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The Mountain Employs Passive Design

Credits: ©2011 BIG Architects

The Mountain is an urban housing development in Copenhagen that merges two-thirds parking with one-third residences. All apartments face the sun for passive solar design, sunlight, fresh air and views, with sun-facing roof gardens. It began with two different clients: one requested a parking garage to serve several of the apartment blocks in the area. The other requested a housing block. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) architects came up with a plan to stack the two programs, burying parking below and giving the housing magnificent views of the city with direct solar access. They created a “mountain” of 20,000 m2 parking as the escalating foundation for 10,000 m2 of terrace houses: a mountainside of single-family homes resting upon the colorful foundation of contemporary car culture. The roof gardens consist of a terrace and a living garden irrigated by a large rainwater watering system. The gigantic parking area contains 480 parking spots with a sloping elevator that moves along the mountain's inner walls. The north and west facades are covered by perforated aluminum plates, which let air and light into the parking area. The holes in the facade form a huge reproduction of Mount Everest. Completed in 2008, The Mountain dwellings appear as a suburban neighborhood of garden homes providing suburban living with urban density. (Scroll to bottom for additional resources)


The Mountain 8th Floor Plan

The eighth floor plan for the The Mountain, a housing and parking development in Copenhagen. ©2011 BIG Architects

Making a Mountain
Bjarke Ingels adds a high-altitude feature to Copenhagen’s flat landscape

By Kimberly Bradley, Metropolis Magazine, December 2008

Between downtown Copenhagen and the outer district of Ørestad, the cityscape morphs from quaint to blandly suburban. Nondescript office parks, a shopping center, and housing projects emerge in the south of the Scandinavian capital. But then an unusual form pops out of the flat Danish landscape: a stack of chalets seems to scale the side of an errant metal ridge. These are the Mountain Dwellings, and their architect, Bjarke Ingels, calls them “a true hybrid project.”

The distinctive facades to the north and west—bearing a sweeping photorealistic image of snowy Himalayan peaks etched into perforated raw-aluminum plates—conceal a parking garage for 480 vehicles. Topped with 80 blocky apartments that diagonally descend 11 stories to ground level, the artificial summit, which was completed last summer, is a brilliant response to two completely different directives. After the success of the adjacent VM Houses (one of Ingels’s early projects, done in 2005 in collaboration with his former partner, Julien de Smedt, now of JDS Architects), the developer, Per Høpfner, wanted to construct another apartment building. When he discovered that a parking company was planning a garage on the lot he had in mind, Høpfner arranged to be the contractor for both projects. He turned to Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG, to merge the two programs on the 86,000-square-foot site. Stacked on an angle, the upper third is now devoted to housing, and the lower two-thirds are parking for both Mountain and VM residents. “It is a symbiotic relationship rather than an unfriendly neighborship,” says the 34-year-old architect, whose Copenhagen-based firm, established three years ago, employs 60 people.

This is symbiosis with a serious edge and plenty of contrasts. The “mountainside” exteriors are industrial and jagged, but the southeast-facing side looks warm and livable. Harking back to Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67—Ingels is a fan of Safdie’s early work—the apartments are clad in untreated hardwood and sport large private terraces lush with greenery. “The materials have been chosen to accelerate the schizophrenia,” Ingels says. “There is a contemporary urban side in aluminum with megaphotos and psychedelic colors, and a superorganic suburban side with wood, turf, and ivy.”

Inside, the slanted ceiling of the airy, double-height parking garage (what Ingels has called “the cathedral of car culture”) is painted in a bright rainbow of Panton hues. “It’s blue on top for the sky, going to green on the bottom for the earth,” Ingels says. “That’s very literal, but I like the literal.” The mountain metaphor continues with a Swiss-made funicular, or mountain railway, that connects the garage to the residential hallways—a practical solution that replaces what would otherwise have been 11 elevators.

Angling the residences above the parking provided the same benefits as building on a natural incline: access to greenery, fresh air, and unobstructed vistas. “Copenhagen is mostly flat, so if you want a nice southern slope with a view, you have to do it yourself,” Ingels says. The design also offers more practical, energy-saving advantages: the parking area’s height encourages natural ventilation, and the large southeast-facing windows optimize light and passive solar energy; even the planters, which are positioned to block direct views between apartments, collect rainwater to irrigate plants during the drier season.

If the glassy VM Houses are about openness, then the Mountain Dwellings are an exercise in privacy. “It’s like a thesis and anti¬thesis,” Ingels says. This October the Mountain Dwellings won the World Architecture Festival’s award for housing, but the jury’s main criticism—that Ingels seems to have “thrown all the ideas that have passed through his head for ten years into the scheme”—doesn’t appear to have fazed him. Down the road in Ørestad, BIG’s next project has already broken ground. It’s another mixed-use collaboration with Høpfner, whose vision seems to be just as grand as Ingels’s. “Normal developers don’t dare to take risks,” Høpfner says. “But our aim is to make a spectacular building.” With more than 500 housing units atop commercial spaces, the 8 House is an outsize manifestation of its namesake numeral. Sloping stairs and bike paths snake around the facade, and the plan features plenty of common space where residents and shoppers are meant to intermingle. It’s exactly the type of encore one would expect from an architect whose motto is “Yes is more.”

Parking Garage
The parking garage contains parking spots for 480 cars. The space has up to 16 m high ceilings, and the underside of each level of apartments is covered in aluminum painted in a distinctive colour scheme of psychedelic hues which, as a tribute to Danish 1960s and '70s furniture designer Verner Panton, are all exact matches of the colours he used in his designs. The colours move, symbolically, from green for the earth over yellow, orange, dark orange, hot pink, purple to bright blue for the sky. Besides being a sloping podium for the residential units to sit on, maximizing sunlight and views, the central garage space also serves as an atrium containing the building's circulation, affording the only access to the apartments. A set of metal stairs climb through the main space over the parking lot, providing access to the hallways across suspended industrial-looking metal-clad concrete connections, while a Swiss-manufactured, ski lift-style inclined elevator moves along the wall of the garage. Each level's hallway is enclosed and encased in painted metal both on the interior and exterior, colored according to floor in the same hues used in the main space.

The Apartments
The sloping roof is covered with a single layer of 80 penthouses. Each apartment has an L-shaped floor plan and a terrace and small garden outside, located on the roof of the in-front, lower-level apartment. The design is inspired by suburban rowhouses developments. The L-shape flor plan in combination with a small courtyard was inspired by Jørn Utzon's Kingo Houses north of Copenhagen. The facades of the apartments towards the gardens are clad in untreated wood to increase the organic and calm feel of the setting.

Himalayan panorama

The northern and western facades of the parking garage depict a 3,000 m² photorealistic mural of Himalayan peaks. The parking garage is protected from wind and rain by huge shiny aluminum plates, perforated to let in light and allow for natural ventilation. By controlling the size of the holes, the sheetings were transformed into the giant rasterized image of Mount Everest. The picture is based on a photo commissioned from a Japanese Himalaya photographer, though it had to be stretched to fit the proportions of the site.


BIG Architects (Bjarke Ingels Group) (Denmark)

Bjarke Ingels PodCast on The Mountain

Bjarke Ingels TED Talk Video