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    • 08 June 2022

      Gen Z Leads the Way for Sustainable Living at the Danish Student House in Paris

      Over the course of almost 90 years, thousands of Danish students and researchers have stayed at the Danish Student House in Paris for shorter or longer periods. Not only has the house provided a safe home, but it has also shaped these young people and their futures. On June 2, her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Denmark, in her capacity as patron inaugurated the Student House’s new kitchen and dining hall, designed by our interior design team

    • Cité Internationale Universitaire is an international student city in Paris. It includes about 40 dormitories with 5,000 students from all over the world. The dormitories are built and run by different nationalities. The student city was founded in 1925 by forces created by the pacifist movement that emerged in interwar France. The vision was to support world peace letting young people from all over the world meet and live together. It is still on the agenda of the Cité Internationale Universitaires to contribute to world peace by solving the world’s problems together.  

      In late 2020 the historic Danish Student House approached Henning Larsen with a proposal for an exciting project, on a rather small scale. The project centered around the holistic implementation of a sustainability agenda which began with an extensive ethnographic study conducted at the Danish Student House.

      Among the insights from the researchers was the finding that the students were eager for more responsibility – wanting to be active in the development and care of a community, driven by sustainable actions.

      Living Lab and Food Preparation

      This community-mindedness offered a great opportunity: To transform this “rite of passage” from a unique residential experience into an inspiring occasion for a shift in lifestyle. In this light, the Danish Student House in Paris takes on the role of a literal living lab, encouraging residents on their paths to sustainable life choices, while enveloped within a supportive environment.

      The inauguration on 2 June was very much in line with this new strategy. Her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Denmark helped prepare the reception menu with emphasis on minimizing food waste, which is one of her key causes.

      “We have created an accommodating and unformal kitchen that encourages social involvement and relaxation. Also, we have made use of nudging for waste sorting. Furthermore, we have designed a flexible dining table that can be turned into a long table or whatever fits the occasion. The materials in the kitchen have been chosen from a sustainable perspective and the contrast between hard and soft surfaces creates the perfect setting for a welcoming student environment,” says Signe Blomquist, Head of Interior at Henning Larsen     

    • Encouraged by Students

      The project presented an opportunity to confront the somewhat existential challenge of offering the individual rare-to-come-by insight on the environmental impact on our own behaviors. We caught up with House Director, Klaus Jørgensen, for his reflections on the potentially far-reaching significance of this ambition that is at once both encouraging by and encouraging the residents to adopt the change.

      “This generation is extremely well informed, they have concern for the plant as a habitat and over the urgent need for decision-makers to live up to their responsibilities, not just talking about it, but actually acting on it. They are the ones who are demanding higher standards of us, and I find that very inspiring.

      So, by embodying this strong will to make environmental minded changes across our strategy, I’m quite certain that we can, if we’re good enough to ensure that this has a long-term effect on the students, people who will be taking leadership roles somewhere on this planet sometime in the future.”

      With this understanding that carbon emissions are not minimized through technical upgrades alone, the design intends to encourage behavioral changes amongst the house residents. The environmental impact of these changes, both technical and behavioral, were then quantified and communicated in a sustainable roadmap: An innovative and exhaustive sustainability report, detailing staggering savings of CO2, energy, and water that a range of actions could yield.

      As each technical and behavioral change is a part of a complex network, involving anything from infrastructure to transportation of goods, the calculations incorporated in the report are the result of some truly remarkable number-crunching. Extending beyond the roadmap and report, the findings also fueled a communication strategy and a series of nine informative postcards to support the agenda.

      Sustainability: A Collaborative Endeavor

      In the new Danish Student House, residents will be active participants in sustainable living and learning. By providing the tools to understand and improve their behaviors, the students will be empowered to exercise these lessons throughout their lives in Paris and beyond.

      Jakob Strømann-Andersen, partner and Head of Sustainability and Innovation reflects on the project stating: “essentially we’re looking at the combined impact of our design choices alongside that of the individual and collective actions of the residents because they don’t exist in isolation. We need to be working with this understanding that driving a sustainable agenda can only be a collaborative endeavor. As designers, our choices can do more than cut emissions, they can act as enablers, facilitating the collaboration, and promoting a shared sense of responsibility for our planet.”

      Though small in scale this project presents great ambitions, demonstrating the reliance of elements, whether human or built on each other, and the need for collaborative ways to propel the sustainability agenda forward in practice, culture, and the outcome.