Inside the head of Open Platform


Building for the future

  • TitleBuilding for the future: Sustainable Ideals in Practice?
  • ProgramScientific Research Project, Roskilde University (RUC)
  • Year2020
  • AuthorsLieke Hevink, Katerina Jostova, Elsa Nemrin Daly, Jessica Papini, Dovilé Smagurauskaité
  • SupervisorSiri Schwabe

Wanna get inside the head of Open Platform?

To understand our philosophy, and how OP encompasses a practice with a strong interwoven relationship between architecture, politics and art, a group of five students from Roskilde University in the spring of 2020, while society was brought to a halt due to Covid-19, interviewed the partners as well as five present members of the firm. The aim of the interviews is to explore how OP’s organisation, narratives and practice allow us to navigate in the Danish architectural landscape in order to realize our ideals.

"By analyzing the multiple layers of the architecture field in Denmark from the perspective of OP, we would like to shed light on how an architecture firm attempts to get closer to realising their ideals in a system that may have design constraints."

We're making the paper public, because we think sharing is important. Just as important as an open discussion about our philosophy and the future of the company in a wider forum. The paper expresses the opinions of the authors Lieke Hevink, Katerina Jostova, Elsa Nemrin Daly, Jessica Papini, Dovilé Smagurauskaité, whom we thank for their commitment.

A Study of Open Platform

Scandinavian countries are often perceived to be forerunners in progressive social and sustainable development. More specifically, “Denmark is a country that has become a model for sustainable design and cultural change” (Baldwin, 2020, para. 2). A number of architecture studios in Denmark, and Copenhagen specifically, ​are now trying to address issues of sustainability and climate change in their vision statements, and consequently, have them reflected in their designs.
One of the firms that take contemporary sustainable design questions into consideration is Open Platform (OP). This Copenhagen-based architecture studio encompasses a practice with a strong interwoven relationship between architecture, politics and art (Open Platform, 2019a). Their ideas are founded to develop meaningful and sustainable structures, and they strongly advocate their views on the potential of the future of architecture. Their philosophy is clearly displayed on their website, through promoting their projects that use sustainable materials such as wood, and by showcasing conceptual ideologies that reflect their visions for the future. Apart from acting environmentally conscious, they also show interest in social sustainability, and as stated on their online profile, they “use the power of ideas to minimise the imprint on nature and maximise the impact on human life” (Open Platform, 2019a).
The aim of this paper is to explore how OP’s organisation, narratives and practices allow them to navigate through the Danish architectural landscape to realise their ideals. By analyzing the multiple layers of the architecture field in Denmark from the perspective of OP, we would like to shed light on how an architecture firm attempts to get closer to realising their ideals in a system that may have design constraints.
OP was founded in 2010 by Jennifer Dahm Petersen and Niels Lund Petersen, and in 2014, they were joined by their third partner Skafte Aymo-Boot. Despite the fact that OP was established in 2010, it was part of a bigger and more established architecture studio NOVA5 from 2016 to 2019 (Open Platform, 2019b). Only recently has OP relaunched their business to become fully independent. As the founders of OP have decades of experience in the architecture field, they have been able to develop and articulate their philosophy as it stands today. The firm does not limit themselves to a specific type of project. On the contrary, the portfolio of designs OP has been involved in is very diverse. Alongside quite common projects such as residential housing or public schools, they have been working with conceptual ideas, artwork, temporary installations and have developed online tools dedicated to making architecture competitions “great again” (Open Platform, 2019c) The projects that we will refer to throughout this paper include the Nature’s Party, the Aarhus parking house, and the Elsinore soccer stadium. These are relevant for a few reasons. Firstly, OP members continuously refer to these specific projects when explaining their architectural ideals. They are some of the most recent projects that include their sustainability-driven philosophy. Secondly, while the Nature’s Party showcases a conceptual project and the other two are built projects, they all help in clearly displaying how they design and communicate their ideal approach to architecture.

Just a few days before everything in society was brought to a halt due to Covid-19, we stepped into OP’s office for our, unbeknownst to us, last in-person meeting with Jennifer and Niels. Due to lockdown measures, it became impossible for us to meet the architects and their fellow team members in person or to follow a specific design project as we had previously intended. Instead, we draw on OP’s previous projects that best illustrate their approach. This has led to the current formulation of the research theme and to the reevaluation of our methodology. Information about the projects was gathered during interviews with the partners and OP’s members, and was complemented by documentation we gained access to through their website.
To understand OP’s philosophy and get acquainted with their perception of the Danish architecture field and OP’s ideals of architectural practices, we interviewed the partners, Jennifer Dahm Petersen, Niels Lund Petersen and Skafte Aymo-Boot, as well as five other present and past members of the firm. In total twelve in-depth interviews were carried out. Two of these were unstructured interviews that were conducted during our introductory meetings in their office in Nørrebro. The remaining ten semi-structured interviews were carried out through video calls and phone conversations due to the situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

MLP - Theoretical Framework
The difficulties that the architecture and design field are facing in regard to shifts in practice can be seen as symptoms of a complex system. Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) is a theory that takes a socio-technical approach to study transitions and technological developments in society. Such transitions are part of a “co-evolution and multi-dimensional interaction between industry, technology, markets, policy, culture and civil society” (Geels, 2012, p.472). Thus, societal transitions are not caused by a single factor, but result from a myriad of interactions from differing actors on a number of levels. More precisely, they are “nonlinear processes that result from the interplay of multiple developments at three analytical levels: niches (the locus for radical innovations), socio-technical regimes (the locus of established practices and associated rules), and an exogenous socio-technical landscape” (Rip & Kemp, 1998 in Geels, 2012, p.472). In our research, we use the theory to analyse and discuss how the regimes that OP perceives within the field of architecture inform their process of sustainable design and implementation of visions.

COP - Communities of Practice
Whilst MLP takes a more systemic view of the architectural field, the notion of Communities of Practice (CoP) provides contextual insight into interactions, negotiations, tools, discourses and historical development of practices. Wenger (1998) points out that practice does not exist in a vacuum, but emerges as a result of people participating in the same tasks and interacting with one another over time. He sees practice as the source of coherence in a community and describes the formation of Communities of Practice, which is made up of people who share an interest in a certain topic, pursue a common goal and meet on a regular basis to get things done (Wenger, 1998). CoP can have various shapes and sizes, ranging from several amateur musicians to a group of professionals, but the uniting element is that all are developed around a triad of commonalities: mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire (Wenger, 1998). Firstly, Wenger (1998) introduces mutual engagement, whereby members are collectively engaged in the same task, and regularly interact and hold conversations with common themes. Faulconbridge (2010, p. 2848), who applies the notion of CoP when studying learning and innovation among architects on a global level, describes mutual engagement in a similar manner, as “designing innovative buildings and interacting regularly as part of day-to-day work or through occasional face-to-face meetings that produce spaces of sociality.” Secondly, there is a joint enterprise, wherein a shared design goal and ambition joins a group of people together (Wenger, 1998). Among professionals, these goals are based on knowledge gained from similar educational training and experiences within the field. Finally, a shared repertoire consists of “routines, words, tools, ways of doing things, stories, gestures and genres” (Wenger. 1998, p. 83). It includes the discourse by which members create meaningful statements about the world, as well as the styles by which they express their forms of membership and their identities as members.

The Multiple Levels of Danish Architecture
Through their philosophy, OP has strong values and believes in architecture’s ability to positively influence the future. During the design process, architects at OP face several difficulties in order to stay true to their ideals, ranging from the micro to macro. In today’s world, visions offering alternative futures can sometimes be met with slight reservations (Pinder, 2013). While many architects may wish to act according to certain ideals, their position is entangled in numerous political, economic and social processes which ultimately can affect their ability to do so.

In this chapter, the Danish architectural regime will be described from OP’s perspective with references to the terms discussed in MLP: the sociotechnical landscape, regimes and lock-in mechanisms. The architecture regime exists within the wider landscape which consists of overall societal trends. As Geels (2012, p.473) explains, “the sociotechnical landscape is the wider context, which influences niche and regime dynamics.” It encompasses the landscape in its literal and metaphorical sense as “something around us that we can travel through […] [and] something that we are part of, that sustains us” (Rip & Kemp in Geels, 2012, p. 473). Lock-in mechanisms are then defined as established rules which create barriers that are necessary in order to maintain the existing regime (Geels, 2012). The term ‘Danish architectural regime’ will be used to describe building regulations, the building industry, regulations of competitions and collaborations, clients and commonly accepted approaches within architecture practice. These aspects will be analysed in unison with the triad of commonalities within the nation-wide CoP, consisting of Danish architects commonly practicing their profession. Wenger (1998, p. 79) suggests that:
Communities of practice are not self-contained entities. They develop in larger contexts - historical, social, cultural, institutional - with specific resources and constraints. Some of these conditions and requirements are explicitly articulated. Some are implicit. But are no less binding.
Aligned with this notion, we understand the nation-wide CoP to be informed by the landscape, and to be part of the regime. Many elements of the regime create barriers for sustainable building practices that OP strives to integrate into their work, which will be discussed further.

