I have been absent for far too long because I moved to BIG's office for two months to work on a BIG + COBE competition. I was working long hours and could not afford the time to update my blog. The results of the international competition will be announced in August. Fingers crossed.
Herzog de Meuron's Elbphilharmonie. Conceptual design began in 2001. Construction began in 2006 and would take10 years more to complete. The crown jewel of the city built atop an existing warehouse on the harbor front. I have never knowingly visited a billion dollar building before now. And I have to admit I was seriously in awe. The building is beyond captivating. No matter what your immediate impressions of this building may be seeing it in photos, experiencing it in person was truly riveting. My eye was continually drawn to it as I moved through the city. The height and visual magnanimity of the roof line offers you glimpses of the building from afar drawing you in. I felt as though I could not comprehend what it even was. Building or mirage.
The undulating glass facade of the new addition lends itself to mirroring the sky. The draped roof line pivots toward the waterfront as if to emulate the motions of the shipyard cranes that define so much of the city. While the monolithic base justifies the new addition to emerge from the historic context of the red brick warehouse district. The concert hall is built atop the existing warehouse, Kaispeicher A, built in 1963. This building alone could be mistaken for an Aldo Rossi building. The proportion of window opening to brick facade completely distorts your initial understanding of scale. But this stark monotone character of the brick mass offers a complimenting contrast to the dancing form and glass facade above. The most convincing aspect of this building is the reveal between glass addition and brick podium, light and heavy. Which programmatically offers a public viewing deck around the entire building, overlooking the warehouse district and waterfront.
This post is only a draft. I bought a book that provides a detailed account of how this building was built that I intend to read and make edits to this post afterward. Part of the allure of this building for me is that I am overwhelmed with the amount of work put into this project. Trying to quantify all of the curved glass in the facade, portions of which fold into private balconies for the hotel rooms and apartments. It not only formally looks like the crown jewel, it glistens as such. The building is quite a spectical.
The building is open to the public during normal operating hours. You need only to stand in line for a free ticket to access the plaza level with the viewing deck. They do limit the number of people that can access the building at one time. The existing structure is largely a parking garage. To get to the public plaza, you have to take a long curved escalator that runs the length of the building. This passage is a white tiled and mirrored tube, delivering patrons to the entrance of the concert hall and public viewing deck. The plaza has these massive curved glass panels pictured above that pivot at the center to function as doors. I was not able to get into the concert hall, which is entirely CNC wood paneled. So perhaps I will get to return for performance someday.
One of the most notable projects in Ørestad is BIG's Mountain. This is another inventive take on a new housing typology. The housing units are stacked in a terraced form to provide a private rooftop balcony for every unit. These terraced balconies offer a generous amount of exterior space for an urban housing unit and during the spring and summer months the planters are lush with vegetation. The entire space below the terraced units is a public parking garage for residents of the building and the surrounding neighborhood. The building is called the Mountain both because of its built form and because it is clad with an image of Mt Everest. The image is created by a grid of perforated steel panels, generated from a high contrast image where each panel was custom water-jet cut with different densities of perforations.
The building offers a bit of comic relief as Denmark is known for it's lack of topography. This building is truly Denmark's only mountain. So naturally you must be able to climb it. Tucked behind the perforated facade is a public stair that wraps around the building and offers a vantage over the metro line back toward Copenhagen and Ørestad. This is also the best way to explore the building.
The parking garage is lavishly detailed. It is open-air and every parking spot is blanketed in a high textured black paint matt. Each floor is color coded with loud colors emblematic of BIG's aesthetic. The parking garage is terraced just reflecting the units above. There are playful graphics, an intentional graffiti on the concrete walls of mountain deer standing atop Ferraris. The housing typology reflects a single-loaded corridor, making all the units south-east facing.
Another lavish quality to this building is that it is the only building in the world that I am currently aware of that has a diagonal elevator, specially designed by Swiss engineers that specialize in building gondolas. This offers a unique, though expensive, answer to the challenge of circulation in a large scale terraced building. Thematically, all of BIG's projects feel as thought they are fully realized buildings in diagram form.
The 8 Tallet is one of the most sought out buildings by architectural enthusiasts visiting Copenhagen. So much so that at every entryway the building has a large plaque in several languages detailing the rules for visiting such a building. Because after all, people live here. Posted are the hours of visitation and a courtesy towards privacy if you venture through the building with your camera. The exterior stair is closed to visitors. But the ramp that climbs the extent of the building is accessible during the weekday from 10 - 4pm. It is a massive project with a lot to look at. It is also quite aways out there from the city. Pack a lunch or hit the 8 Tallet cafe if you venture to see this real diagram of a building.
