In our newest book, We Build Drawings, CEBRA explains its painterly design method

Architect Mikkel Frost has a few reservations about the use of renderings for presentations. He put it best during a 2018 TEDxAarhus talk. ‘I’ve developed a new drawing typology based on cartoons and comic books, a visual language people are familiar with,’ he explained. ‘The idea is that if you cannot explain an architectural concept on a single sheet of A4 paper, you are either saying too much or it is too complicated.’

So, throughout his practice at CEBRA architecture, his A4 sheets have been filled with watercolour proof-of-concepts – not sketches, and certainly not spontaneous. ‘In fact, they are done after the architectural concept has been conceived; they serve as conceptual full stops,’ he added. In other words: they are an integral part of the studio’s design communication process.

We partnered with CEBRA to compile some of Frost’s most outstanding proposals, and the stories behind them, in our newest book: We Build Drawings. The book is now available to order in our web store. While you wait for your delivery, you can get started by reading about some of our favourite case studies from the book.


Residential complex in Aarhus (2008 – 2013)

The Iceberg is one of the first completed projects in the redevelopment of Aarhus’ former container port. Like many other run-down industrial harbour fronts, the area is being transformed into a dynamic new neighbourhood that on completion will be home to 7,000 inhabitants and provide 12,000 workplaces. Its total site area of 800,000 sq-m makes it one of Europe’s largest harbour-front city developments.

At this prime location, with its spectacular view across the bay, the seemingly simple task was to maximise views and sunlight for every apartment. Instead of following the master plan made up of primarily closed blocks, The Iceberg is laid out as four L-shaped wings in which the street spaces between the parallel wings open towards the water. To obtain optimal daylight conditions and views over the bay, the angled volumes are cut up by a jagged roof profile. The L-shapes are arranged like carefully organised mountain peaks and valleys allowing even apartments in the back row to enjoy generous natural lighting and fantastic views of the rising peaks and the water. The simple algorithm used in the design results in a stunning structure of 11 white peaks – like floating icebergs that constantly refract one’s gaze.


Residential development in Malmö (2007)

Magneten (the Magnet) is situated in the middle of Malmö's Rosengård area. This area is a development dating back to the sixties, consisting of solitary and widely-spaced concrete blocks placed in a park-like landscape. Like many other modernist housing areas, Rosengård has become a ghetto with large numbers of immigrants living an isolated suburban life. Few people leave the area and people from other parts of Malmö never go there.

To renew the Rosengård's sense of identity and attract visitors, MKB decided to build a friendly monument, Magneten. This would serve as a focal point for the whole region and be an icon that inspires pride. Metaphorically, it would be like placing an Eiffel Tower in the middle of the neighborhood. However, unlike the classic French landmark, Magneten has a different set of programs revolving around water culture.

The new building is placed in Rosengård's central green area, which is raised up to form a green mountain-like roof penetrated by a number of towers. The sloping roof is designed for outdoor activities, such as sun bathing or skiing, the green program. The spaces under the roof are for blue programs, such as swimming and steam baths. The supporting towers contain shops, hotels and meeting rooms. From one side, Magneten looks like row houses exploding into a monument, while from the park side it looks like an alpine mountainside.


Extension of the Aarhus Botanical garden (2008)

The existing hothouse in the Aarhus Botanical Garden is a fantastic place packed with fascinating plants. Students and researchers from the university are frequent visitors to the beautiful spiral-shaped building as are the general public who go to enjoy the tropical botanical collection and spend time in the warmth. The building was erected in the late 60s and is now in need of maintenance. The university also wants to expand their collection so the main job for us was to design an extension.

The extension is architecturally related to the main room of the existing building. It derives geometrically from a cone with the load-bearing structure in a white steel mesh inspired by the spiral pattern of pineapple skin. This new volume shortcuts the flow of the old hothouse and eliminates existing dead ends by creating a loop. A low peel-like fence encloses the new dome and connects with the old building. This further unifies the buildings and creates a protected courtyard for coffee breaks and outdoor plants. In short, our design is an updated version of the old original layout and a respectful tribute to something unique.

We Build Drawings is available for purchase here.

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