arki_lab, A New Paragon of Urban Design

Let's join Charlotte as she meets arki_lab, an urban design firm adopting and sharing the new paradigm of designing cities with (and not just for) people.

Published by Charlotte on 10/01/2018

arki_lab is not a usual architecture company. The co-founder Jeannette Frisk, would actually rather use the term 'laboratory' to talk about the Urban Design Studio she created with her husband, Rasmus. Around five/six years ago, while they were both working in top architecture firms, the couple decided to change their role as architects. 

At that point, we did not know precisely what the DNA would be, but we had a critical standpoint towards the architecture profession in general. We started wondering why we did not ask people we were designing for,” says Jeannette.

A City Made By People Copenhagen Urban Design Arki Lab Jeanette Frisk And Yalda Pilehchian

arki_lab is questioning the role of architecture in society and their pedagogical approach is a key to understand their vision towards citizens. 

When you start making people aware of their physical surroundings, they’re introduced to different perspectives. It’s about establishing a new culture, even in schools, where you can show children how the surrounding can affect their lives. When they start noticing, they start being critical and develop opinions. And when you create a common language, everyone can put words on it and start formulating collaborative proposals for change. This is our ideology, our vision.”

A City Made By People Copenhagen Urban Design Arki Lab 1363

Since the very beginning of this adventure, the founders have adopted a genuine pragmatic approach to implement their vision. arki_lab started by seizing the opportunities granted by the Danish government through the “Open School” Reform that came into force in 2014, and by the Danish Architecture Policy developed by the Ministry of Culture from 2007. The school reform allowed Jeannette and Rasmus to start teaching in public schools, as “the main objectives of the reform was to open up the schools towards the surrounding society.” 

Gradually, the ideas generated by the children took shape: “We have gone from merely teaching to pushing these projects, conceived with children in public schools, into real life”.

A City Made By People Copenhagen Urban Design Gadehaveskole Opening

Standing on the shoulders of Scandinavian urban design giants, such as Jan Gehl, arki_lab strives towards even more inclusive cities by involving the end-users in design processes. 

When you are doing the design, you need to connect with the local knowledge. Collecting this knowledge makes for a much smoother design process and a more successful end product. I could never go back to work as a traditional architect, because I wouldn’t know anything without submerging myself in the context, which primarily includes the people. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of guessing.”

Nowadays, arki_lab is mainly working with schools, municipalities and local urban renewal projects. Even though their clients are mainly public institutions, there is a growing interest from the private sector in their approach. The laboratory is aware of the necessity of working on their message towards private actors, without modifying its fundamental principles: “We also need to speak another language, to show them the added value in terms of profit and to put forwards the financial aspect.” 

A City Made By People Copenhagen Urban Design Arki Lab Dsc 0178

Above all, arki_lab is very conscious of the continuous learning process that they are committed to, which requires flexibility and transparency. 

We are part of a bigger movement, that aims for more transparency within the architecture profession. We are constantly learning and evolving, that’s why we call ourselves a lab. We don’t need to know everything. The more we keep the process open, the more knowledge we can gain and the more people we can get involved.”

Words by Charlotte Sabouret
Pictures provided by arki_lab

What an inspiring story of an alternative way to think about urban design, thank you for this piece Charlotte! If you're keen on reading more stories about architecture and our cities' people, take a peak at our print journal here:

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