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We daily move through the built fabric. Whether we’re outdoors, navigating traffic-laden streets or sitting on a park bench, or we’re inside a museum, a bank or an office building, we inhabit spaces that have been deliberated over and created – by developers, political entities, designers, landscape architects and all of the trades, organizations and community groups in between.

Yet many of us don’t spend much time considering how our spaces are shaped. Often, we are unaware or even uninterested in the forces, desires, and rationales that contribute to the designed world – which is pretty much everything that envelops us, our collective unwillingness to recognize this reality a perennial paradox for architects (who are often terrible at communicating what they do, why and how). And we rarely tap into how our surroundings, however they might be designed, effect our emotions and states of mind.

Aware: Architecture and Senses is an exhibition that has been curated by the Danish architecture and research studio 3XN GXN for the Danish Architecture Center. Running until September 15, it “explores the connections between people and space, inviting visitors to experience and understand it for themselves.” 

The architecture firm has devised six immersive, 1:1 installations – enhanced by lighting by Jesper Kongshaug and soundscapes by Mesmer – where “the emphasis is not on form or function, but on the visitors’ experience in space.” These include a dazzlingly reflective red spiral staircase, a wood-slatted nook for that exudes coziness, and an array of voluptuous translucent partitions in overlapping hues.

“Design choices are never merely aesthetic – they fundamentally influence our lives and affect our experiences,” says Kim Herforth Nielsen, 3XN Founder and Creative Director. “Architecture shapes our behaviour. Are you – are we – aware of how?”

To expand on Nielsen’s point, “form follows function” might be the old, dichotomous, mantra of good design, but there’s so much more at play. Space-making is also experience-making. That staircase, for instance, might have a basic function – to connect different levels – but it also causes you to stop in your tracks, to climb it with anticipation, to find yourself in awe amongst others ascending to its summit.

Natural materials also have palpable impacts on us – and there’s plenty of science to back that up. Visitors to the exhibition are compelled to consider how “timber and organic forms relate back to our deeper natures, giving us visceral connection to the natural world even as our time is increasingly spent indoors.”

“Each of the spaces in Aware emphasize and twist what we expect from architecture, giving us new insight into how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.” These “intangible, fleeting qualities,” says Nielsen, “have long been a driving force of 3XN GXN’s work.” That work is showcased at the end of the exhibition journey, with models and graphics detailing the firm’s projects around the world.

Here, the tone shifts from how built spaces impact people to how they impact the environment. 3XN GXN has sought to have a positive effect on the planet, with projects that focus on sustainability. One of its most astounding feats centres on the adaptive reuse of a tower in Sydney, Australia. But the firm makes the valid point that the two relationships – between built spaces and the people who use them and between built spaces and the environment – are not mutually exclusive. The buildings that people appreciate and even love will stand the test of time – they will be used, reused and defended against the wrecking ball. And if we design and build new places that are both wellbeing- and human-centric and Earth-friendly, we will create the kind of built world that we deserve.

“For spaces to last and be loved, we need to understand how we are connected to them, how they affect us and make us feel,” says Nielsen. In addition, says Kasper Riisholt, program manager for culture at the Danish Architecture Center, “Our society and space must nurture, support, and facilitate a good quality of life for everyone. For architecture to contribute positively to our wellbeing, we must understand its core: What is our relationship with architecture, what does it do to us?”

3XN/GXN’s Exhibition Seeks to Make Us More Aware of Architecture

The Danish firm delves into buildings’ effects on both the human and the environmental.

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