Coastal Imaginaries


Curated by Josephine Michau

Commissioned by DAC – Danish Architecture Center


Technical Coordination in Venice



Coastal Imaginaries Showcases Nature-based Solutions to Rising Global Sea Levels

At this year’s International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, visitors to the Danish Pavilion can explore nature-based design of tomorrow’s coastal landscapes and gain profound insight into the many coastal challenges we face. The Danish contribution to the exhibition aims to raise awareness of the dilemma between having buildings and homes near the coast and the severe effects of climate change on our coastal landscapes.

Josephine Michau, curator of the Danish contribution, calls Coastal Imaginaries “a laboratory for hope in a world of viral hopelessness”, in reference to the overall title of the Biennale Architettura 2023 chosen by the curator Lesley Lokko, “The Laboratory of the Future”.

The Danish contribution consists of research-based and innovative architectural design solutions for our coastal landscapes, based in nature. These will be presented alongside spectacularly staged large-scale dioramas – a 3D scenography used in theater productions. The many international visitors to the exhibition will be given an impressive transformational experience that appeals to both body and mind.

Josephine Michau aims to show the public and industry professionals a catalog of concrete proposals for future life along the coastline, rooted in seven nature-based solutions. The solutions not only span time and vast landscapes, but also address today’s serious and urgent challenges of storm surges and flooding. The solutions offer mechanisms for landscape resilience, carbon sinks, cultivation areas, materials banks, biodiversity, and new natural spaces for socializing and recreation.


Can we develop our cities in harmony with nature?

Copenhagen is often referred to as one of the world’s best cities to live in, and UNESCO has named it the 2023 World Capital of Architecture. As part of the program for this year-long event, Copenhagen will demonstrate its climate adaptation capabilities. However, the existence of the capital is threatened by rising sea levels and the threat of flooding.

In connection with the exhibition, Danish landscape architectural firm Schønherr has developed a new strategy for the city, “Copenhagen Islands”, where the capital city’s classic urban development plan from 1947 is replaced with urban development based on the islets that arise in a delta between seawater and rainwater. This transformed map of Copenhagen shows a new research-based proposal to ensure a robust future scenario for all of Greater Copenhagen. Attention is shifted towards the city’s underlying topography, and the urban planning of the future is based on our encounter with nature.


“We must change the city’s relationship with nature. The coast must evolve from a physical and administrative line to a ‘sponge’ zone that can absorb and hold water when there is too much of it, and slowly release it when there is too little. Here, nature’s own robust mechanisms from many landscapes and biotopes are translated into new and concrete solutions”

– Rikke Juul Gram, MAA MDL, partner and creative director at Schønherr


A need for new practices

The Danish contribution insists that one of the greatest challenges of our time – the climate and biodiversity crisis – calls for new knowledge and architectural solutions that support nature, our landscapes and human civilization. This more nuanced understanding of the context in which we operate requires new approaches and changed practices in the architectural profession.


“The architects need allies. We must work across professional, geographical and institutional boundaries to learn from each other and, most importantly, to cultivate the political will to initiate radical changes”

-Josephine Michau, curator of the Danish Pavilion.


Coastal Imaginaries is the result of a collective and collaborative effort, with contributions from artists, architects, craftspeople, practitioners and researchers, representing a wide range of skills and fields of specialization.


The exhibition presents insights, in the form of drawings and models, from the research group “Mitigating sea level rise” and their project “Danske byers tilpasning til havvandsstigning – nye løsningsrum” (Adapting Danish cities to rising sea levels – new solutions). In this three-year project, Danish researchers investigates nature-based approaches to climate adaptation of coastal landscapes to find new solution models aligned with the planet’s ecosystems. The project examines both inspiring international cases and Danish coastal landscapes. The exhibit also features examples of architect-designed solutions through film and prototypes from the Masters program “Architecture and Extreme Environments” at the Royal Danish Academy.


A sensory experience

The pavilion’s largest exhibition room features a dramatically-staged coastal landscape of the future created by set designer Christian Friedländer. Visitors are invited into the immersive experience of the diorama, which provides an understanding of the characteristics associated with nature-based design in coastal landscapes. In a dramatized version of the relationship between wet and dry, between water and land, nature and culture and their interdependence, climate change is experienced on a 1:1 scale.


Danish Architecture Center has been appointed by the Ministry of Culture Denmark as commissioner of the official Danish submission at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. The contribution is selected and funded by the Ministry of Culture Denmark, the Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Architecture Grants and Project Funding, and the philanthropic foundation Realdania.




Photo Credits:
Film and Photos by Rasmus Hjortshoj