SUBJECT #01 — Fear as a Creative Tool — EPISODE 3
PROLOGUE: The paradoxical aesthetics of architecture is the core in this, the third episode of SUBJECT #01. Fashion designer turned architecture student Tanja Ina Kjøng shares her enlightening perspectives on a specific encounter with the majestic architecture of the Danish prison establishment, Vestre Fængsel.
Aesthetics has a very real paradox to it – well at least the aesthetics that I find alluring. It flirts with disaster tapping into your deepest darkest desires adding an entirely different dimension to its beauty. It preys on your fears establishing authority and exposes human duality in all its glory and in all its atrocity.
By Tanja Ina Kjøng
The panorama is a photomontage of the railway terrain as seen from Dybbølsbro. The extension of Vestre Fængsel is situated on the edge of this terrain.
This fascination of paradoxical aesthetics has served as a red tread throughout my life. Early on, when I was working with fashion, my fixation and source of inspiration was military uniforms. Later on, when I changed field to architecture, it became monuments and institutions.
When drawing an extension to Vestre Fængsel – a Danish prison – last year, I was granted the privilege of visiting inside the walls for a day. An experience bestowed only on a few civilians.
Vestre Fængsel is not actually a prison it is an arrest house. The largest one in Denmark situated on Vesterbro in Copenhagen. The inmates are awaiting sentence, which means that they are locked in their cells 23 hours a day. So rehabilitation is not a part of the agenda due to the short incarceration terms.
The majority of the prison is from 1895 and is build as a cross-shaped four-story panopticon*. The buildings are quite majestic with big vaults and windows, heavy walls and doors and open corridors that allows for audiovisual contact in between the floors. Strangely enough I felt quite safe behind those 60 cm walls, locked in but also shielded from the world. The authority of the building reassured me, maintaining a status quo of a kind of clam before the storm. And yes, the place did seam quite beautiful to me in all its silent brutality.
The grounds are surrounded by a tall wall as most prisons are. I wanted to challenge this assumption, so I was looking at this wall as architecture. I was quite captivated by Rem Koolhaas’ essay “Field Trip”, in which he describes his life-defining encounter with the Berlin wall as a student.
Koolhaas argues that the simplicity of the Berlin wall is an example of the true nature of architecture, which he defines as “division, enclosure (i.e. imprisonment), and exclusion”. To his greatest surprise he found the wall heartbreakingly beautiful and goes on to elaborate this aesthetic paradox in what he calls a negative revelation:
“The (Berlin) wall suggested that architecture’s beauty was directly proportional to its horror”
I leaned towards these observations. So instead of circling the building with a wall the building itself became that impenetrable wall in the shape of a stamp-like figure that discuses an inside and an outside, as defined by Koolhaas, thereby changing the dynamic of Vestre Fængsel´s centralized panopticon. The building would be situated on the edge of the city pressed down on a sloping site on the nearby railway terrain connected with Vestre Fængsel by an underground tunnel to minimize flight risk.
By doing so, I preserved the authoritative nature of the arrest house, honouring its nature, its archetype, drawing a prison that actually looked like one, not disguising it as something else (as some architects choose to do in the name of humanity).
I believe that we must be able to recognise and be confronted with the extremes of human duality to fully comprehend and cope with our own existence. Architecture – and creative fields in general – should encourage this by enabling you to reflect. In my opinion, this is only possible through exposure to paradoxical aesthetics in all its facets and manifestations. However heart wrenching it can be to give in to this kind of beauty.
* Philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham conceived the panopticon in the late 18th century. It is also referred to as a building with an all-seeing eye, since the design allows for a single watchman to observe all inmates at once. This design was applied widely to prisons and institutions at the time, of which many are still functional today.
Tanja Ina Kjøng is a Danish soon-to-be architect and fashion designer with a general craving for education. In her early twenties she studied fine arts as well as tailoring for several years prior to attending Kolding School of Design, from where she graduated with a BA in fashion, primarily focusing on menswear. Since then she has been employed in fashion as a designer, both at home and abroad, as well as in public relations, before ultimately changing field to architecture. She is currently completing her MAA in architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
SUBJECT is an ongoing feature series inviting artists and creative entrepreneurs to share their point of view and interpretation of a given subject. To inspire, open up horizons and start conversations – because more perspectives make a better story. SUBJECT is curated and edited by Sidsel Søgaard Spas.
SUBJECT #01 takes its starting point in the subject of fear as a creative tool. Alter Ego has invited three contributors to interpret and shape the subject to their own opinion. Tanja Ina Kjøng’s contribution is the third and final episode of this series.