Political Landscape
Niels, one of the OP founders, recognises the existence of a dominant neoliberal political landscape, which from his perspective, has an effect on the Danish architecture field. He describes how in the 1970s and 1980s, architecture had a distinct socialist framing, while nowadays, designs seem to be predominantly driven by financial means:

“Everybody accepted the neoliberal economy, so the whole left wing disappeared. Everybody became liberal, the whole world in a way, there was no alternative.”

The neoliberal ideologies pointed out by Niels paint a picture of the landscape that guides influential regimes to come into fruition, which are then supported and reproduced by the developers or other responsible parties, by way of upholding these established rules and actions. When questioned further regarding what defines the neoliberal economy, Niels describes it as a way of creating architecture where “money kind of rules,” and that anything can be built because “there is no moral standing.” Jennifer, the other founder of the firm, also notes that she recognises the established norms and the dominant system they work within. She adds that politics can be sensed behind projects commissioned by municipalities, as it is present in the way architects get contracts, and additionally, appears in dialogue with developers. If we look at the organisation through the lense of MLP, one could identify the politics that surround the architecture practice as an overall societal trend that comprises the landscape which shapes the dominant regimes and niches within. In the following paragraphs, we will describe specific dimensions of the regime that we recognise to exist based on the conversation with OP.

Building Regulations and Industry Constraints
The first aspect of the regime within the overarching landscape is the regulatory framework within the building industry. Architectural firms operate in the field with many rules and regulations that can shape architects' practices in various ways. OP’s partners and members recognise building regulations as one of the restraints that obstructs the use of sustainable building materials. This was further instantiated by Niels:
That is how it is at the moment. The Danish building regulation is kind of fitted to the concrete industry, and also rockwool and the way we insulate houses. So you [authorities] do not take other materials into account, really? That is really kind of fundamental [...] It is really restricting the way you think about buildings.
As previously mentioned, such lock-in mechanisms, in the form of policies and regulations, are sustained by habits of use, prevailing normality, and mindsets of stakeholders who help to reproduce the existing regime. Not only are the regulations restricting the use of new materials, they are also restricting the discourse around what constitutes a building within the Danish landscape. The different stakeholders in the construction industry have a huge influence on the building regulations in the country, and in turn, influence the building materials used. Developers and construction firms work within the Danish architectural regime but they make up a different nation-wide CoP than the architectural studios. As construction firms and developers have a different set of tools, skill sets and even goals, they are not identified as being within the same CoP, even though they may mutually engage in projects within the same industry. The nation-wide CoP of Danish architects are however, still in dialogue with other CoPs and must compromise and negotiate the space, and are all stakeholders within the Danish architectural landscape. In this case, stakeholders struggle to find common goals, which, through the CoP lens, can be in part credited to differing shared repertoires.
Due to the differing backgrounds, ideals and visions between the architecture studios and the developers, OP’s architects express that their own power in the process is relatively limited. As Jon, an architect working within the firm, explains:
With others in the sector - the building industry and the building sector - we have this small part of a whole process of a building coming together, coming into place. But how can we affect the others and the discussions that we have during the meetings? For example, developers see things differently, both material-wise and the angle into a project. It is just completely different.
The lack of partnership and common understanding is heavily visible in the situation surrounding alternative building materials. As mentioned in OP’s article about using wood as a sustainable building material, the norm in Denmark is to use concrete constructions (Dahm Petersen & Aymo-Boot, 2020). From OP’s perspective, the conditions for wood construction are not favorable, because building regulations work as lock-in mechanisms endorsing the regime of concrete constructions, therefore acting as a barrier for a more readily accepted use of alternative materials. Furthermore, the situation highlights that lobbying would be needed to change the Danish construction laws to accommodate for the change in building regulations. Thus, change may need to come from the policy level. A similar point was made by Häkkinen & Belloni (2011) who discussed various steering mechanisms that can act as barriers to sustainable development. According to them: “Sustainable building can also be promoted at least to a certain extent with the help of regulations” (p.241). However, they also note that “[n]ormative regulations may appear as an effective way to achieve results, but because it calls for societal agreement it is a time-consuming process” (p. 241). Thus, while governing the situation from top-down may be a worthy avenue, such initiatives can be a timely process.
A subsequent reasoning behind the inability to easily endorse and use alternative materials is the result of what Skafte, one of OP’s partners, explains as a “Danish way” of architecture practice:

“[the] ​state of mind of the scene in Denmark is very much, as I see it, a kind of consensus about how to do things.”

​He also mentions how “Denmark is quite conservative in many ways. This, we are all kind of struggling with [in OP] or trying to challenge.” As a result, sustainable and innovative methods and materials are more difficult to incorporate into building designs as they do not fit the overarching and locked-in consensus that governs Danish architecture practice. This path-dependency, based on unchanged regulations and beliefs which can hinder transitions within architecture, is further explained by Skafte:
In the general state of mind of Danish architecture basically, there are certain ways you should do things that everybody agrees on. [...] There are many things that are not even tried out. You know, they are just left as if they do not exist somehow.
He suggests that within the nation-wide CoP, there is a deep-rooted sense about what constitutes the norm. Danish architects do not tend to experiment when it comes to the use of alternative materials and generally adhere to the ‘standard’. However, as Skafte mentioned earlier, OP attempts to challenge this by advocating for the greater use of wood. This antagonism of opinion and practice is in accordance with Wenger (1998, p.77), who states that “as a form of participation, rebellion often reveals a greater commitment than does passive conformity.” Engaging with the nation-wide CoP of the Danish architecture field with nonconformance allows OP to challenge the established norms, whilst still remaining members of the CoP through their mutual engagement in architectural practice. Those who rebel against the norms of the established regime are therefore still recognising it as a platform for positive change and are committed to be a part of the practice so as to have the potential opportunity to mould it. OP identifies it as a difficult system to work within, but they are still choosing to be a part of it, ultimately with the hope for progressive and sustainable changes in regulations to be adopted into the landscape.

the system in Denmark is tailored to supporting well-established players

Collaborations and Competitions
Reflecting on how OP is trying to navigate within the current regime, Skafte touches upon its second feature that influences the way they work: “It is so bound to other things, that we are not really able to change, for example how projects are distributed to architects.” He continues by pointing out that this is reflected in the arrangement of tenders and architecture competitions that favour older and more established architecture studios. This was also one of the reasons for OP to merge with NOVA5. For some time, the merger of OP and NOVA5 was beneficial for both sides. NOVA5 was looking for fresh ideas and at that time OP was a relatively new firm with a limited portfolio. As Linette, a freelancer working for OP, explains:
Because [a small] company can have two or three architects who have been very successful in other firms, and [when] they try to make their own firm it is very difficult to get pre-qualified and get the work due to the qualification system.
According to Linette, small or new architecture firms are less likely to receive big projects unless they have proof that they have worked on similar projects before. As a result, OP has collaborated with more established firms who meet the requirements set for competition entry. An example of this can be seen with the collaborative design of the wooden parking house in Aarhus. In order to have the prerequisite experience of previously having designed a parking house, OP was obliged to collaborate with JAJA, Rama Studio and Søren Jensen Engineering. This prerequisite was highlighted by Skafte, who gives an example in regard to OP’s necessary collaboration:

"Because the whole system is like it is, you cannot do it alone. Because you have to prove beforehand, if you have not built so many parking houses already, that in other ways, you have to prove that you can do it basically, before starting to do it."

