Making a mountain in Copenhagen is the sort of provocation you would expect of Bjarke Ingels. It’s surely what’s needed to break the monotony of the ever-wider sprawl of suburban maisonettes that blanket the flat Danish capital. It may also be the way to create greater density while giving every dwelling a view. But as with all BIG projects, it’s not just in-your-face counterculture: it’s a pragmatic architectural execution of a developer’s brief.
Mountain Dwellings (MTN) is the natural follow-on from a residential complex called VM*, a landmark regeneration project for the Ørestad neighbourhood south of Copenhagen. Completed in 2005, VM was one of the first programmes to come out of PLOT - and one of its last before the practice split in 2006 into two independent groups: BIG and JDS Architects, the later headed by Julien De Smedt.
The underlying principles behind the VM project - occupier input on apartment layout and forms that ensure decent views from every dwelling - are the DNA of this project too. But unlike these two residential buildings, MTN had a further constraint: one-third of the area had to be housing and two-thirds parking space.
BIG took the requirement pretty literally, concluding that a parking lot topped by houses would be better than two separate buildings. The whole complex could then be sloped on the south side so that every apartment would have a garden with a view and space for the family car by the side of the house.
The dwellings with garden are set on graded terraces that slope from the 12th to the 1st floor. Even if each complies with the standard 10x10 metre grid, there are some 42 different apartment ground plans, allowing for customised layouts to accommodate different needs. Despite the complexity of the building, the immediate impression is one of naturalness. Every garden is bordered by a wide flowerbox whose plants will soon inundate the building, providing privacy but also making this artificial hillside all the more natural.
The natural look is reinforced by full-span sliding glass doors on all façades giving onto gardens, providing the impression of practically uninterrupted depth.
Contrasting with the open terraced façades, the north and west elevations are clad in perforated aluminium plates. In an ironic reference to mountains, the holes in the façade form a huge, full-height reproduction of Mount Everest. Inside the mountain are 10 floors of parking space, each floor a different colour and often of monumental proportions - in some cases the ceiling height is as much as 16 metres.
The two key features of the vast suburban sprawl around - a private garden and car space alongside the house - are here combined in a single project whose density allows cost- and especially spatial efficiency. It has limited the need to encroach on the remaining available land. The building is linked to the city centre by an underground railway, making car ownership almost superfluous.
MTN is an alternative model that could set a trend. It is no surprise that the project has already won several awards like the 2009 MIPIM Best Residential Developments Award, the 2009 Forum AID Award, and is a finalist for the prestigious Barcelona Mies van der Rohe Award.
What is surprising about Bjarke Ingels is the effortless ease with which he comes up with innovative solutions in answer to client requirements. His formal solution is generated directly from what other architects would consider a constraint, a snag to some how force into a predefined form. BIG sets in motion a process that could be called “radical pragmatism” whereby every programme requirement is used to generate forms and thought patterns that step outside the box.
*The Plan 013, March 2003