Stephen Willacy

City Architect of Aarhus

Stephen Willacy is the City Architect of Aarhus. He is educated in England, but has been living in Aarhus for the last 33 years – being the top authority of the municipality, in all matters regarding the architecture of the city, since 2012.

Stephen has been working for several Danish architecture firms, teaching and doing research at Aarhus School of Architecture, and running his own architect practice.

To Stephen, three elements are making Aarhus special; the culture, the education and the nature. International cultural institutions like AroS and Moesgaard, the large number of students, and the beaches and forests within small distance, are all factors distinguishing the city from others.

Sources: Aarhus Municipality, Politiken

On the first speaker workshop on June 25th, we interviewed Stephen. Check out the two parts of the interview below. 

What are you going to talk about in your TEDx talk?

As a city architect I am constantly observing how people use the public realm. The public realm is everybody’s community space, where all citizens are free to wander, gather, eat, sit, celebrate, sleep, and march, whatever together.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent, all over the world that the public realm is challenged. The way public spaces are designed and furnished, to endorse more inclusiveness and their stewardship needs greater attention.

We need more innovation where experimentation and testing are required; we in Aarhus are working with proto-typing, together with “city people” as a viable tool towards making a good city for everyone.

What can people take with them when they have watched your talk?

I would like people to go home inspired; to think about the conditions in the public realm, which encourages all types of people from all walks of life to be together. Most importantly, I hope to create greater awareness, and make people think about the conditions for homeless and disadvantaged “city people” who use our public spaces as their living room, dining room and bedroom.

What does “Into the Wild” mean to you?

I believe that good ideas come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Small ideas can work like acupuncture, where small actions can have major consequences; this for me is into the wild.

How do you connect your talk to the theme?

Through experimentation by prototyping together with “city people” it is possible to make small improvements, some times through serendipity, constantly tweaking ideas qualifying them together.

What is your favourite TED talk and why?

Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do schools kill creativity?”. I can see, I’m not alone in this, 12.783.790 have also seen his talk. It’s a serious topic and he obviously has insight, but the thing is, he talks about it with humility and a great sense of humour. He is simply wonderful.

What/who inspires you – and why?

I have just been to London to hear the Mayor Sadiq Khan launch his visions for London, “Good Growth by Design”. This was quite something, not just because of the sheer scale of the challenges, no; it was the way he talked about his city.

He has a vision where he is committed to improving London by design, where he recognises that “place-shaping” requires a whole palette of skills. The City Hall has recruited 50 Mayor’s Design Advocates to support London’s public bodies in improving the quality of buildings, public spaces and introducing a Design Review Charter. I was inspired!

What did you feel, when you found out that you were going to do a TEDx talk?

I was chuffed to bits, very proud, but then I started thinking about all those impressive people and their inspired TED talks I had seen. I became quite humbled and daunted about the prospect and could see a steep path ahead.

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