A waste treatment plant you can ski down? Bjarke Ingels enjoys thinking big. Principal architect of Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), his projects have begun steadily appearing in major architecture journals, gaining critical attention and fame by daring to confront sustainability as not just a goal to be accommodated, but celebrated. By rigorously adopting the mechanics of energy, water, and environmental physics, design sustainability is used as a driver in BIG’s projects to create free-flowing and muscular forms that sustain, shelter, educate and inspire.
Ingels, speaking at a recent conference refers to this philosophy as “hedonistic sustainability“;
Architecture seems entrenched in two equally unfertile fronts: either naively utopian or petrifyingly pragmatic. We believe…[in a] fertile overlap between the two. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective.
Ingels’ solutions should inspire a new active role for policy makers and designers to rethink what it means to create sustainability.
The problem of designing a waste-recycling plant large enough to encompass Copenhagen’s present and future needs presented more than a problem of designing a 2- dimensional facade; The Amager Bakke plant is to be the largest building in Copenhagen, located in a central district. The solution lay in addressing yet another, seemingly unrelated problem. Copenhagen’s landscape is flat, and despite heavy snowfalls, an inconvenient distance from popular ski facilities in Sweden. Instead, BIG designed the treatment plant with social participation in mind. In providing energy from the city’s waste, a more multi-use public amenity would be created. The plant’s mass would be concealed as a ‘mountain’ and its roof would form 3 giant ski slopes.
Using energy from waste, humidifiers would pump snow to the roof. The ‘pollution’ (excess but largely non toxic smoke emitted from the plant) would be compressed into puffed light-display ‘smoke rings’, adding to a sense of play while visually representing 0.1 tonne of carbon in each ring. Commended by TIME as one of ’50 Best Inventions’ Ingels says it perefctly expresses his concept of hedonistic sustainability.
You take the symbol of the problem- the pollution, the chimney- and turn it into something playful…This is not only economically and ecologically sustainable, but also SOCIALLY sustainable because it turns a power plant into a park, and flat land into a manmade mountain for skiing.
In another of Ingels’ projects, as this stunning animation shows, BIG faced different challenges within the strict geometric confines of New York City’s high real estate values, building codes, and city blocks. As in his other projects however, Ingels addresses challenges creatively to form unique and appealing design solutions. BIG’s residential tower design for West 57th St, a 600 home apartment complex due to begin construction this year, is deliberately low-rise along its waterfront-facing perimeter. This form maximises available sunlight and preserves views for inhabitants of the rear adjoining complex also owned by the client developer.Rather than a lightwell invisible to the street, the building rises dramatically skywards- 400 feet- to its opposite corner. The dynamic pyramid-like form produced reveals the courtyard feature in the roof-face. Apartments are given individual expression by orienting each toward views from their distinct vantage points. The result is an exciting passive solar design which preserves amenity to adjoining structures while maximising available land space, sunlight, and distribution of available views. With its free form use of space the design will challenge the staid block-formations of a dense urban fabric to striking visual effect. The complex is due to be completed by 2015.
Sustainability is not about how much of our living standards we are prepared to sacrifice…it can’t be a moral problem or a political dilemna. It’s a design challenge.
Through ‘hedonistic sustainability’ the Bjarke Ingels Group presents a model for introducing design challenges as engines of innovation in modern architecture. Not only do these projects make economic and ecological considerations central, they create a place for joy aswell. That is BIG thinking ♦
BIGamy, which details the thinking behind BIG and Bjarke Ingels’ design process is a forthcoming book published by the Graham Foundation. Yes is More!, BIG’s 400pg archi-comic is availaible for download from iTunes.