are transformed to benches and steps and in some places water runnels. These moments help to simply differentiated the tree-lined street from other normal streets. At the north end, you can warm your hands by the fire and look out over the pool. At the south end of the street, you can put your hands underneath a waterfall, or wade into the shallow pool of water that runs underneath the parking garage. 

This street feels somewhat enclosed (approximately 80 feet wide) because of the BIG project and new housing developments. 




The existing parking garage is transformed to hold the bath house. A shifting plane occurs at the interior space and lifts up to create a lookout onto Amager Fields. This lifting up makes a strong relationship to Amager and the øresund Sea. The public can access this lookout by wandering the gap between the abandoned school and parking garage. 

The gap is discovered within the realm of public space, encompassing the third form. It is a place of contemplation and unknown, an escape from reality. The gap is unique because of the proportion, approximately twelve feet across with three stories height on one side and eight on the other. The visitor feels at ease and intrigued within this space. 

The parking garage has an existing three foot subterranean slope at the west side. The waterfall is also at the west side and fills the pool the slope creates. You can soak in the shallow pool, or just watch it change from the waterfalls gravity. 

Underneath the shifting plane is the bath house which contains changing rooms and soaking pools at the ground level, and a sauna and steam room in the second floor of the parking garage. The second floor has been enclosed with glass panels, but bathers can still look out to beyond. On top of the parking garage is an occupied roof scape. 

The waterfall system is a self contained system connected to the city’s water. It is treated and slightly heated so the waterfall can function year round. 


I started this project with an interest in unusual public space. These were spaces without retail or restaurants, but places where it was possible to become aware of your senses, your being, and your response to the immediate surroundings.

The five principles of perception, contradiction, autotelic, attraction, and dissipation were derived from public art projects done in unresolved and left over spaces. These projects revitalized public space, and allowed people to interact with space with heightened sensory experience, perhaps shifting perspective or contemplating a new thought. It is a chance to escape, to experience an unknown for a moment. 

In these selective works, an idea is pondered and a form follows. These principles are not attached to programmatic constraints, which allows the artist more freedom to explore an idea.
I am arguing these principles can also be explored in architecture and urban design. 

I became interested in the periphery condition because of my study in Copenhagen. These leftover spaces can be found all over the world. The goal of this thesis is to design emotive and evocative public space at the periphery. I attempted to do this in Copenhagen, but I believe this approach could be utilized elsewhere. 

The site in Copenhagen required a specific strategy, one that made sense within the context of Denmark. Each new site would also require the same research and context to come up with an appropriate solution within the framework of the third form. I believe that the difference between art and architecture, is that my architecture requires a site specific response. The framework may be the same, but the manifestation of the form is driven by the site context and history. 

The third form is an idea I will continue to develop in my architecture. This thesis has been a huge and rewarding challenge. The process has been the most exciting part. I am realizing there is never really an end, just a moment in time where you are precisely aware of the change you are enduring. 

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