Photo: Torben Eskerod

Podcast: How architecture can drive social change

By Michael Booth
October 3, 2023

We’ve touched on the increasing role of anthropologists and social science in architecture and urban planning often in our podcast, Let’s Talk Architecture, but in this episode we are going to focus on how the work of one anthropologist in particular intersects with the built environment.

In this episode of Let’s Talk Architecture you’ll meet Marie Stender, an anthropologist, and senior researcher at Aalborg University’s Department of the Built Environment, based in Copenhagen. She is halfway through a ten-year research project looking at an issue which is common to many cities across Europe: how to address the challenges of social housing areas, often home to large immigrant populations, and affected by high unemployment, crime, and other social issues.

In Denmark 20% of the population live in some kind of social housing. Of course, not all of it has such pressing problems, but there are specific housing areas where the government has taken what, from some angles, seems like a fairly Draconian approach: eviction of up to 60% of the existing residents followed by gentrification, all in an attempt to engineer a new social mix.

It is a gigantic, unprecedented experiment. The local councils who are responsible for the housing are not just moving residents, they are also attempting to address some of the challenges through renovation, redesigns of existing housing stock (often breaking up larger apartments into studios or even penthouses), and a raft of other improvements. It is these measures that Marie is examining with her work based on hundreds of interviews over many years.

What is the role of architects and urban planners in the changes Denmark is attempting to implement? How does the built environment affect social issues and the social and ethnic mix of a place? What works, what doesn’t? And, perhaps most importantly, what do the residents really think of it all?

Listen to the episode in the player above. You can also find the podcast Let’s Talk Architecture on Google Podcasts, Spotify or most other podcast players.

About the Podcast

Let’s Talk Architecture is our English-language podcast series where we speak with the most talented architects, designers, urban planners, and engineers of our time.

Behind the microphone is Michael Booth. He is Monocle’s correspondent in Denmark, as well as an award-winning, best-selling author and keynote speaker. His work often covers urban design and architecture. In this podcast, he explores some of the most defining themes in construction and urban development right now.

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