I first saw this building in model form when I visited BIG's old office in 2008 with a study abroad program. I was an undergraduate then and BIG was not so big just yet. This building was just beginning construction. As I recall, the model was extensive, colorful and massive. The concept of the project as explained to me then was to create a housing typology where you could bike to your stoup from ground level even if your flat was on the top floor. It seemed like a wild idea at the time and it was just as wild seeing it in the flesh.
I still can't quite piece together how the spaces intersect. And I have coursed through the building's plans and sections. I would suggest approaching the building from the south. This vantage offers the token image you see in all the design blogs. There is a huge park just to the south of the project that is truly worth visiting. The contrast between wilderness to the 8 Tallet is extreme. The building has tremendous vistas to the south. If you approach the building from the north as I did, you get bogged down by all the other projects you see along the way. Go south for more drama.
The building is extremely complex, despite the diagram of the idea being so simple. I really appreciated the units meeting the slope at the ground level. It's an architectural wonder for sure. Perhaps not a typology that can be adopted anywhere else. But it is a triumph they built it as is and you can too easily read the initial diagram of the building.
Ørestad is a new-ish neighborhood in Copenhagen that is both an architectural wonderland and perhaps a telling urban experiment. Historically, Copenhagen's master plan for urban growth in the 1950's was centered around the Finger Plan. This was an urban strategy that identified potential districts that can extend well-beyond the urban core, or 'palm' shown in the diagram below and connect these suburban districts to the city center by five S-Train commuter lines.
Copenhagen is located on the East corner of Sjælland, the most populous island of Denmark. Sjælland is essentially equivalent to one third the landmass of the entire country. Copenhagen is centered on a canal. Amager is the smaller island that defines the East edge of the canal. Amager was largely undeveloped with exception of the North end of the island. CPH airport is located on the south end of the island near the bridge that connects Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen. Ørestad was envisioned as an extension to the Finger Masterplan in 1995 to seek urban expansion on the island of Amager. The district is centered around a raised metro line instead of an S-Train. First came the metro line, then came Fields, a massive mall and shopping center located at the end of the metro line, and then came large-scale urban developments along the edge of the metro. The area remains largely still in development. The district is home to BIG's 8Tallet and the Mountain, PLOT's (now JDS and BIG) VM Houses pictured above in the cover photo, and a number of other compelling architectural works. It is both an attraction for architectural tourism and parkour enthusiasts, but habitation for a healthy urban life is still up for debate.
At first glance, what is so striking about Ørestad is the scale of the buildings. They are considerably taller and more massive then what you find in central Copenhagen. What is fascinating as an American to come to Europe is to see how contemporary Architects respond to the rich historical context of these incredibly old cities. What is shocking about Ørestad is that it is an area with no existing context. It is a rare example of a vast new development in Europe where developers and architects are given a blank slate to work with. That is what makes it such a fascinating urban experiment to observe. While a number of the projects are token architectural works in themselves, it is not clear how the contribute to the broader urban condition. As a pedestrian at ground level the area is not inviting. There remains a lot of new construction that has yet to be finished. And I know that COBE has worked on the future masterplanning of a district of Ørestad, replacing massive storage buildings with much denser residential townhouses that will break down the rigidity of these massive housing blocks.
Despite the number of critiques I have read about Ørestad, there are some really interested examples of modern housing typologies. I have been really taken by the material and color pallet of the majority of new projects in Copenhagen. Ørestad Huset is a large housing block with really unique precast balconies that are designed to give the resident privacy. It makes for a dynamic facade of a building that otherwise has a much more modest material pallet. You find a lot of black brick paired with wood framed windows. Sejlhuset (elevation pictured above Ørestad Huset) is one of many Ørestad examples with operable facade components. The facade is some kind of charcoal panelling with aluminum framed windows, but they built an external galvanized steel frame that carries the balconies and operable panels for shading that gives the facade some depth.