This favouritism for well-established firms is also recognised by Kreiner (2018) who states that the system in Denmark is tailored to supporting well-established players. While architecture competitions have been perceived as one of the tools contributing to the establishment of a democratic Danish society, it is also the area that sometimes faces criticism. Kreiner (2018) illustrates how the pursuit of efficiency led to the preference of the pre-qualification process, where in contrast to open-competition, only previously selected architecture studios are allowed to participate. These fixed rules within the Danish architecture landscape act as lock-mechanisms to the current regime that prevents OP and small firms alike from reaching a more even playing field within the nation-wide CoP. Jennifer suggests that the tendency to prioritise experienced architecture firms stems from the idea that those firms “know what to do.” However, she also stresses that this assumption is debatable, as every project is context-bound:
The problem is, every project is different, every school is different, the site is different, the context is different, what they want is different, the way the teachers teach, their 'pedagogic' is different from every school, every kindergarten. So it is never the same. And I think, a creative architect, any creative architect can make any project.
Drawing on an example of a school they designed together with NOVA5, Jennifer explains that as OP, they are trying to challenge the narrative that is shared by the nation-wide CoP wherein the competency of an architect is based on the amount of relevant projects they have worked on. Instead, OP aims to paint a picture of an architecture practice where prerequisites are based on individual qualities and skills. However, design competency is sometimes not the only thing one needs to carry out the project. As Linette points out:
It is good to have a lot of brains, to be very strong in design, presentation and to produce competition material, to be updated on the latest trends and visuals. But to have the whole set up, to actually take a project from competition and building and to do building, that is another thing and it takes a whole bigger organisation to be able to prove to the people who are going to order the job, that you can actually get it done.
This suggests that even though small studios can be capable in regard to creative skill sets, they still need additional resources and are required to team up with others in order to successfully realise projects. Moreover, Jennifer also points out that collaborations are often accompanied by diverging convictions and that cooperating with others who might not share the same visions is demanding. Jennifer says that: “we will do the work and they will even change the project. So that was our motivation for ending NOVA5.” This illustrates the difficulties small firms can have, especially while trying to design according to their ideals, whilst collaborating with established firms that have differing working ideologies.
In this section, we outlined that regulations can have an impact on smaller firms such as OP, who in order to succeed might need to collaborate with other architecture studios. ​OP is trying to challenge the narrative that is present among the nation-wide CoP that architects need to team up in order to be successful. They hold a view that architects should be judged based on their skills, rather than because they have worked on particular projects. From OP’s perspective, differing viewpoints make collaborations difficult, even when cooperating with others might at first sight appear beneficial for all parties involved. Diverging perspectives that might occur when architects work with each other because they ‘have to’ rather than because they ‘want to’ can potentially lead to compromises in philosophies. ​We argue that the regulations surrounding competitions, thus form another lock-in mechanism that creates additional boundaries for new firms to enter competitions and prevent potentially fresh and innovative designs that could impact or alter the current established architecture regime.

Financial Restrictions
The final element of the regime that we recognise OP faces difficulty to work with is the common drive of developers, contractors and clients to create fast and inexpensive architecture. When asked about what hinders the establishment of sustainable ideas in architecture practice, one of OP’s members, Christine, explains:
It is definitely money. Everything has to be cheap and everything has to be built very fast. So you do not have the ability or the means to stop and think about what you are doing. […] The people with the money have to stop and say: we want to develop new ways to do things. I think a lot of architects are thinking that way already, but do not have the money or the means to do it.
Compared with traditional building solutions, clients may fear higher investment costs and risks of unforeseen expenses. This reveals an additional conflict between sustainable plans and the design process in practice. Implementation of sustainable solutions costs more effort and financial resources, which is not appealing to all clients. Skafte explains how budgets may hinder transitions in architecture, and how for developers and contractors:

“what is financially feasible usually means doing the same as you usually do.”

This commonly accepted style of working within the nation-wide CoP is the shared repertoire within this community. Alternative solutions usually require additional time and funding, yet Skafte believes sustainable designs can be more profitable in the long run: “Very often budgets are made that they can just build a building [..] The problem is usually that [...] anything that delivers something environmentally is more expensive when you build it, so you only get your money back later.” Niels adds that bringing radical designs into the public sphere is even more challenging, due to the cost and delayed economical and/or environmental advantages. As Häkkinen & Belloni (2011. p.242) point out, sustainable building practices may be obstructed as clients can become concerned about potentially associated higher risks that are based on “unfamiliar techniques, the lack of previous experience, additional testing and inspection in construction, a lack of manufacturer and supplier support, and a lack of performance information.” Furthermore, OP’s clients generally have a strict budget to be adhered to, as Niels mentions, “because the client thinks about money the most.” Architects therefore have to prove that projects are economically viable. Geels (2012, p. 472) explains, radical “alternatives typically face an uphill struggle against existing systems, because they are more expensive (since they have not yet benefited from economies of scale and learning curves).” Thus, alternative projects might need additional approval and are accepted more cautiously.
In this chapter, we have outlined how the Danish architecture regime and the overarching landscape including dominant policies, regulations and approaches, may pose additional hardships to applying OP’s ideals about the future of architecture. Because OP prefers to engage with design in an alternative way from the established architectural regime, the firm has to face additional difficulties in promoting and applying their sustainable philosophy. These concerns include policy regulations and industry preferences of building materials that OP believes should change to more sustainable ones. Additionally, current competition regulations force young and small architectural firms, such as OP was when they had just launched, to collaborate with more established firms in order to work on projects. However, collaborations create additional barriers for the implementation of sustainable ideas, since not all architects might see them as a priority. Lastly, financial barriers complicate the execution of alternative architectural solutions, thus architects have to justify how sustainable ideas can be profitable. The mentioned barriers that are part of the hegemonic regime directly affect the practices of the nation-wide CoP. Consequently, it influences how new or small firms can apply their ideals. To an extent, new firms need to adjust to the regulations performed by nation-wide CoP to be able to work in the architectural field. While we identify a nation-wide CoP of architects exist in Denmark, our data regarding its specifics of the triad of commonalities is limited. However, it too is influenced and shaped by the aforementioned barriers. Moving from the description of the Danish architecture landscape and regime in which OP operates, we will discuss how OP works within these structural restrictions and how we believe their practice fits into a niche and constitutes a local CoP.

The Local Community of Practice
As we hinted in the previous section, OP’s ideals of architecture practice largely do not fit into the standards of the dominant Danish architecture regime. Deviating from the existing regime structures, we can understand OP to be a niche actor with their unique ideology, seeking ‘radical innovation’ (Geels, 2012). They aspire to operate according to their ideals within the dominant regime by focusing on creating meaningful and sustainability driven designs. There are many different approaches to the practice of architecture, both within the wider landscape and within the established structures in the regime, and consequently, we can recognise a nation-wide and multiple local CoPs to be present in the Danish scene. Architecture studios such as OP, Henning Larsen, 3XN, NOVA5 and many others all have their own visions and philosophies. While they together create a nation-wide CoP where they use architecture as a means to influence the spatial sphere, we assume they also have their own visions they try to adhere to within their individual community. Firm-specific practices and ideologies lead to triads of commonalities that can differ from the nation-wide CoP, thus forming local versions of CoP. We define the local CoP as OP’s firm consisting of the partners, their members and freelancers working for OP. Therefore, Henning Larsen architects as a local CoP, for instance, is different from OP as a local CoP due to differences in philosophy, design process and practice.
This chapter will examine how the triad of commonalities produces the local CoP at OP: through mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. These factors contribute to our understanding of the inner workings of the firm, their learning development and process, and how they relate to the nation-wide level and regimes.

