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Architecture Monday

September 30, 2019

I found myself a bit miffed in that moment.  We’d walked from downtown Copenhagen and were now standing in front of the ski slope, and yet it was closed.  Gah!  Wait a minute you say… ski slope?  In flat Copenhagen?  In summer?  And you’re surprised?  Well, yes… for this ski slope is on top of a power plant.  Oh, ok… wait, what?

Let me back up.  The Amager Bakke, a waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen, was designed so that it forms a ski slope that is usable all year round, along with hiking trails, gardens, and an 85m tall climbing wall.  Turns out the reason I could not walk up its magnificent slope is because it was not yet complete – oops!  But it opens this coming weekend, and so in celebration tonight let’s visit this fantastical creation.

I’d known about the building before going to visit, of course (even if I was unaware that while it is in operation making power the rest of it wasn’t yet open).  What I didn’t realize was how prominent it is on the Copenhagen skyline.  From many places downtown you can see it in the distance, a shining oddity.  Given its visibility it’s great that so much work did go into making it something beautiful rather than something to be confronted with on the horizon.

Up close, the building is a marvel to behold.  Walking up to it was somewhat surreal, for much like my experience with La Grande Arche de la Defence it totally belies its scale until you get up close to it.  No mistake, this building is massive!  The spark for its design came when the architects studied the machinery that needed to be contained within and realized that you could arrange them in a way they could outline a wedge shaped building.  Copenhagen has plenty of cold in the winter, but no hills… why not use these requirements to make something fun for the city?

This is gimmick architecture par extraordinaire (and I don’t mean gimmick in a bad way here at all).   It’s a simple sculptural form, wrapped in a sinuous basket weave skin that gleams in the sunlight and with its white stack sailing upward as though hovering and only lightly tethered to the building.  A stack which, due to the cleanliness of the plant it mostly spits out water vapour, will be topped with a device that will blow out a ring of steam for every tonne of CO2 emitted.  It’s playful all around.

And little is more amusing than seeing the edge of a ski lift on top of a building!

Needless to say, I’m a fan.  This industrial endeavour was needed in the city, and there was no reason it couldn’t pull double duty and become not just a necessity but a boon, providing something great and new for the community while looking great at the same time.  Well done.

The Amager Bakke and Copenhill (the great name they’ve given to the ski slope!), by none other than BIG Architects.

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