Sam Gordon: Ten Day Recap

Name: Sam Gordon
Home University: Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Summer 2014 Courses at DIS: Livability in the Modern City, Architecture Foundations Studio and Visual Journal

Where I live:

I live in what’s called a Kollegium, which is a dorm-style apartment complex. Mine is called Gronjordskollegiet, and is located roughly 15 minutes south of downtown by bike. I got off the bus from the airport last Sunday morning, to be greeted by my SRA whose name is Hjalti (pronounced Y’all – T). He’s a 24 year old business student at the Copenhagen Business School. He’s the man, and made me feel like I had a friend upon my arrival. I live in a single-bed room with my own bathroom, which is definitely a plus. After living in a triple all year at my college, while sharing a bathroom with eleven others, it’s about time I have my own space! I also share a kitchen with the rest of my floor, which includes maybe 20 people. It’s a good place to meet the Danes! I also love the bicycle commute from Gronjords to DIS. Riding over the Langebro Bridge and into downtown gives me a sense of what it’s like to commute like a Dane!

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Grocery Mishap

Alright, as my family can attest, I have never cooked for myself. Ever. My sister taught me how to make one pasta dish, granted it’s a good one, but if I try to live on pasta for ten weeks then I will probably get scurvy. No bueno.

Anyways, Hjalti took us to a local grocery store on our first Sunday afternoon, and I completely splurged. We were given food stipends that morning, and I ended up spending over 600 kroners (roughly $120) at the store. Chicken? Coldcuts? Eggplant? You name it. If it looked good, it is now in my fridge and cabinet. I have enough food to survive the apocalypse. Hjalti and my Kollegium-mates made fun of me all afternoon for it. The worst part was carrying all that stuff up the stairs once I got back.

My class: Livability in the Modern City, taught by Bianca Hermansen

This class has pretty much been a dream course for someone pursuing a career in urban design like myself. The central course question asks, “How do we make our cities livable in the face of population growth, traffic congestion, competing claims on urban space, and economic decentralization favoring suburbia?” Our readings have included the works of several urban theorists such as William Whyte, Jane Jacobs, and Jan Gehl. Ultimately, the common theme of these readings is that cities must be designed with the comfort of the human in mind. Sidewalk life and street activity need to be prioritized in design, rather than implementing huge master plans which don’t take into account human scale. In class, we spend our mornings in lecture, while we have “field studies” in the afternoons. Field studies entail applying the knowledge we learned in lectures and readings to actual public spaces in Copenhagen. Our field studies have taken us to parks such as the Islands Brygge, Kongens Have (Rosenborg Palace Garden), and other public spaces such as Christianshavn, Stroget, and more.

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My favorite part of the city so far…

…is definitely the Islands Brygge (pronounced Ees-lands-Berg… I think), a park located south of downtown along the harbor which splits the city in half. I’ve been there twice now: Hjalti took us down there last Monday to jump in the harbor, and we had to go there individually for my Livability in the Modern City class the other day. From my designer standpoint, the Islands Brygge is the ideal urban park, filled with both active and passive park-goers including people watchers, joggers, eaters, and the like. People can be seen all over the green just sitting and enjoying themselves in groups or alone. Kids skate through a concrete section of the park as older kids play basketball in the same mini-plaza. There are even a greater number of people sitting on the concrete ledge surrounding the basketball court simply watching the skaters and basketball players. It’s essentially a public amphitheater filled with activity, built into the landscape. The park sits comfortably in between the harbor and a busy street, creating the perfect architectural relationship between both. I spent a solid hour and a half analyzing the space for class, and I honestly could have spent another hour and a half people watching. Officially having a favorite spot in the city makes Copenhagen feel more like a home to me.

3 thoughts

  1. Hey Sam, I’m interested in taking this class this summer. Could you give me some more details? Did you get a lot out of it? I’m an urban planning major with an interest in sustainability. Thanks!

    1. Hey Jessie!
      If you are an urban planning major with an interest in sustainability then you must definitely take this course. I’m an Architectural Studies major but I am very interested in urban design and urban sociology, and this was the perfect course for me.

      Like I said in my post, the class days are pretty much split in to two halves: the first half being a lecture/discussion in the morning based on the readings we did the previous night, and the second half being a site visit somewhere new in Copenhagen in the afternoon in which we were able to relate what we learned in lecture to an actual place. We would meet outside the school building and bike in one large group to the site. Fun! I guess I can tell you about an essay I wrote for the class…

      I don’t remember the exact prompt, but for my first essay (very short – one page single spaced) I analyzed Islands Brygge (the harbor-side park I mentioned in my post) as an urban space in the context of a couple of readings we did. One of those readings was “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” by William Whyte, which essentially laid out the elements that Whyte believed to be the key factors in creating a successful small urban park: sunlight and shade, physical relationship between the park and the street, seating, and more). The second reading was called “Democratic Spaces” by Richard Sennett, which compared two kinds of ancient Greek spaces which each reflected different political ideals. We were then required to spend at least an hour and a half or two hours spending time in the space we chose, watching people and how they interacted with both the space and each other. I took a ton of creeper pictures of people in addition to doing some sketches and quick mapping. Then afterwards in our actual paper, we had to analyze the observations we made and relate it to the context of the two readings.

      Anyways, there were three essays we had to write for the class; one due each week. I honestly had a lot of fun writing each one of them, which pretty much reflects my attitude towards the course as a whole.

      Hopefully this helped and gives you a better sense of what to expect with the course! I truly feel that you will love it if you end up taking it, but either way if you have any more questions then feel free to shoot me another reply.

      1. Thanks so much for all the info! It sounds like you had a really great time. I guess I’m just wondering if you feel like you got a lot out of it, in terms of new/more developed skills or furthering your career or major. Also, were you able to do an internship afterwards? My issue is that I’m concerned that if I do this program, it ends mid-June which would preclude me from doing an internship which usually starts beginning of June.

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