Is there an "Impure" use of the Competition for an Urbanistic Project of Architecture? Two Contemporary, Political Cases in Copenhagen

Gerd Bloxham Zettersten, Maja Sandberg


The overall aim of this study is to understand some of the issues raised
by competitions for urbanistic projects in engagement with the politi-
cal process. While accounting for an investigation of two contemporary,
large-scale competition cases in Copenhagenfor an urban residential
project and a harbour-side office-and-cultural building the chosen
viewpoint is that of the future user, the public. The two examples of
competitions have been selected because they differ greatly; however,
both have misfired, in that the first project has been called off and the
second strongly delayed. Even when one client is municipal with a de-
clared political agenda, and the other private, yet directly linked to the
cultural politics of the government and the socioeconomic aims of the
municipalitys politicians, a question of an «impure» use of the competi-
tion concept in both cases has appeared justified.
Consequently, one line of inquiry has been to explore what the objec-
tives for the two competitions may have been, by comparing the form of
the competitions, as represented, with a hypothetical agenda. The two
cases appear to illustrate the problem in complementary ways: the first,
the political/manipulative use of the architectural competition as a po-
litical tool, in a political show; the second, a make-believe use of the label
or concept of competition, but in reality in a non-transparent selection
procedure for professional competence.
The method employed is an «explicative» mode-of-approach, and it is
partly abductive in character. As there is some shortage of relevant theo-
rization, the paper is structured as a triangulation of angles of question-
ing. Therefore it concludes, following an overview of the two case proc-
esses and an analysis of competition form with regard to client-architect
collaboration, with a proposed analogy of a micro/macro model. Here
competition procedures within public architecture and urban planning
are compared to democratic praxis in its societal dimension.

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