Mutual Engagement
As a local CoP, the OP team is formed by twelve people in total, but you would seldom find all of them in the Nørrebro office simultaneously. Christine, an architect who has worked with OP on past projects believes this is one of the factors that sets them apart from other architecture firms:
The structure of the company is a bit different from other architectural firms I know because it is more, like it says, open. You can connect yourself from the outside and be a part of it. They can help you and you can help them, in a more fluid way. So it does not have to be set, you do not have to have an office set with the same people every day. So it is more like they pick the people who fit the projects.
She goes on to explain that Jennifer and Niels are the fixed roots of the company, and that a freelancer such as herself is only there when she is “needed.” Whilst members of the team may not be full time staff, we suggest that they still have the opportunity to be a part of the CoP. This is possible through mutual engagement, which is the participation of multiple people in a process together. Involvement in the same task and ongoing interaction, which define mutual engagement (Wenger, 1998), are formed around specific projects in OP. Jennifer adds that this is one of the intentions behind the company’s name, Open Platform: “So it can be a platform, a place that invites others who work with you.” The studio is thus an open space, welcoming a plethora of professionals to collaborate. As a result of this approach, some of OP’s members work without a permanent contract. OP’s local CoP is flexible, but still maintains a shared mutual engagement when other members come into the workplace. The local CoP can therefore be project specific and ever developing. We argue that what makes OP an individual local CoP as well is that they are not only architects. Their profile is open and diverse by nature, so different professions can be part of the CoP. This sets them apart from other firms within the nation-wide CoP who may have more fixed and rigid internal structures.
As discussed by Jennifer, the flexibility of OP allows for previous colleagues and collaborators to jump in and work with them when there is a need for new ideas and perspectives. The mutual engagement opens up the space for collaborators and freelance workers to take personal responsibility for individual projects whilst simultaneously moving freely in their own practice away from the company. Whilst they are engaging in different work practices outside OP, they are still linked to the company via their mutual engagement to the same task and are not exclusively utilising their experiences and expertise within OP. The freelancers are therefore able to use their experiences from outside OP and bring it into each project. As mentioned by Christine previously, this connects the freelancers from the outside and brings them into OP, but it also inadvertently brings OP’s practices out through the learned experience of the freelancers that have worked for them.
Not having many full-time employees enables OP to prioritise projects that are aligned with their ideology. “I think we like to be picky. We want to be able to say yes or no. We need that kind of flexibility in the way our company operates, to be able to say: no thanks, we do not do that,” adds Jennifer. This opinion is mirrored by Skafte, “it gives flexibility that we need at the moment as a small office. It is something very different to have a big amount of staff that you have to keep busy all the time basically.” As “​homogeneity is neither a requirement for, nor the result of, the development of a community of practice,” (Wenger, 1998, p.76) ​we argue that this flexible setup does not challenge mutual engagement in their CoP, especially seeing as it is up to the discretion of OP’s partners to invite outside members. However, the flexibility of their business allows OP to work on projects that are aligned with their outlook and minimise commissions where their ideals might be difficult to implement.
While freelancers can bring in fresh perspectives and knowledge sets, the learning process and knowledge transfer does not have to be limited to OP’s team, but can also arise when interacting with individuals outside the firm. Niels points out that:
It means a lot, this knowledge. Like this guy in the office, he used to be a partner at NOVA5, he has a lot of knowledge about wood. When we wanted to develop this high rise, this tower, into a wooden construction, Jennifer talked to him about it, and he was very much into it.
We argue that this demonstrates how interaction with people outside of the company’s walls enables a differing repertoire of knowledge to be shared whilst mutually engaging in the same task, often resulting in broader and more innovative ideas to be generated. Niels adds that when it comes to idea generation, contact with laymen outside their field can stimulate exciting ideations and fresh perspectives:

"If you meet very talented people, you can learn a lot from these collaborations. I think even from stupid people also."

That is true. Some people, they know just a very kind of basic knowledge that they can just propose really great stuff [...] These ideas that are really great, but also that you would never come up with because [these people are] totally from somewhere else, [...] nothing to do with architecture. So the stuff you do not think about because you are in this certain kind of tunnel vision.
This demonstrates that learning is not limited to the CoP within OP, professionals that they work with, nor the nation-wide CoP, but it can be a result of interaction with people outside of these realms. According to Wenger (1998, p. 117), “the ability to have a multiple involvement is an important characteristic of communities of practice, one that presents opportunities for learning both for outsiders and for communities.” The mutual engagement including people from different disciplines can therefore expand the pool of knowledge within the CoP. ​However, as we addressed in the section about architecture competitions, CoP can sometimes experience obstacles and disagreements surrounding colleagues and collaborators who do not have similar goals. As stated by Wenger (1998, p.77), “Peace, happiness and harmony are therefore not necessary properties of practice.” Despite mutually engaging in the same task, differences of opinions, motivations and belief systems can exist and at times prove to be a difficulty to overcome or find a balance within.
One could say that a potential limitation to generating innovative ideas more readily through mutual engagement could be as a result of a too small local CoP. If the local CoP has only a few and permanently fixed members, we hypothesise that this could limit the scope and potentiality for ideation. We argue that OP, despite being a relatively small firm, has been able to circumvent this possibly limiting element for innovative design ideation, by opening their studio to a myriad of creatives that can bring fresh perspectives to the table. Due to the flexible mutual engagement in OP, a more malleable environment and practice is created. ​By having a semi-changeable team, the mutual engagement during different projects allows freelancers to work alongside other projects outside of the firm, thus affording potential for the exchange and supplementary creation of ideas inside and outside of the firm​. Moreover, due to this specific way of engaging in projects, OP is able to prioritise commissions that are aligned with their philosophy. Where this philosophy is derived from and how it is practiced will be discussed in the next section.

Joint Enterprise
Following on from mutual engagement, a second element that constitutes the triad of commonalities within CoP is the joint enterprise. This notion is defined by a collective purpose that unifies people, providing a binding goal, logicality and coherence to their actions: “It is not just a stated goal, but creates among participants relations of mutual accountability that become an integral part of the practice” (Wenger, 1998, p. 78). Within the context of architectural practice, the joint enterprise is “populated by individuals with common profession or firm-specific ways of working” (Faulconbridge, 2010, p. 2844). As we will explain further, OP’s specific method of working has been a process, beginning even before the firm’s formation and has culminated into their overriding philosophy as seen in the studio today.
The seeds for this common ground and collective goal towards uniting architecture, art and politics were first planted when Jennifer and Niels met during their architecture studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Under the guidance of professor Henning Larsen, they experienced how architecture was taught in the ‘old days’. As Jennifer reflects: “[i]t was very much self-study at that time. You could come and go as you wanted. There was a lot of freedom and I think it is very different from the younger generation of architects.” While most of the faculty moved to Holmen, an area where the School of Architecture is situated today, Jennifer and Niels continued studying in the buildings in the very heart of Copenhagen. Jennifer notes that her and Niels were trying to get the most out of that situation and in reflection, this might also be something that distinguishes them from the generation of architects they studied with:
[A] lot of these people are now completely commercial architects and they regret that they were in this department and Niels and I […] were in this department with all the freedom and kind of embraced it where the others are these CEOs of big companies. We always tried to make this architectural question our business, where the others tried to make the business first, and then if they can fit the other things in, they did that. So in a way, we are outside, I think.
Jennifer perceives their firm to be outside of the commercial realm that is commonly pursued by some architecture businesses. Due to their differing, more philosophy-entrenched outlook in questioning the very business of architecture, they consider themselves to be outsiders of the nation-wide CoP, which, in their view, can often be highly commercialised. This outlook has been a constant evolution, developing and becoming more defined also as a result of having worked in other CoPs that have stark contrasts in regard to the linkage between philosophy, business and architectural design.
These contrasts were heightened when Jennifer and Niels worked for famous figures in the architecture world, Bjarke Ingels and Julien de Smedt. As Jennifer explains, “we came from this environment at BIG where their motto was that ‘yes is more.’ We quickly learned that sometimes ‘no’ is more.” Participating in and learning from these CoPs, which Niels describes to be more neoliberal, thus helped to define and develop Jennifer and Niel’s outlook and mentality in regard to business and architecture. Niels adds that the effort to break free from this ‘yes is more’ paradigm led to the establishment of OP, where emphasis is placed on trying to create meaning-laden structures that are embedded with greater benefits for the social, political and environmental spheres, rather than solely materiality:

“[i]t is not all about ideas, it is also about architecture, or being sensitive or sensible as a person, and to do the most meaningful thing [in] every case.”

