The evolution of the architecture profession in Denmark

PhD fellow Angela Gigliotti about exhibiting research at Milan Design Week

Interview by Anne Hagelskjær

Italian architect Angela Gigliotti began her PhD project Behind the scenes of the contemporary modes of architectural production at Aarhus School of Architecture in September 2016. Her research reflects on the evolution of the architecture profession in Denmark during the rise of the welfare state.

Her point of departure is to define the influencers who have been able to shape the profession and hence its modes of production. To do that, Angela Gigliotti investigates two junctures focusing on Denmark: the birth and flowering of the welfare state (1945-75), and the timespan between the contemporary introduction of flexicurity labour policies in Denmark to now (1993-2017) passing through the economic sub-prime crisis (2008).

Angela Gigliotti was invited to exhibit her research findings at Milan Design Week 2017. The exhibition was sponsored by Aarhus School of Architecture and DIS Study Abroad in Scandinavia.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.

How index cards can be intriguing

You exhibited your research at Milan Design Week this spring, but you chose a rather peculiar mode of display. Can you tell more about your installation?
“The first juncture I analysed was the one related to the Golden Age of the Welfare State (1945-75),” says Gigliotti and elaborates on how her exhibition concept evolved:

“First of all, I extracted data from the period 1945-1975 from the archive of the magazine Arkitekten. The amount of data was impressive and it hadn’t been assembled for an overview before. I scanned all the issues of a total of 41 volumes. I spent 82 hours of pure scanning, or almost 11 days full time,” she recalls with a grin.

“Having this digital treasure was the first step. My next move was to search each volume for a series of data about the featured architects and their projects. This led me to have almost 3809 excel rows of information that became 4616 index cards. The index cards were then exhibited in an installation in Milan.”

But how do you exhibit index cards in a way that would intrigue an audience?
“My installation shows a massive amount of data simultaneously without hiding it in drawers. Instead, I propose an architectural device that is able to make people interact with the research,” explains Gigliotti who developed the exhibition design within her research-based practice U67.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.

“The installation was a physical archive made of almost 5000 cards divided into 31 colours and subsequently ordered alphabetically. The cards hung in a thin white steel ring suspended on 31 legs, representing the number of years I’m investigating.

This mode of displaying the impressive quantity of data will give the audience a hint of the massive architectural production during just 31 years in Denmark – the so-called “Golden Years of the Welfare State.”

Why is Danish architecture history relevant to an Italian audience?
“In 1949 Walter Galenson said: The small nations that comprise the Scandinavian area constitute a social laboratory for the Western world. We could say that the spotlight is still on today, in particular in relation to the welfare state policies, also in Italy. If Denmark still deserves international attention, so does its architects!”

That 31 years of Danish architectural practices’ history is, in fact, of interest to an Italian audience was underlined when the installation was featured in Italian architecture magazine Domus during Milan Design Week.

How to exhibit research

How did the audience receive the installation?
“Having a free-standing physical archive allowed people to be curious about Danish architecture history. Approaching, touching and playing with the cards were all possible ways of interacting with it.


Photo credit: Luca Tenaglia.

The public was already sensible to the topic because the installation was part of the Capitalism is over exhibition by Raumplan. The exhibition was framing the research fields “Architecture and Labor” and “Architecture and Capitalism” with different works from different countries.

I expect the approach of the audience will be extremely different when the installation is presented to a Danish public in Aarhus in September 2017. The familiarity with names and places in the archive will provide a stronger level of intimacy with the data.”

Architecture and Labour

Can you elaborate on your research project?
“My area of interest falls within the research field of “Architecture and Labour”. My focus is on Denmark, as it is a special case in Europe thanks to its labour and welfare conditions, but still not exempt from the high unemployment rates among architecture graduates,” says Angela Gigliotti and continues:

“The outcome of my research will be the definition of the mechanisms behind contemporary modes of architectural production and, once identified, some of them will be explored as a series of teaching experiments that aims to be an initial contribution to the relationship between the education of architects and the architecture profession in Denmark.”


Angela Gigliotti.

How is your research relevant for society in general?
My focus is particularly on how labour and its modes of production changed according to the junctures I’m investigating and, as a consequence, how it changed in the profession of architecture as well. This evolution is extremely relevant since it not only intersects one profession but society in general. Labour, welfare state policies, and modes of production are something that interest everyone involved in the job market.”