Stephen David Willacy

Interview with the city architect of Aarhus, Denmark
What is your job at the Aarhus Kommune?

As the city architect I have a responsibility for achieving quality in large-scale plans and development projects.

My input starts from the beginning of the development of the competition brief, to the program, design proposals, and even the construction process.

What is happening in Aarhus now in terms of urban planning and building of new structures?

There are currently several projects happening all over the city.  New administration project in Gallerup, the continuous development of the Harbor, and several plans for new housing units for the growing neighborhoods surrounding Aarhus.

There are also new educational institutions being built as well from the Engineering school at the Harbor, to the several academic institutions being moved to the area around Godsbanen.

Is the city prepared to handle all these numerous developments happening at one time?

There has always been a vision for the future of Aarhus in terms of further development.  Some people continued creating building projects in the city during the recession; this has helped the movement stay strong. 

This however is a long process that won’t be happening overnight, gradually more and more projects will be designed and built.  I think in 2017 we will pause and see what has happened up this point.  We will need a reflection period to see which areas are being developed properly and which ones are not doing so well.

We have to be aware of the new projects and the old.  Create a possibility to give back to the city without destroying its history.   We shouldn’t be over sensitive and nostalgic, instead we should embrace the past and make it work with the future. A good example of this is the Aarhus River project; by allowing the river to be flowing through the center of the city it has created a unique character for the downtown area while still having a connection to its historical importance. 

What is the significance of the year 2017?

Aarhus will be named the European Capital of Culture. This event not only concerns the city for 2017 but has the potential to show how the city can keep growing in the future.  Many ideas about culture, city planning, urbanization, and growth will be addressed during this time.

Once this event has passed the city will have a better perspective about its identity and position on future developments. 

How will these new projects benefit the city of Aarhus, can you name an example?

Development projects, specifically cultural ones have a big impact in the local economy of the city.  In terms of money, creative businesses add not only to the BDP of the economy but also promote life in their own neighborhoods.

That is what is happening with the new development of Aarhus K, (K= creativity) in the area around Godsbanen.  There is a revitalization process happening where left over industrial buildings and the land around is being reutilized through local businesses and grass roots initiatives. 

I think that when you are redeveloping old industrial spaces you should keep some of the character of its history for the future.  What is happening in the Harbor now is a clean slate for new projects meaning that they don’t have this connection to the spaces that were there before them.  This can create a feeling of abandonment and no connectivity to the existing city fabric.

By having this rough appearance you can have an environment that can welcome creative and entrepreneurial individuals.
What kind of buildings do you see being built in the area of Godsbanen?

I think that this area is the perfect location for the new architecture school.  The roughness of the area is perfect for experimentation with materials for students.  With the newly built Godsbanen building and the workshops within it, you can see that a lot of creative people come here.  With the new school there could be more opportunities to have open workshops from the school to the public as well.  

Housing in this area is also something that will be developed as well.  Specifically housing for students who make up ¼ of the population of Aarhus. Being a city full of universities and educational institutions, it is imperative that there is adequate housing for the people who come to study in the city of Aarhus.

How will the Aarhus Kommune and developers work with the existing users of the site at Godsbanen?

Having a dialogue with the people working and living here is important.  These grass root organizations like Institut for X create a lot of energy and invite a new way of looking at the city, the exact opposite of what is happening in terms of development at the Harbor front.

Do you think this area will be cleared out to make room for new housing developments?

I hope that this area can still be here for the next few years while the city is growing.

I think areas like Godsbaben are a great example of what can be done with left over industrial areas.  There are several here in Aarhus waiting for some kind of revitalization, such as the Tulip factory, Ceres factory, and areas around Vejlby.  These areas could learn a lot from what is happening at Godsbanen now.

Which part of Godsbanen is your favorite?

I really like the concept of the shipping containers and how they are used on the site here.  The idea of having a module that can be moved around from place to place is quite exciting, a sort of mobile cultural platform.  Through these containers there are opportunities to create life in areas where traditional building structures wouldn’t make sense.  

These containers can act as workshop spaces, offices, and even housing for students.  The shipping container then becomes a catalyst for innovative entrepreneurial attitude that creates life and architecture in the city.