The philosophy of OP is strongly embedded in beliefs and values of its founders and stems from their personal histories. Due to this strong interrelationship, keeping true to this philosophy is thus an integral and important facet of OP’s practice. “Driving change through architecture, politics and art,” one of the first statements one encounters on OP’s website, reflects their view of architecture practice (Open Platform, 2019a). Skafte explains how common experiences that unite him with Jennifer and Niels are the result of a similar mindset and approach to architecture: “​We were studying at the same time at the school of architecture [...] ​Niels got the job at the same office where I was working. So we all have kind of a similar background.” As the architects went through similar experiences, they were able to relate to similar goals. This reflects what Faulconbridge (2010, p. 2848) describes in regard to joint enterprise, wherein “all members participate in a joint enterprise-using a common approach to design, as prescribed by professional training and, in the case of firm-based communities, the studio's principle.” It is clear how the time spent at the same educational institution and architecture studios formed OP’s way of thinking about the world, and ultimately set the principles that are now shared within the studio.
OP’s philosophy encompasses the union of politics, art and sustainability in their architecture designs. In order to develop and abide by this common philosophy held within the firm, additional factors have come and continue to come into play. In regard to politics, this element of OP’s current philosophy was first instantiated by Niels’ politically active years in the past. In his twenties, Niels was politically active, but eventually decided to pursue a career as an architect:
I was very political when I was very young. With the fall of the Berlin wall, I think a lot of stuff happened and it is also the time when I decided to become an architect. To go into architecture was also part of abandoning this political era. It was also for me to go into something new, because I wanted to get away from this because it was kind of dying, the whole idea about socialism.
As previously mentioned in the political landscape section, Niels describes architecture’s transition to neoliberalism, insofar that money has become a dominant force and that anything can be built as a result of a depleting moral standing. After working for companies such as BIG, whom he sees to have stronger neoliberal, “yes is more” ideals, he has had the opportunity to assess and evaluate what can be done to strike a balance between neoliberal ideals and OP’s own niche-ideology. Niels states:
I think now it is time to evaluate this. We are thinking to meet somewhere in the middle. We have been in these two positions within my lifetime, and I think it is time to harmonise stuff. That is the whole concept of the office, [to] find a balance.
From his perspective, architecture and politics are inherently intertwined, even though to him, clear visions are disappearing from the nation-wide architecture CoP in comparison with previous decades. According to Niels, the industry has changed, but instead of pushing against these established norms, OP falls between the socialist and the neoliberal ideals. As a result, we argue that OP has created a niche-ideology within the field of architecture. This niche-ideology is defined as an architectural practice moulded by a resounding philosophy, in which meaning often rules over money, focusing on art and sustainability.
While the founders of OP perceive architecture as something in between the individual and society, tied with regulations and legislation, they also stress that it is a means of artistic expression. Jennifer explains that art was strongly emphasised in their architecture studies under Henning Larsen: “The whole philosophy in this was to work very much with artists. So [he worked] not just as an architecture teacher but as an art teacher. We did projects already in architecture school that were the blend of art and architecture.” Through his teachings, art was incorporated into Niels’ and Jennifer's knowledge pool surrounding architectural practices. This joint enterprise shared between the founders therefore had an influence on the foundation of the firm, wherein art became an important component to the firm’s philosophy. Through this nation-wide CoP that involved art with architecture, the founders were thus able to learn, see the importance of and develop projects infused with art, all the while forming and continuing to bring this common ground to their local CoP within the current day studio.
Apart from politics and art, the uniting element in OP’s projects is the emphasis on sustainability. To create socially sustainable designs, OP often works with experts in their projects. As a result of having a different knowledge set, but working with a collective purpose to reach a unified goal of a sustainable design, experts can provide the architects with specific information regarding the end users. In a school project, for instance, they worked with a pedagog who guided the designers in deciding how the spaces would be used by which end-user. As Jennifer explains, “with every room she had a lot of comments. But there are also many ways of doing schools, so maybe she also had a certain view on how a school should be. [She suggested] very down to earth practical things.” Another recent project that OP consulted an expert in is the wooden parking house. During the design process, the architects collaborated with an expert who had been working with marginalised social groups. Together, they suggested a solution for the local struggle with homeless people by attempting to integrate them into the final use of the design. They suggested that the green area could be used by the homeless as a place to maintain and look after. As she explains, “we could help them by saying: this forest, if you take care of it, you can be here.” By having a unifying purpose that connects OP with those outside of their local CoP, a broadened pool of knowledge could thus be utilised to further implement informed sustainability principles within their design. In OP, joint enterprise draws on experience and reflections of the partners, but also can be affected by specialists coming from other fields. This negotiation of the joint enterprise is what has led to the current formulation of OP’s practice, which will be discussed in the forthcoming section.

Shared Repertoire
Over time, a joint enterprise creates space and resources for the negotiation of meaning within the community (Wenger, 1998). This contributes to the development of the shared repertoire, the third element of the triad of commonalities that constitutes CoP. “​It includes the discourse by which members create meaningful statements about the world, as well as the styles by which they express their forms of membership and their identities as members” (Wenger, 1998, p. 83). Historical events and stories add up to the creation of common styles, tools, concepts and discourses within the practice. Within architecture communities, this is often the “use of and reference to the same language, tools, objects, and routines as part of a task and in conversations” (Faulconbridge 2010, p.2843). While Faulconbridge (2010) focuses on physical artefacts that bind architects together such as models, sketches, architecture magazines or use of the same software, we focus on the narratives, stories and discourses which surfaced during our interviews with OP.
We argue that for OP, their shared repertoire is mostly the result of Jennifer and Niels’ experiences within architecture. After launching the firm, they have been able to create a narrative shaped around the intersection of politics, art and architecture, all the while holding on to sustainable ideals. All in all, their practice comes down to finding meaning in the projects they pursue while creating a balance within their ideology.
Jennifer admits that there is ambivalence in their philosophy ​and acknowledges that they do not want to label themselves, even in their personal lives:
We are not very either or, and we are not very all or nothing. [It is] the way we live. It is like, we shop in H&M and then we shop in Gucci, and then we shop in Netto and Meny.
Their personal lifestyle therefore mirrors their professional outlook on balancing ideals. In an interview, Niels further reflects on this and mentions how they had entered a competition to design a concrete building, which would ultimately go against their environmental sustainability ideals:
If you just look at the material, it is not very sustainable to do concrete architecture.
[...] I mean, you also try to find meaning. Can you make something good out of this? And the good thing about this project is that they have an idea that it has to last for sixty years without any renovation. You want to make a building that can stand a lot, that it could just survive everything. So you make a really heavy concrete building. I mean, that is also a good intention in a way.
This illustrates how, at first glance, OP would understand concrete to be unsustainable, but then redefines the notion to find a balance. In this way, concrete is sustainable in a sense because it lasts long and needs little maintenance. For those decades that the building would be in use, no other materials would be depleting resources in order to replace or renovate the structure. Moreover, it would require little economic resources as it would need little maintenance. This example demonstrates how, for OP, twisting or redefining the narrative of sustainability is also a way of finding a balance. As noted by Wenger (1998, p. 83), “[t]hings like words, artifacts, gestures and routines are not only useful because they are recognisable in their relation to a history of mutual engagement, but because they can be reengaged in new situations.” In the same way, the notion of sustainability thus gains new meaning that OP then applies in their projects and practices. As Skafte recognises:

"[As architects, we] have a set of tools that are more unique than others. I mean, we have a kind of ability to both think and do something."

That is not only politics, but it results in a physical environment. And I think because of that we still have a kind of obligation to keep on influencing the physical environment as it is. But I mean, that can also be done as an architect, you are also in a position to question things. You can also ask the question, is this building necessary to build? And you can say, I do not want to be part of building this building, for example.
An example of how OP utilises this way of thinking is through their conceptual project, the Nature’s Party, which reflects their biocentric ideology of treating nature and the environment with the same rights as humans (Open Platform, 2019d). OP uses it as a tool of conscience to remind themselves of their ideology and to abide by it even in moments of difficulty. As Jennifer explains:
I think if we did not think about sustainability, or we did not have this overall moral compass that we apply to ourselves being in the Nature’s Party, then we would maybe just build the parking house the way the people wanted to build it. Like the people we work with just wanted to build a parking house that was all over the site, but we were very stubborn. So we actually got them on our side, but it is definitely our concept.
Not only does it show the purpose of the Nature’s Party, but also the stubbornness and unwillingness of the partners to deviate too far from their ideals. The parking house project can be seen to follow their sustainable philosophy twofold: The building is structurally made using wood, therefore producing a lowered carbon-footprint, and spatially, wherein half of the land remained as a green outdoor area to invite social and physical activity (Open Platform, 2019d). Skafte explains the idea behind the project:
You have a site, you can fill it out totally with the parking building and have as many cars parked as possible. OK, that is fine. But how about only building on half of the site and leaving the rest free? And the parking space can be for the benefit of everyone. And then maybe make the parking house taller and you have space for the same amount of cars, but it does not take up as much space of the city.

Wooden parking house in Aarhus (ill.; Open Platform, 2019e)

We argue that the green outdoor area highlights the significance of social space as its openness encourages inhabitants to use the space for leisure activities. Using alternative materials, such as wood instead of concrete, reduces the carbon footprint of the building, further adding to the project’s sustainable design. While the final project proposal tackles the initial requirement of solving the issue of the lack of parking, much more is added to the space and the community through creating a place for socialising, whilst simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of the new building. The project is therefore a real-time, successful articulation of OP’s sustainability ideals, wherein the design is embedded with socially and environmentally sustainable design features and outcomes.
Although their history has informed the goals they wish to achieve in their place of work, they have constructed their own tools to address these goals. ​OP has created their specific narrative revolving around balance, functionality and a ‘less is more’ approach. Whilst joint enterprise is more about how their philosophy has been moulded by their shared history, shared repertoire consists of the tools created to manage and implement their ideals within the current regime. While we were unable to obtain information regarding physical objects that are commonplace to examine in regard to shared repertoire, our discussion around their shared repertoire highlights the intangible tools they utilise. ​Nature’s Party can be seen as their specific tool that allows them to reassess the design in sustainable architecture. It is their sustainable ‘compass’ that constantly reminds them what their practice is about and informs their architectural projects.
In this chapter, we have examined OP as a local CoP and its internal triad of commonalities. We argue that OP’s distinct form of mutual engagement is open to involvement from different professions and also inputs from outside the community. This flexibility allows them to be open to take many different ‘forms’ in the field, and as a result, not only undertake architectural designs, but also conceptual and art-based projects. The open approach has developed throughout the years and is based on the partners’ experiences that have led to their joint enterprise as it stands now. This has cultivated their shared repertoire of stories, discourses and concepts, which are translated into their philosophy. The discourse is based on the notion of sustainability, which is approached by seeking a balance between the firm’s and stakeholders’ ideals. Regardless, in most projects, OP seeks to find, project and infuse meaning in what they do.

