Genius or Gimmick? Bjarke Ingels’ ski-slope-topped power station in Copenhagen

Place: Copenhagen, Country: Denmark
Architectural Design: BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

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The CopenHill waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen by Bjarke Ingels Group; photo by Aldo Amoretti.

Genius or Gimmick? Bjarke Ingels’ ski-slope-topped power station in Copenhagen

After a nine-year-long process, the opening of the CopenHill power plant designed by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group on the island of Amager in Copenhagen is making a lot of noise.
Why the construction of a waste-to-energy facility is attracting so much attention from newspapers and magazines from all over the world?
Despite BIG’s efforts to make “architecture” out of a type of buildings often considered purely utilitarian and uninspiring, there has been only one reason: the ski slope.

Indeed, the Danish architecture firm used the long inclined roof of the plant, required for technical reasons, to create an artificial ski slope. The skiing facility – 85 meters high, 400 meters long and covered with special synthetic matting which makes it usable all year round – stands out against the flat countryside on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
To complete the picture, BIG also added a giant climbing wall, a ski lift, a half-kilometer-long “alpine” trail lined with fir-trees running up to the building top, and an après-ski bar located at the bottom of the slope.

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Bjarke Ingels CopenHill waste to energy power plant Copenhagen ski slope 06

The ski slope (photo Rasmus Hjortshoj), and the alpine trail leading to the top of the slope (photo Laurian Ghinitoiu).

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Schematic view of the sloped roof; image BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

The idea popped into Bjarke Ingels’ mind after noting that Copenhagen’s people were willing to make long travels to get to some kind of ski resort (Denmark is not renowned for its breathtaking mountains) and that the area, once filled with industrial plants now largely dismissed, has been spontaneously colonized by leisure and sports facilities.
In the 2010 competition project, BIG also designed the chimney to blow smoke rings; yet, it soon became clear that the amount of vapor required for the effect would have been excessive.

After the center’s public opening on October 4, 2019, reactions to the “invention” have been rather variegated; some praise it as a bright and subversive idea, while others consider it just a gimmick intended to impress foolish people. For example, Rowan Moore wrote on The Guardian that the project is “an emblem of a culture of why-not and because-you-can that currently pops up in a number of modern cities”.

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Photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu

Yet, this €500M project contains much more than its recreational part.
First, it was aimed to make an iconic building out of a 41,000-square-meter incinerator. There have been other similar attempts – the waste-to-energy power station of Bozen, van Egeraat’s Martin Biopower in Roskilde, and the power plant designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen in Shenzen, for example – but the visual power of BIG’s building sets it apart.

The huge wedge-shaped construction is clad by hundreds of aluminum “blocks”, stacked on one another like giant Lego bricks, which encase the underlying steel and reinforced concrete structure to give the building a unified look.
At the same time, its spiraling shape dynamizes an enormous construction that could otherwise look squat and stocky.

A second objective was to publicly showcase the center’s waste-to-energy process – one of the most efficient in the world, capable of digesting 440,000 tons of waste a year to fulfil the energy and heating needs of 150,000 homes in Copenhagen – both through a glass-walled elevator providing the visitors of stunning views of the monumental machinery inside and including a 600-square-meter education facility. The idea, quite commendable, was to “open” to the public a structure which they commonly regard as secluded and inaccessible.

Though the ski slope addition looks a bit gratuitous, there is little doubt that both BIG and the client achieved the result they were looking for. On the one hand, they focused the public attention on the project as a whole, on the other hand, they were able to transform a “prosaic” technological plant into a matter of discussion and debate.

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Bird’s eye view, photo by Laurian Ghinitoiu

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An interior view of the waste-to-energy plant’s boiler room from the glass-walled elevator; photo Søren Aagaard

Bjarke Ingels CopenHill waste to energy power plant Copenhagen ski slope section

Bjarke Ingels CopenHill waste to energy power plant Copenhagen ski slope plan

Longitudinal section and roof plan; images BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

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Image Dragoer Luftphoto.


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