2 March 2011

BIG plans for 'Hedonistic Sustainability'

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has recently won first prize in a competition to replace a 40-year old incinertor operated by Amagerforbraending in Copenhagen. The practice is headed up Bjarke Ingels (1974) a Danish architect and the 2010 Laureate of The European Prize for Architecture. Scheduled to start in 2012 and be completed by 2016 the new waste and energy plant will add to the practice's growing portfolio of Copenhagen based buildings which already includes the VM Housing and the Mountain Dwellings (both started as PLOT and completed with JDS).

Exterior of the New Waste Treatment Plant (Image: Bjarke Ingels Group)
The project looks to tie together the two opposing sides of Amager - the factories and the residential areas - by considering Amagerforbraending not as an isolated object but as an architectural tool to "mobilize and intensify" the existing relationships. Many industrial areas of western cities are witnessing new, non-industiral, uses take hold within them and this area of Copenhagen is no different with a series of recreational activies reappropriating the area. A number of physically challenging sports already take place close to the site and the project looks to engage with these (including cable skiing, go-karting, sailing, and rock climbing) by providing an artificial ski slope on the roof scape of the new waste-to-energy plant. The end result has recently been described by Bjarke Ingels as being "hedonistic sustainability" as they "try to look at some different approaches where sustainable cities and sustainable buildings actually increase the quality of life" (New York Times).

Strategy Diagram for the three ski pistes (Image: Bjarke Ingels Group)

BIG acknowledge that that the internal volume of the plant is largely determined by engineering and technical criteria, with the primary structure having to be integrated with the machinery. However, they were determined that this should not be a building simply wrapped in a beautiful facade (reflecting a growing trend in Europe for waste incineration plants to be "highly designed works of urban architecture" - such as the Teeside Power Station) but should have added functionality. There were able to make a series of 'moves' to manipulate the form, including integrating the smokestack into the overal architecture of the plant and expanding the envelope to accomodate an administrative and visitor centre, and by adding an average of 10m of additional vertical structure across the roof, a new artifical ski slope, suitable for use all year round, can be created. Instead of a large empty roofscape a functional space is crafted to create new social opportunities that is a direct contrast to the energy intensive, indoor ski slopes. Due to the geometry of the roofscape over 1500m of ski runs can be created, accommodating a range of experiences across three slopes of different gradients. Additionally the envelope is constructed of a series planter modules, stacked like bricks, to give it a green facade.

Smoke ring highlighted at night (Image: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Whilst there is a growing awareness of 'environment issues' across the globe, with increased focus amongst media and politcal circles, it remains difficult for people to quantify the issues being discussed, in particular the impact on modern consumption on the environment. The proposal for the Amagarforbraending plant seeks to address this by engaging the public directly. One such engagement takes place in the elevator that takes skiers up to the slopes, with the elevator being adjacent to the smokestack and a glass wall offering glimpses into the internal workings of the plant. The other seeks to quantify exactly how much one ton of CO2 is produced by the plant through a simple modification of the smokestack. A chamber at the top of the smokestack colects '1 ton of fossil CO' before release it as a smoke ring into the air, Bjarke Ingels describes this as turning "the symbol of pollution into something playful". At night the smoke rings are transformed into glowing artworks through heat tracking lights that position lasers on the rings that can then displat graphical information such as CO2 levels as a pie chart. Undoubtedtly these gestures will serve as "gentle reminders" about "the impact of consumption" however it remains at present unclear exactly what '1 ton of fossil CO2' equates to or if this could, unintentionally, trivialise the issue. It is encouraging nonetheless that architects are engaging in the discussions about raising awareness of resorces consumption in a dynamic and engaging way.

The smoke rings can be seen rising above the plant (Image: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Amagerforbraending then represents the latest in socially, economically and environmentally engaged architectural projects that seek to create added valuye. Whilst the mixing of two seemingly incompatible typologys also represents the new interest in 'hybrid buildings'. As BIG put it themselves "now is the time to re-brand the factory".


Bjarke Ingels Group, 'AMF' [Online] [First Accessed 18th February 2011, 22:34]
New York Times, Green Blog, 'Skiing Your Way to 'Hedonistic Sustainability'' [Online] [First Accessed 18th February 2011, 22:35]