Julien De Smedt and Bjarke Ingels consider architecture a Darwinian selection process among experimental models. A project never springs from an aesthetic; it emerges from the collision and fusion of the myriad contradictory forces of our society. Architects are mediators able to “co-ordinate, trace and edit” the energy contained in the social, political and commercial forces of our cities. It was this enthusiasm and creative exuberance that led the Belgian Julien De Smedt and the Danish Bjarke Ingels to found Plot in 2001, after they had worked together at Rem Koolhaas’ Metropolitan Office for Architecture.
Today Plot is considered one of the most promising European architect practices. It has dozens of briefs, and prestigious awards to its name, like the Venice Biennale Golden Lion for the best music room, and the AR+D Award for emerging architecture.
Plot has just received a honourable prize from the Swedish magazine “Forum” for the best nordic building. VM House, their largest completed project, is a residential complex in Ørestad, a recently urbanised neighbourhood just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. De Smedt and Ingels have distilled their research of the genre, reinterpreting Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, the modernist residence par excellence.
To avoid vis-à-vis with the house directly opposite, the straight housing block has been snapped in the middle to give each apartment a lateral view over the park. The whole building stands completely off the ground to provide an uninterrupted stretch of garden. Bending the structure does not just affect the outside; it produces a series of interior asymmetries that generate 76 different, single, duplex or triplex apartments. Most apartments are double-height to the north, while the south-facing balconies offer sweeping views. The Le Corbusier type central corridor has been turned into a covered thoroughfare - large, luminous and designed for socialisation. The second building has also been bent, this time to create an ‘M’. Every apartment gains in luminosity and views as a result.
Once the outside structure was established, the next step was to “customise” the interiors. De Smedt and Ingels were determined to provide optimum baseline conditions for interior spatial organisation. ”The first thing people do when they go into a new home”, says De Smedt, “is knock down walls.
We have done exactly the opposite of what developers usually do in a certain market segment: we started with an open environment, so everyone can divide it up as they want”.
Following the successful sales of VM House, De Smedt and Ingels proposed designing another building, named OL, in the adjacent plot originally designated as a parking lot. Here too the initial idea is simple, ironic and uncluttered: a sloped, 11 storey parking garage, with apartments sitting on the garage roofs. A hillside of residential villas, OL House aims to provide suburban living with urban densities. Again the process is a symbiotic blend of diverse and contrasting functions. All apartments have hanging gardens, ample views and a car park just outside the door, right up to the 10th floor. The building, planned for completion in May, heralds another ambitious Plot project that will define the urban character of southern Ørestad.
“Designing”, concludes De Smedt, “is more like being a curator than a creator; it’s more a question of selecting and combining products, and objets trouvés”. At Plot, the architect is a mediator, interpreting land-use requirements by selecting and juxtaposing different materials and industrial products.