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.
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.
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.
Superkilen. A public park carved out of the multi-cultural district of Nørrebro. This was a collaborative project done by BIG, Superflex, and Topotek1. The concept is a modern take on the universal garden. But instead of Greek ruins carefully curated in an English garden, this is a diverse, perhaps blatantly bizarre, collection of objects from around the world. These artifacts are intended to identify with the rich diversity of the neighborhood. Ranging from a large Moroccan fountain to a giant donut from Pennsylvania. I've read there is even an elephant slide from Chernobyl.
This is my second time seeing the park. What I find fascinating about it is that you approach the park through the dense urban core of Copenhagen, a city that is very muted in its color palette aside from the token image of Nyhavn. You seemingly turn a corner and are immediately blasted with an overwhelming amount of color in a unique void of the city. It is a diagram that is reality. This experience however, I found the park has aged.
The red quarter-pipe wall had graffiti all over it. The wall now has a new chain-linked fence to prevent people from falling or perhaps trying to climb it. The red paint is wearing off in areas of heavy traffic. The park was littered with make-shift skate park amenities. But this just proves it is still heavily used. On a cold, drab winter day the color shock offers a perfect contrast to jumpstart your day. It some how propels you to want to be active. I only wonder if they paint it to maintain the saturation?
I can't imagine this space working in many other cities. It's surrealism can come off as lavishly bizarre. Urbanistically, it benefits from being integrated with a bicycle highway. So it sees heavy traffic which warrants active public engagement. But ultimately the Danes cherish their public space. Culturally this city seems to embrace public space as an active experiment. They openly celebrate the unique character of Superkilen and demand more of their public space than simply a park and bench!