The realm of architecture in Denmark took a revolutionary turn with the advent of BIG Architects, headed and founded by Bjarke Ingels – a local Danish architect with radical and inspiring concepts that changed the way Denmark went about building structures. His ideas have always been different, unique, and an amalgamation of two extremes of concept theory – Avante-garde out of the box theories welded with functional aesthetic. In his own words, Ingels aims to create a pragmatic, utopian architecture that can help create spaces that are “socially, economically, and environmentally perfect”, for lack of a better word.
A prime example of this philosophy can be seen in the construction of the famous 8 House, built by Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG, for their third commissioned project in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. Following the successful VM Houses and the Mountain, the 8 House is a mixed-use development built in the neighborhood of Orestad, consisting of commercial and office spaces, coupled with three different typologies of residential units.
The 61,000 square meter bow-tied development amassed the area as the largest development undertaken in Denmark at the time, and the reason for this large expanse of the land area was due to the concept of an “urban neighborhood” instead of a traditional box-like apartment. The brief given to BIG Architects was to amalgamate the housing next to each other in a low-cost methodology. Ingels wanted to create the development to mimic his historical city, thus intimating the design of row houses in the bottom two levels, and having their facades designed by a different team of architects entirely to showcase the historic reflection of Denmark in this “urban neighborhood”.
However, the way they approached it was as radical as any of their previous projects. Instead of simulating the row houses next to each other and getting a “fake difference” with the facades, which were ultimately only on a continuous homogeneous building, BIG proposed to stack the different typology of the units, like an “urban layer cake” where the commercial and office units are placed on the ground floor to have maximum exposure to the street level crowd, followed by two levels of row houses at the top, with a garden and wide pathway all along their perimeter, followed by apartments and then penthouses. This method of stacking aimed to induce the feeling of a classic Danish neighborhood at every level of the 8 House.
However, the brief also mentioned the need for a direct passage between the east and west ends of the development, thus this four-sided block was turned into an 8 shape by adding a knot in its center, which gave way to the making of two separate new interior courtyards, and a direct east-west corridor for the users. This 9-meter wide passage gave users a direct passage from the park to the canals inside the 8 House.
Furthermore, the south-western part of the development is pushed to the bottom to provide that part of the apartment complex a nice view of the Amager Common, which is a large natural reserve in south Copenhagen. Simultaneously, the north-east part of the building was pushed up so that the residents in the opposite corner of the 8 House could also enjoy a nice view of the natural reserve. This distortion was done to optimize the sunlight and daylight levels to the maximum capacity for every part of the 8 House.
Additionally, the perimeter pathway around the houses acting as their “outdoor garden” was also distorted, now acting as a “mountain slope” or a “bicycle track” that could be used by the residents to traverse the entire development without any obstacles in the way. This is side by side with the famous Green Roof which won BIG an award from the Scandinavian Green Roof Association in October 2010. It has also won the Utzon Prize for its innovative use of concrete for the structural integrity of the complex.
The center of the 8 House, where the 8 crosses itself, is where all the communal and public facilities have been placed, such as common rooms, guest apartments, lounges, and many more. From the shopping centers at the bottom-most level to the penthouses and their roof gardens, the 8 House has acted as a single architectural amalgamation of plazas, stepped streets, courtyards, and mountain pathways. In Ingels’ own words, the 8 House “allows the city’s social life to invade higher altitudes”.
“8 House is a three-dimensional neighborhood rather than an architectural object. An alley of 150-row houses stretches through the entire block and twists all the way from street level to the top and down again. Where social life, the spontaneous encounter, and neighbor interaction traditionally is restricted to the ground level, the 8 House allows it to expand all the way to the top,” Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner, BIG.