Architecture Nation: Branding Denmark through Architecture

By Iben Falconer

This thesis examines the persistence of the national within the discourse of architecture within the context of discussions of rampant globalization and the supposed decaying power of the nation-state. The project shifts between the idea of Danishness and the idea of architecture, and asks: what is so potent about these two concepts that encourages architects to don the mantle of “Danish” and the Danish government to cloak itself in architecture? I examine contemporary examples of nationalized promotion, or the use of a national label to promote architecture outside of Denmark through individual firm’s marketing strategies, joint promotional activities, and exhibitions. Nationalized promotion exemplifies how the postnational can fortify the national through a strategic use of place.

Nationalized promotion is a conscious decision to use nationalized symbols and rhetoric as important elements of a promotional strategy. It acknowledges the constructed nature of identity, and it undermines any question of an “actual” identification with the nation. It is a successful technique because it provides a rhetorical framework for the work of the architect through associations with architectural and non-architectural phenomena.

In order to fully understand the phenomenon, one must look beyond monographs and journal articles in order to also examine promotional material, exhibition catalogues, and government policy documents. New types of institutions also fill in key pieces: the Danish Architecture Center has played and continues to play an essential role in the global promotion of Danish architecture.

In addition to studying the promotional strategies of Danish architects, this thesis also addresses the Danish government’s usage of architecture as a metaphor for a larger group of images and goals. Architecture does not only express power through its built form; it is also an immaterial promise of the material and therefore a potent political concept in its own right. It also examines the reciprocal mimicry of governmental and commercial practices, such as branding. The global ambitions shared by Danish architects and the Danish government also provide an alternative model for understanding the relationship between architects and governments. Instead of a relationship characterized by dominance or antagonism there is one of symbiosis and mutual dependence.