Unique in their appearance as the letters “V” and “M” from an aerial point of view, the VM Houses, a set of two adjacent buildings by JDS Architects and Bjarke Ingels Group was the first residential project in the still-developing quarter of Ørestad in Copenhagen, Denmark. The project has a total area of 25,000 m2, divided equally between the two buildings, and it was designed with giving precedence to aspects like daylight, views and privacy. VM Houses by BIG is critically acclaimed and widely popular for its design considerations and the shape and arrangement of the two buildings, having won various awards for its design.
In the following sections, some unique, unknown aspects of the project will be detailed out.
VM Houses was the first major achievement for ‘PLOT’, an architectural practice set up in 2001 by Bjarke Bundgaard Ingels together with his Belgian OMA colleague Julien de Smedt. The project garnered them both the Forum AID Award for the best building in Scandinavia in 2006. They completed the “M” building with 95 units in 2004, and the “V” building, with 114 units, in 2005. Ingles himself lived in the complex before moving into the adjacent Mountain Dwellings in 2008.
Inspiration From Le Corbusier
VM Houses has been inspired by Unite d’ Habitation by Le Corbusier, the typology of which has been reinterpreted and improved especially in shortening of the long corridors to allow entry of natural light from both sides, almost like bullet holes penetrating the building. The “M” building has especially been dubbed the Unite d’ Habitation version 2.0 where instead of designing narrow flats surrounded by huge dead-end corridors, the zig-zag shape of this building ensures all corridors have views and ventilation from both sides.
‘VM’ took a shape that supported an initial representation of an easy square, because the terrain was built bordered by two canals, along with a box at the top of every building and also a common area in the centre. To allow all departments to benefit from both the landscape and the sun coming through the yard, BIG angled the first building ‘M’ in a way that guaranteed a different approach way for the second. The perimeter of the blocks is clearly defined by their four corners, but inside they are open along the sides. Every unit has optimum ventilation, light and views altogether. The triangular projected balconies stand like rows of shark teeth on the side. The two buildings are placed face to face with each other as if the arms of the “M” building want to embrace the “V” building.
Uniqueness Of Planning
Both the “V” and “M” buildings have the same total areas of 12,500 m2, their unique shape and natural light and ventilation considerations have to lead to two completely different layouts where out of the total 225 units in both the buildings, more than 80 are unique in their plans. “M” building has a total of 95 units are divided into 36 different departments and in the case of the “V” building, 114 units are divided into 40 different departments. The more than 80 different types of apartments in VM Houses by BIG are programmatically flexible and open to the individual and exclusive needs of contemporary life and can be described as a mosaic of different life forms.
Form And Façade
In VM Houses, the entire front of the building is covered by a glass curtain wall which makes the interiors visible from the outside, as if it were a dollhouse, but it is aesthetically stunning. The triangular balconies and projections designed on the facades of the buildings have not been incorporated simply as a façade treatment but were constructed to permit passage of abundant natural light and ventilation in every home, without compromising the vision on other balconies. BIG has mentioned in interviews that the doubling of forms helps in opening up to the two channels which ensures that the apartments are all oriented towards the landscape instead of looking at each other and have privacy. In the “M” building, one can see the appearance of rare forms like “boomerangs” and geometric shapes that are not generally taught in schools.
In VM Houses, the ground floor supported on piles has a geometry that starts from a square divided into two blocks, offering spaces that have been closed to be used as a reception for various services, for parking or storing bikes and bicycles. The built forms are naturally lighted and ventilated with the provision of access to views from the triangular balconies and all these characterize the facade facing towards South direction. It ensures that natural light falls on the courtyard during both morning and evening. The design gives movement breaks to what would otherwise be dense straightness within a given species of crystalline light refraction and circulation.
The zigzagging “M” building ensures that each one of the corridors receives daylight and have access to beautiful views from both directions. These openings transform circulation into a beautiful social space. For the southern façade that faces the park, a wedge-shaped replacement sort of balcony that mixes minimum shade with maximum cantilever was designed. On warm summer afternoons, the walls of balconies form a vertical backyard kind of open space that creates connections to neighbours in a vertical radius of 10m. As a result of the zigzagging, stepping, sloping in the design and the intricate circulation, the VM Houses are populated by a swarm of unique apartments. The different multilevel apartments are arranged to interlock in complex compositions on the façade, making the building exteriors look like a three-dimensional game of “Tetris”.
The “M” building
This block of VM Houses is oriented towards the North direction. The diagonal slab from the centre, utilized in the “V” building, has been divided into smaller portions for this building. The individual terraces for all the apartment units have been designed on the peripheries of the complex. Access to the different departments is completed from a central corridor that runs through the entirety of the building and creates connections with the elevators and stairs, working as a community space where neighbours can meet and children can play. Going down the step, one can access the communal terrace. Each individual apartments is characterized by the interaction of the corresponding rooms, with double-height studios near the kitchen and a living room with large open areas that can be decomposed into smaller naturally lit spaces and penthouses. Instead of the standardization, the various departments are designed as units of loft spaces, each different in both breadth and height, giving residents the freedom to design their homes uniquely and according to their needs. The construction of this 12,500 m2 building was completed in 2004.
The “V” Building
This block of VM Houses faces the direction opposite of the “M” building, which means it faces the South. Privacy is provided to each unit by pushing the slab in its centre, ensuring diagonal views to the vast open country around. All the apartments present in this building have double-height spaces on the north and a bird’s eye view of the perimeter. Access to the apartments is thru a gateway that connects the outer corridor to the three stairs or elevators, each of which is positioned at each end and within the breakdown of the letter “V” that the whole building is shaped like.
Materials And Decorations
The buildings in VM Houses have been constructed with large glass facades framed with luxurious wood, metals like aluminium and steel and also concrete, materials which are both simplistic and exquisite. The departments have solid oak floors and hard dark wood and steel lattice protections have been used in the balconies. The walls and ceilings in some places show the usage of white concrete and every one of the interior stairs along with the steel railings have also been painted white. Glass has been used to make all the exterior walls of the buildings. The walls of the inside corridors, providing access to the homes, have painted with bright colours like pistachio green, red or orange and one side of the door stand out vertically due to fluorescence. The exteriors of the home are clad in floating panels of anodized aluminium. A huge mural made from standard tiles and donated by one of the promoters working on the project, Per Hopfner, decorates the doorway on the bottom floor.