The Architecture of Julien De Smedt


JDS / Julien De Smedt Architects is a multidisciplinary office that focuses on architecture and design, from large scale planning to furniture. Founded and directed by Julien De Smedt (co-founder of PLOT), JDS currently employs some 50 people with offices in Copenhagen, Brussels and Brazil. The office has a wide portfolio of international work and the attitude of involving external consultants to improve the design intelligence of a given project team. Mr Wolf talks to Julien himself, and finds out about the Holmenkollen Ski Jump in Norway, and the Iceberg in Denmark.

The Ski Jump

Photo: Marco Boella

MIKE with Julien

Photo: Nikolaj Moeller

Ski Jump Oslo

Photo: Iwan Baan

The Iceberg

Photo: JDS Architecture

Julien De Smedt, founder & director



Scandinavian architecture

The architectural scene in Scandinavia has drastically changed the past 15 years. In 2001 when Bjarke (Bjarke Ingels of Bjarke Ingels Group) and I started PLOT, there had not been a new office created in Denmark for over 5 years. Dorte Mandrup set up her practice in 1995. Apart from her there was hardly anything. You had a handful of old practices founded by great modernists, by then dead. The offices were held together by partners who could not maintain the ingenious ideas of their founders. Those practices handled most of the jobs. If you look at the amount of new practices today, it is astonishing. I would even say that it has saturated. The market remains rather small, so most practices are working abroad as well. I would say that PLOT, and then JDS and BIG were always geared towards international interests. In Norway, there is a similar phenomenon with Spacegroup. From my experience, Sweden remains more local and conservative, unfortunately.

Scandinavia has a good international vibe right now. There are multiple reasons for that: it is still relatively unknown versus other, more sunny, destinations. So it is a place to discover. On top of that, Scandinavia has an aura of sustainable living, which completely tunes in with the current international concern about the environment. A lot of people look at Scandinavia with curiosity and are eager to learn from its well functioning society. We see a lot of people coming with an educational and business purpose. I believe that particularly in Denmark, the design culture of the 20th century and today’s architecture are huge contributors to that appeal. This exchange, together with media coverage, has also made it easier to export Scandinavian ideas abroad.

Holmenkollen Ski Jump

Ski Jump, Oslo, Norway 2011

Symbiosis.  This project aims at unifying the various elements present in a ski jump into one single expression, shape and action, rather than having a series of dispersed pavilions and infrastructure on site, we have managed to combine them into one organism. The judges’ booths, the commentators, the trainers, the royal family, the VIPs, the windscreens, the circulation, the lobby, the entrance to the arena and the arena itself, the lounge for the skiers, the shop of souvenirs, the access to the existing museum, the viewing public square at the very top, EVERYTHING, is contained into the shape of the jump in a magical symbiosis of programs and experiences.

This project is based on a steel girder principle. The intelligence of it was to combine the structural elements, the programs required and the topography of the site into one shape that resolves everything.

Half way through the project we were challenged to take out the accessible roof top terrace. This was an crucial moment to clarify what is probably in retrospect the most important aspect of the project: that the real icon is the city of Oslo and that we could not lose this viewpoint framing the most stunning view of Oslo.


Apartments & mixed use development, Aarhus, Denmark, 2007

The Iceberg is a project about sharing: both on an urban scale but also in the way the process of design was handled. We teamed with 3 other offices all based in Europe to achieve this project. The idea was to form a creative pool that would come together to make a single building, instead of the usual teams that each give a project their own style. Here the style became the result of our collaboration.

On the urban scale, we wanted to create the feeling of a neighbourhood with our building. And we also wanted to relate to the coming future neighbourhood. We argued that our building mass should go beyond the height limits imposed by the planning regulations and create these extreme peaks and canyons, allowing for the entire building to have views to the sea and even to our further back neighbours!

In 2008, the project was put to a hold because of the financial crisis. It stayed that way for a period of over a year. We thought it was dead. Then, an agreement was reached with a large pension fund to take over the project from the previous developer who did not have the financing in place anymore. The entire process following that change of client became about finding the right balance of respecting the project’s identity and applying program change. In the end the project is completely faithful and even improved from the original design.

I think that the vision of the first client to mix various social groups in one building entity was very exciting. The idea was to literally combine social housing with market housing and thereby create a diverse neighbourhood. Technically, the project pushes the boundaries of prefabrication for the facades, where the sandwich incorporates the insulation and waterproofing as well as a terrazzo concrete outside finish.

 Words: Sharman Tanny