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How does contemporary life constantly evolve and change? It is through this understanding that Bjarke Ingels and the BIG group are reinventing urban futures with a process they call ‘programmatic alchemy’.
In short this means mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, working, parking and shopping, hitting the fertile overlap between pragmatic and utopian. By embracing both the pragmatic and the (im)possible, BIG is finding the freedom to change the surface of the planet to better fit contemporary life forms.
Danes love skiing. But here’s the problem — Denmark is a pretty flat country. To be able to ski Danes have to take a four-hour flight to Sweden’s Isaberg get to a decent slope. The Nordic country’s geographic challenge is a problem to many, but was an inspirational opportunity for Ingels, the globally acclaimed architect.
Power stations work on economies of scale, so they have to be big. As a result they are huge, ugly edifices with smokestacks. In Denmark, many power stations are fuelled by garbage so when Ingels’ architectural company, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), was asked to bid on creating a new facade for one, he came up with a novel solution.
Ingels had a flash of inspiration while visiting the power site and observing some people waterskiing nearby. Instead of trying to hide the power station behind a facade, why not turn this huge building into a ski slope? This wouldn’t be about hiding something ugly, but creating something that would provide a talking point and a valued feature on the Copenhagen skyline?
BIG’s winning, innovative design creates a ski slope all the way round the power station to the ground. In winter the natural snow is supplemented with artificial snow. There is a lift all the way to the top, and there are three levels of ski run difficulty, from expert to easy. Uneven ‘terrain’ is built in, with half-pipes and rocks. One side of the building boasts what BIG describes as “the tallest climbing wall in the country.”
There are also walking trails and places for picnics, with grass and pine trees. The plant is designed to be the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world: the smokestack only emits steam and carbon dioxide. So Ingels has added a whimsical touch: the smokestack will be modified to blow smoke-rings.
“I think maybe this smoke-ring is a good symbol of what architecture is all about,” Ingels told an audience at the WIRED by Design event late last year. “It has this element of world-changing, that you take something that is a wild idea, like pure fiction, and then you suddenly turn it into hard fact. When we came with this idea everybody thought ‘that’s insane’, but in 2017, that’s just how it is,” enthuses Ingels, adding: “So in a way, architecture at its best is the power to make the world a little bit more like our dreams.”