I will strongly contend that Seattle has a lot it can learn from Copenhagen with regards to housing, material pallets, and color. Copenhagen is dark and dreary in the winter just as Seattle is, yet the city embraces modest, muted colors and materials. Seattle has fully embraced the yellows/browns/reds/green spectrum of color samples that are more reminiscent of 'barf and beans' in a poor attempt to make the city look more colorful and vibrant. The struggle is that colors lose their luster with time and weather. Also the city has to be more stringent on the color pairings they allow. It's something I honestly dread to come back to. The facade pictured above is a nice modest example of a building with some color and raw material.
Torpedohallen is a relic from the war turned housing. This structure was a naval shipyard that built submarines (aka torpedo boats, hence the name). Tegnestuen Vandkunsten won the housing project in an effort to preserve and feature the existing building. The concrete structure, metal trusses and the slipyard where the subs were launched are what remain of the existing building. The concept was to use the existing structural grid as the framework to plug in new housing units and carve a community alleyway or courtyard through the center. This alleyway is open to the public and terminates at the slipyard which is now repurposed as a community boat launch.
The courtyard is open air. The ground floor units have public porches and the units above have balconies that are suspended from the existing roof trusses. The material palette is really tasteful and blatantly industrial. The units are sided in corrugated galvanized steel, the windows are trimmed in cedar, and the base units are clad in some european hardy-board painted charcoal with button head fasteners. The stairs continue up the communal alleyway build over the parking garage below in section. There is a corten scupper that runs the length of the alleyway to cary stormwater to the cut.
This building is a dream for me. It is essentially all I have ever wanted from architecture. The project preserves a historical relic while reviving the true function of this utilitarian structure. Repurposed from a secured war machine to a public boat launch. While it remains a private residence, the architects made a deliberate choice to make the community alleyway and boat launch open to the public. Tegnestuen Vandkunsten is an older firm from the 1970s. The firm has been recognized receiving the Alvar Aalto Award in 2009. I plan to document another of their housing projects and my true hope is to see their house clad in seaweed in northern Denmark. They are yet another firm worth investigating while traveling to Denmark.
I am a self-proclaimed fanatic for maritime architecture. Especially considering that nearly all the projects I chose to pursue in graduate school were maritime related. So naturally, visiting BIG's Maritime Museum in Helsingør was basically a religious experience for me. This is the second time I have been to the museum, though this was the first time I actually toured the exhibit. The concept of this project was to preserve the historic dry dock by building the new museum around the monumental void. The museum is absolutely pertinent to the role of architectural preservation in post-industrial cities. This project is a powerful example of how modern architecture can carefully integrate with a post-industrial site contributing to the broader urban context without denying the historical significance of an architectural relic.
What is unique about this project is that the building is entirely sub-terranean. This quality adds to the exhibit about life as a mariner at sea. The interior spaces share the wall of the dry dock as you meander through the exhibit making it feel like you are walking around the hull of a ship. The building is not a striking object placed blissfully in the landscape. Certainly, the the angled volumes that pierce the dry dock are striking, but they are arguablly appropriate because they connect the public to the castle grounds on the ground level while offering vantages inside this industrial tomb.
With that said, this building is not without its faults. This is a modern architectural triumph that as all works have endured the torment of weather and age. Where this building has faltered is at the entry ramp. There is a notice given at the top of the ramp that 'all traffic must be conducted on the black (rubber) mat.' The reason is because the building is uniformly wrapped in aluminum siding which is slippery during the winter months of the year. Even the interior of the building is lined with the same aluminum paneling. It is quite stunning in most areas, except where it is used as a roofing material. What is also shown in the image above is that the panels have lifted at the corners. The rivets were losing their strength where the panels incurred water infiltration and the fix being used was of course duck-tape.
Another aspect of the project is the intention to use glazing with little to no mullions to allow the architecture to appear invisible against the backdrop of the historic site. To achieve this they used the glass as a structural element. Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture of the detail, but essentially they ran thick strips of glass perpendicular to the glazing wall at the seams to act as a T angle. I found two panels that had shattered and marked with caution tape, though they are tempered glass so they were intact. But I could not figure out what had happened that made these panels fail.
The current exhibit was 'sex at sea.' It was admittedly a dark exhibit. But I frequent all exhibits related to the maritime culture so clearly I would recommend making the trek to Helsingør when visiting Copenhagen. The city is beautiful and quaint with the Sweden to Denmark fairy line departing every half hour. Next to the museum is the Kronborg Castle which is referenced in Hamlet. The castle once tolled ships passage into the Baltic Sea. Sweden can be seen just across the waterway. Helsingøris only a 40min travel by S-Train from Copenhagen.