Communication and Intuition
While working as a community under the previously mentioned conditions in the Danish architectural regime, OP has limited power and faces difficulties to work completely in accordance with their philosophy. With all the aforementioned barriers that may obstruct sustainable solutions within the Danish architectural regime, OP still finds ways to get across their ideals in one way or another, often finding a balance between their philosophy and constraints imposed by stakeholders. In this last chapter, we address the methods OP uses to try and implement their approach to architecture: through communication on their online platforms as well as their projects, and using intuitive and mediative tactics while designing and during interactions with stakeholders.

Communication of Ideals
Communication is one of the main tools that OP employs to draw attention to the firm and their philosophy. Although the architects are not always able to put their ideals fully into practice, they still attempt to spread their message. In the case of OP, we recognise their online profile to be one of the main tools they use to communicate with a wider audience. They have recently launched their new website and hired a design studio to help create their visual online identity.
Despite OP ideally wishing to translate their notion of “treating Nature as an entity with legal rights and interests” (Open Platform, 2019c) into all their projects, they have been very open about the occasional compromise in the process of seeking a balance. Their pragmatist approach to sustainable architecture cannot however be seen on their online profile. Instead, they post about the projects that display their philosophical ideologies, thus presenting an idealised version of themselves. They have shared with us that they are selective in the projects they wish to display on their website, which is perhaps not an unusual technique to communicating one’s ideals. As Christina, OP’s visual identity designer, says: “we think that they should not necessarily have all their projects on the page. It should ideally be the projects that are relevant for what they want to do in the future.” Their online profile highlights their future ambitions of working on projects with a similar aim as those they have already shared online. As Christina adds:
It is not just about creating a cool brand or about creating a cool architectural building. It is really about what impact does it have in our world and what do we do? What does it do to society? [...] I mean, architecture, obviously on a bigger scale, but also as a brand, it stands for something. It does something to people. So that is the responsibility.
Moreover, she believes that through OP’s communication and visual identity, they try to bring different people together and inspire them. “It is like a canvas where they can project their own work, but also other people can also project their own thoughts and ideas onto it.” This method of communicating ideals highlights yet again their ideas of the future, where their online profile is further into the future than the practices they work with today. As mentioned previously in this paper, they must compromise on their architectural practices, albeit in ways leading to a balance between what the client wants and their philosophy. However, they do not do so in their online profile, where they have free reign over their ideas and projects they promote. As Christine explains, “they do not want to be only architecture. They want to be politics, they want to be branding, and they want to be design.” She continues describing how that is reflected in OP’s visual identity: “it is not supposed to look like architecture and only architecture. I think that is the idea, it is more than just architecture.” Doing more than architecture is what their online communication aims to do, where their architectural practice may not be able to express their ideals for the future fully, their online profile does not hold back.
OP communicates broad ideas that are born in their office and by doing so the firm encourages discussion of their philosophy with the broader public. As Skafte explains regarding expressing OP’s ideals in the current architectural regime, “we are hoping at least we can challenge it [...] Of course it is still a young office, so in that sense, we do not have a big production that can prove the point yet.” Their tactic sets up their future projects through setting the foundation to attract a dialogue with clients and collaborators that can ultimately lead to projects more fitting to follow their ideology. It illustrates how their name addresses the way they work as a studio; an open space for collaboration. Their online profile contributes to this dialogue and brings the internal knowledge out so as to invite external members of the art, design and architecture field into their studio. ​Jon illustrates the importance of projecting the future onto the present: “by the projects that we work with right now, with the competitions, we try to incorporate these [sustainable] elements because this is what our portfolio for the future will be.” In a similar vein of portraying their ideal future in the present, Jennifer says: “I could see that Niels pushed a lot of wood projects on top [of the webpage], because he wants to work with developers that want wood projects [...]. You can shuffle it around.” Highlighting specific projects they have taken part in showcases the direction they would like to go in the future. A skeptic could say that they are depicting a false image of their architectural practice. However, we argue that as a relatively new company with alternative ideals, they form a niche and attempt to mobilise a regime transition by challenging the structural restrictions (Geels, 2012). They do so without losing their ideals and keeping the firm running. As Jennifer puts it, they are sustaining their business by taking on “bread and butter” projects. Furthermore, their business is in development and transitioning into the idealised firm they portray online. They try to be many things, but architecture remains their medium of choice and is used to present their ideas of the future, both for society and their studio.
Through the lense of MLP, their communication style and online profile displays a regime and a future where their ideas are possible, where the regime and the landscape have changed and they are no longer solely a niche in the architecture regime (Geels, 2o12). Commenting on their own practice, Niels reflects on the nature of working within the current commercial market and the paradox they are involved in:
Now the thing is, how you do what is right in a frame that is wrong. Like what you do in this commercial field, doing commercial projects [...] you would rather do or not do in a way. [...] How can you make a business out of this, because it is all about not doing business. So what you want to do is to have less impact on nature, or to do less building.
We recognise that their online profile is more than architecture, it is a political commentary and artwork in itself. The paradox they face is the nature of the business they are working within. Their online profile displays the diversity in their practice so as to display the many alternative approaches to sustainability within the commercial market. The layout of their website caters to the varying needs of the developers and current and future collaborators, as they can pick and choose what is relevant to them. Like many things in their practice, their visual communication is about balance. This balance can accommodate for the different needs of their clients whilst retaining the red thread of their philosophical ideologies. Niels, Jennifer and Skafte characterise themselves as generalists within the field of architecture: “​That is why we tried to do this, I think, to be generalists. [...] We try to connect the art and politics and the architecture into one thing. So that is also a generalist way of putting it​,​” Niels explains. We argue that by not being specialised, they keep their studio open to varying projects and clients, and can therefore pass on their ideologies to a wider audience. Furthermore, working with a range of different project types gives them insights and knowledge into different areas within architecture, which can influence and enhance their sense of intuition. This will be further discussed in the forthcoming section.
Even though OP is an autonomous company, it is crucial for them, along with their ideology, to be acknowledged in the current architectural scene. Jennifer admits that the firm tries to gain recognition by taking different measures after OP was relaunched in 2019:
We just started in September or October, we had the opening party, so we need to combine [the] website with just getting into media, getting interviews [...] and getting people to just hear ‘Open Platform’ and maybe just see the same project over and over again [to] relate to us.
Jennifer adds that many architects and engineers are familiar with OP, since Jennifer and Niels have wide-ranging experience in the field. However, the firm's message still has to reach a larger audience, and as a consequence, OP uses communication as a tool to build greater external awareness of their practice and philosophy in the field.
A subsequent way in which OP hopes to communicate is via collaborations with educational institutions. Jennifer states that she was part of an association where they wanted to make architecture part of the public school curriculum. During this process, they worked with a politician because, although many people agreed with their plan, Jennifer says that they “do not change it if we do not have a dialogue with the politicians.” Communicating through politics is also the idea behind the Nature’s Party. It reflects the intersection of politics and environmental ideals in OP’s philosophy. Jennifer points out that within their portfolio, the Nature’s Party “is the most apparent political thing.” The project started as a workshop about the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals which they designed for a school in Copenhagen. Pupils were supposed to create their own political party, the Nature’s Party, and propose an agenda that would be aligned with these environmental goals. After the project was finished, OP decided to develop this concept further: “Now we also asked to get the name as a party name, and we just got it confirmed [...] So we can actually start a real [political] party now” explains Jennifer. The Nature’s Party highlights the politics behind architecture and environmental sustainability, where OP has named nature as their client. An extract from their website states (Open Platform, 2019d):
We ask ourselves what society would look like, if we turn Nature into the world's political center of gravity. By treating Nature as an entity with legal rights and interests, we aspire to create awareness about the possibilities for taking a positive approach to creating a new balance between Nature and Man.
Through this concept, they have created an idealistic vision, displaying a built environment which positively impacts the climate. Whilst this project is rather conceptual, it still instructs their sustainability-driven approach in the field of architecture. It highlights the firm’s outlook on the environmental impact that is commonly associated with the construction industry. With projects such as the Nature’s Party, OP is able to create a broader dialogue that questions architecture as a sustainable practice.
Thus, communicating their ideals attracts clients and brings attention to OP’s sustainable ideas in architecture. OP uses various tools that aid in making themselves noticeable in the architectural landscape, such as their website, alternative projects representing ideals and future visions, and workshops in schools. As previously mentioned, conceptual projects allow them to find a balance for their visions in the unfavorable architectural landscape and be a part of the Danish architectural landscape as a niche. A subsequent, but integral part of OP’s ability to forward their philosophy is through mediation and intuition.

Mediation and Intuition
OP’s ability to communicate also makes the firm a mediator between their ideals and reality. As mentioned previously, incorporating sustainability into projects is not an easy task and OP often has to use their analytical and negotiating skills during the design process to persuade different stakeholders to get on board. An initial brief can be malleable, porous, and open to interpretation, where OP has the opportunity to add their niche personal, artistic and philosophical perspective into the design with the hope that they can convince the client to accept the deviations from their original request.
As mentioned in the theoretical framework, intuition can be understood as knowledge “derived from large pools of experience, and from prior learning gained from making appropriate, and inappropriate responses in certain situations” (Cross, 2018, p.10). In the case of OP, this experience comes from past projects. As Niels states, “because you have been doing a lot of projects and you know what works, what kind of possible answers to this problem when you make this [design solution].” He goes on to state how the formation of this intuition is a “kind of conscious and subconscious thing going on.” Drawing on Cross (2018), we argue that intuition is a learnt experience, a result of multiple successful and unsuccessful extrinsic practices that then provide and feed an intrinsic feeling of knowing. This intuition then allows for easier, more successful decision making and proposal generation in the design process. As Niels surmises, “so intuition is also kind of finding a way to make the right thing.” Relying on intuition fed from years of experience, OP finds avenues to project their philosophy, although this can often be met with resistance from the client. In order to circumvent this, some mediation is necessary to achieve agreement.
In discussions with OP, it became evident that in order to create a pathway to transition from what the client initially wants, to a design more infused with their philosophy, they often have to work as mediators. As Niels mentions, they work as “mediators” to “connect all the intentions and all the beliefs and all the interest into one object or one project.” Fo​r instance, when developers lack the experience or the right mindset to work with sustainable materials, Jon expresses that “then it is a discussion, if we should push for it or find other ways of doing it, other ways of doing it as sustainable as possible.” Being niche-actors, OP tries to showcase the possibilities for more sustainable designs, all the while utilising years of experience of client negotiation to propel forward design features that better fit to their philosophy. During an informal interview with OP, we discuss how they influence the client to agree with their recommendations of using sustainable materials. OP states that the first priority is that the proposal tackles the identified problem in the brief and that it is within budget. Jennifer explains that, first and foremost it is about the client’s ambition and about what the client wants in their project. Skafte adds that:

"In order to make something that is really brilliant, you need a client that is brilliant, who has this kind of surplus of willingness and is not just wanting to get things done as fast as possible and as cheap as possible. "

However, even with clients who are less open-minded, the architects can propose sustainable solutions: “I think that is what we very often do now, we suggest things that are not asked for. And then it is of course optional so it is something that the client can think about, it is an add-on” sums up Jennifer. Cross (2018) points out that similar statements can come around as bold, especially when designers claim to offer solutions that the client did not even know they wanted. He also highlights that demanding extraordinary is frequently wished for (p. 8):
[W]e should try to see through this apparent arrogance in this statement, to the underlying truth that clients do want designers to transcend the obvious and the mundane, and to produce proposals that are exciting and stimulating as well as merely practical.
In the case of OP, exceeding the ordinary often comes in the form of sustainable solutions. To entice the client to accept unsolicited additions to the project, they nonetheless often must be seen as added bonuses without any extra cost. In addition, the proposal should also excite them. This was highlighted by Niels:
Sometimes you also do not know where you want to go in this process, so you have this dialogue with the client about it. It is not only for the architect to be the genius, it is a conversation. Often in the dialogue with the client, you find the right answer because the right answer is also the thing that excites the client. So you also have to go with the client's instinct, knowing how to make the right answer to the problem.
The design process is a dialogue between the designers and the clients where a balance is found between pushing the boundaries of the brief and compromising on the firm's own agenda. They rely on their intuition in order to assess the brief and find ways to add their philosophy and creative visions to the design solution. This is highlighted by Niels: “so to integrate these [principles], it is a lot about intuition when you are an architect.” ​As a result of their intuition, experience, and desire to integrate their philosophy into their designs, OP interprets the briefs they receive instead of following them in detail, and in doing so, ‘zoom out’ to look at the bigger picture: seeing the brief outside of its initial scope and proposing innovative solutions that can also reflect parts of their philosophy. This is also pointed out by Cross (2018, p.8):
Design is not a search for the optimum solution, but a starting point for a journey of exploration; the designer sets off to explore, to discover something new, rather than to reach somewhere already known, or to return with yet another example of the already familiar.
Examples of this can be seen with Elsinore stadium, whereby OP innovatively created the new football stadium below ground level, essentially digging out the playing field and lowering the arena into the earth. Their reasoning for doing so was twofold: to follow their sustainability-driven philosophy to create a low-carbon footprint design, and to consider the social and aesthetic impacts of the stadium on the surrounding environment.

New Stadium Elsinore (ill.; Open Platform, 2019f)

Firstly, in keeping with their environmental sustainable ethos, this design uses less materials, thus resulting in a lowered carbon footprint. As stated on their webpage for the stadium, “Less footprint. More Impact” (Open Platform, 2019f). However, despite using less materials, the cost to create the stadium was not lowered. This paradox sparked some debate in the general public, where, according to Jennifer, “a lot of people complained about the stadium, saying that for the same money we could have gotten a real stadium.” Jennifer highlights a general - but at times erroneous - societal perception of low-material/low-footprint structures: ​“because also when you minimise the footprint, when you do less, it should also cost less, right?” This showcases a subsequent potential barrier to forwarding their niche practice, wherein OP needed to act as mediators to convince the public and investors that this paradox is worth it, that the construction process and final outcome are environmentally, but not always economically beneficial: “So I think we do it, but not as an excuse to save money but to do what is right somehow.”

Furthermore, as the design deviates heavily from the normative notion of what constitutes a stadium, some people have further criticised the design. As highlighted by Jennifer, “if you do a stadium and it is a hole in the ground, a lot of soccer people will say this is not a stadium.” This highlights that radical changes in a design can be fraught with barriers due to cultural perceptions surrounding the definition of the built structure, as expressed by Jennifer: “​But what is a real stadium? Maybe it is not a building that costs the whole production of concrete and steel and all that, [it] is not really good.” ​This showcases a potential barrier for applying similar low-impact design practices to other projects, where an innovative end design can challenge the cultural definition of what constitutes the structure. The cultural norms can thus act as lock-in mechanisms for the niche design to be accepted and integrated into the regime, and for sustainable transitions to occur in the architectural landscape. While the MLP has a strong focus on temporality in explaining processes and changes over time, it is important to note that landscape and lock-in mechanisms are often heavily spatially bound (Geels, 2012). While many policies and regulations are typically applied on national and international scale, these cultural perceptions are bound to the local community.

Secondly, they considered and evaluated what social and aesthetic impacts surround a standard, above ground arena: the physical landscape around would be affected by a tall, heavy, concrete-laden arena, and nearby neighbours would be affected by the sight and light being shone from the stadium. Their innovative design thus took into account the social and environmental impacts, resulting in an end product that “respects the surrounding landscape as well as its neighbours” (Open Platform, 2019f). As Jennifer states, their intention was “not to make it very spectacular, to make it seem very understated and pushed into [the earth], to make it into a landscape project in a way, not to make a construction on the side.”

The previous example illustrates OP’s interpretation of a project thus encompassing more than just the physical structure to be built and the client’s desires to be fulfilled, but includes factors far more reaching than the initial brief. It becomes an avenue for the amalgamation of the architects’ ideas, perspectives and philosophy to come into play, a place to try and reflect their philosophy of creating sustainable designs, often in rule-bending ways that require mediation and intuition to lead to fruitful and sustainable outcomes.

As previously mentioned, the landscape, as it stands, is filled with many barriers that prevent OP from applying their philosophy in full. Thus, by using mediation and intuition, they seek to find a balance between projecting their ideals onto projects and making the client content. We argue that the ability of OP’s partners to work as generalists and their intuition, built through years of experience, allows them to step outside of design traditions and become advocates of their philosophy. In this way, OP can not only express their ideas, but also broaden and build their recognition, all the while trying to change the existing architectural landscape. OP’s communication style allows them to showcase visions and ideals that are not readily applied due to the current regime, but are seen to have a future feasibility which can increase in probability as their portfolio and name develop within the architecture field.
Communication can be used to initiate transition to their visions of the future. As mentioned in the theoretical framework, niches attain power when the ideals they try to convey become widely welcomed and manage to grow stronger networks with influential actors (Geels, 2012, p.472). Thus, as it stands, OP can not only work by incorporating sustainability into projects, the firm also has to manage to reach a wider audience in order to generate further awareness of their practice

Authors: Lieke Hevink, Katerina Jostova, Elsa Nemrin Daly, Jessica Papini, Dovilé Smagurauskaité (ill.; Open Platform 2020)

In this study we have analysed the Copenhagen-based architecture firm Open Platform and how their organisation, narratives and practices allow them to navigate in the Danish architectural landscape with the aim to realise their philosophical ideals. This includes the integration of architecture, art and politics into the architectural scene, while attempting to reduce the environmental impact of their projects. Judging from their online profile and the way they present themselves, we initially considered OP to be an example of a company highly engaged in practicing environmentally and socially sustainable ideals. Whereas in reality, they have a more pragmatic approach to sustainable architecture. Our research has revealed that what characterises OP is the notion of balance, which can be sensed in all aspects of their architecture practice. This balance results from the firm’s openness and flexibility, both in terms of the company’s fluid structure, the diverse types of projects they take on and their approach to the design brief. As a result of this flexibility, OP is able to navigate through the architecture landscape to realise these ideals, or at least find a balanced compromise. Even though Scandinavian and Danish architecture is commonly presented as the pinnacle of sustainable architecture, from OP's perspective, there are many barriers that make it difficult to implement their visions in reality. Therefore, firms such as OP are often forced to find ways to survive in the landscape without forgoing their initial ideals.
To begin with, OP’s architects rely on intuition as a tool and skill to deal with intricate details of the design process, as well as forwarding their sustainable ideals in practice. Intuition, previously defined as an intangible feeling of knowing generated from years of experience, allows the architects to make informed decisions and gives them the ability to push forward sustainable design solutions. This strategy enables them to assess situations pragmatically, finding areas to add their philosophy, and when faced with resistance from the client, they can practice skills of mediation in order to reach an agreement. Consequently, OP’s architects see themselves as mediators between various involved parties, always seeking a balance between their own ideals, the client’s wishes and situationally specific possibilities and constraints.
Secondly, while being vocal about their principles, OP is selective about the types of projects they display and advertise. In effect, this can aid in generating further recognition in the architecture field by stimulating public awareness of their niche practice. They hope to achieve this through collaborating with schools, politicians and by furthering their sustainability driven conceptual projects. Their current online profile showcases limited and solely philosophy-entrenched designs, and presents their idealised portfolio. Due to the current hegemonic Danish architectural regime, this vision is difficult to fully realise in every project, but helps sow the seed for future practice. While they may not always be able to realise their ideals in their architecture practice, their online profile allows them to take full control over how they are represented. By displaying idealised pictures of their practice, they can connect with those who share similar ideals and spark conversations with those who do not.
Thirdly, as a company that is engaged in the nation-wide architecture CoP, we identified OP to be a local CoP with a specific type of mutual engagement that is open to collaborations from different professionals and also contributions from outside the architectural community. As a result of this open working structure, OP can receive new innovative ideas from outside professionals bringing fresh perspectives to the table, increasing opportunities to generate and incorporate innovative sustainable ideas into OP’s projects. Conversely, having worked with OP and gained experience and knowledge surrounding sustainable design ideology and practice, professionals can also apply said knowledge to other local CoPs, thus potentially helping to generate greater sustainable practice in the nation-wide CoP. Furthermore, having only a handful of full-time employees enables them to prioritise projects that suit the philosophy of the founders, so as to keep the projects more aligned with their sustainability-driven ideology. Their openness has developed throughout the years, all the while being informed by the partners’ experiences that ultimately have culminated to their current joint enterprise. This enterprise encompasses their shared repertoire of stories, discourses and concepts, which evolved into their ideals about the future of architecture. The philosophy is based on the notion of sustainability, which is treated as a malleable term that can be adjusted to the specific context, therefore being approached pragmatically. Despite this, OP aims to find and propose meaning in most of their projects.
Fourthly, we consider OP to be a part of the nation-wide CoP of architects, which from OP’s perspective, is conservative, commercialised and homogenous. Within this nation-wide CoP, OP acts as a niche-actor with their distinct approach and philosophy. Being a niche, they are also affected by the regime which consists of commonly accepted structures that prove to act as barriers, and are governed by the overarching landscape that is perceived by OP to be neoliberal. Through OP, we have identified three main barriers within the landscape. First, there are building regulations in place that restrain firms from using alternative materials such as wood. Second, the distribution of architecture projects has been shaped around the prioritisation of established firms which require new firms to collaborate with more established ones. While jointly working, sustainable or innovative ideas may be lost as collaboration can often lead to compromise. Third, a major barrier is the financial limit that many clients, developers and contractors have put in place when undertaking projects. Even though sustainable building practices may pay off with economic benefits in the long term, they are often more expensive in the short term. According to OP’s partners and members, there is often a dominant drive to build things as cheap and fast as possible. Thus, sustainable building practices and materials may not fit this premise. Due to the reinforcement within the system, these actors can inform the lock-in mechanisms that can restrict niche-innovations at a lower level to transition and be taken up into the regime.
From an MLP perspective, there are potentials for sustainability-driven niche innovations to initiate transitions towards more sustainable futures. ​Geels (2012, p.474) recognises that lock-in mechanisms and the refusal of the existing landscape to shift can encourage and become “seeds for radical change.” ​With OP, we can hypothesise some future circumstances that may generate enough antagonism to create a window of opportunity to break the existing regime and thus allow them to further forward their philosophy into reality. Firstly, by building up a more extensive portfolio showcasing sustainability-embedded designs, their niche philosophy will become better known in the architectural scene, leading to additional projects with like-minded clients. With more designs being built with sustainable features, it could put pressure on the existing Danish architecture regime. For example, to push the regime to change building regulations in order to favour in-mode sustainable materials and features or to affect the general perception of what defines that particular architectural structure. Secondly, the current and topical climate crisis could initiate a grander landscape change. If public awareness and anxiety surrounding the deteriorating climate heightens, pressure could be put upon the Danish government to change regulations in order to favour more sustainable methods and building practices.
In this paper, we have outlined specific aspects that might be perceived as hindering sustainability transitions in architecture, and showcased how OP navigates through this landscape, all the while aspiring to reach their ideals. By getting an in-depth view and understanding of a company with strong sustainable ethos currently battling within an antagonistic field, this research provides first hand insights into the various successful and unsuccessful navigation tactics and practices that aim at being more readily accepted into the hegemonic regime. By putting these tactics into tangible writing, it could help further the plight of other firms who share similar ideologies and struggles, or conversely, offer educational perspectives to less sustainably-driven companies that could be used for inspiration to adopt more sustainable practices.
Nonetheless, we have looked at the current architectural field from the perspective of one fairly small and recently established company. For further research, it would be beneficial to investigate how other architecture studios who pursue similar ideals, but differ in organisational structure and/or size, are successful in bringing about change. While we solely focused on the situation in Denmark, mapping the situation in other countries in Europe or even worldwide might bring new perspectives into the determinants surrounding sustainable design implementations in the architectural landscape. It would be beneficial to look at whether the aspects we identified follow a general trend or whether they are place specific.
Since sustainability is a recent, albeit growing, topic of concern, OP sees the necessity for challenging the architectural regime. As it stands, companies such as OP who have a resounding drive to implement sustainability in their designs still face an uphill battle to overcome the hegemonic regime. For OP, the most realistic outcome is to continue making compromises that lead to a balance between their philosophy and the antagonistic reality of the regime. The hope, as is exemplified on OP’s website, is that the future of architecture will be saturated with deeper considerations for social and environmental sustainability. The future, just like OP, is open to a myriad of possibilities, outcomes and platforms for change. As Christina ponders over the future of OP’s founders: “With those two, who knows, where Open Platform is moving to in five years? You do not know...”

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