On Top Of Trash Mountain

Ten years ago, skiing in Denmark would have been a distant dream that many Danes would jump on an overpriced flight to Sweden or Norway thinking about. Today, this is less of a dream and more of a reality.

In October last year, Denmark got its very own mountain – one that you can ski on year-round. At first glance, it may look like a pixelated green carpet sitting atop a giant silver block. It kind of is. But more specifically, this is the one – the only – CopenHill – the world’s first waste-to-energy power plant and rooftop ski slope1. It’s also why this week, we find ourselves standing on a trash mountain.

Dragoer Luftfoto, 2019.

Back in 2011, the seed for this idea was first conceived by Bjarke Ingels – to create a power plant so clean that its building mass is able to become ‘the social life of the city‘ (Ingels, 2019). Eight years and $660 million later, it happened. As a fusion of design, technology, engineering and landscape, CopenHill is a lucrative showcasing of architectural capability and a lot of money. I have no idea what sort of wizardry it took to bring this project to life, but I can’t imagine it was easy.

As far as power plants go – we are aware of them, but usually from a distance. Here, we are quite literally standing on top of one. The plant will take 440 000 tonnes of waste per year and incinerate it to create energy, enough to supply about 150 000 homes with both heating and electricity2. Undoubtedly, this fits in with Copenhagen’s aims of becoming a carbon-neutral city by the year 2025 – which if achieved – will make it a world-first.

On the inside (Aagaard, 2019).
Hjortshoj, 2019.

Let’s talk about the facade. Eye-catching in the right ways, it is composed of both glass and aluminium bricks measuring 1.2 metre-high by 3.3 metres-wide that appear to be stacked on top of each other. Born from function and bred for beauty, the cool metal skin contrasts nicely with the sloping green rooftop. And just to take it up a notch, sitting on the longest vertical facade is also a climbing wall coming in at a casual 85 metres – happening to make it the tallest in the world3.

A burning question of mine was the ski slope itself. How? What about the snow? Colorado-based International Alpine Design – responsible for many ski resorts globally – played a fair hand in this. The artificial slopes offer a 400-metre downhill-run with a 180-degree turn at halfway – taking you on a smooth green descent from the 90m top of CopenHill. Interesting to learn too, was the machinery being arranged in order of height within the factory to allow for this sloping terrain to come to life4.

SLA’s Nordic wilderness (Ghinitoiu, 2019).

Those who aren’t particularly ski-inclined (including me) need not fear. In addition to the slopes, you will find a rooftop bar, crossfit area and exceptionally lush hiking trail designed by SLA as part of the journey that is CopenHill. Upon your ascent you will experience a miniature version of Nordic nature boasting plants, rocks, pines and willows – the picture of wilderness in a typically ‘unwild’ environment.

How much will it cost to make it to the peak? Nothing. Whether you opt for ski-lift, hiking trail or glass-elevator – there are no hidden costs on this mountain. Minus the Tuborg beer you’ll probably end up buying in the bar.

Copenhill in context (Ghinitoiu, 2019).

Ingels calls it ‘hedonistic sustainability‘ – and I just call it cool. You can call it whatever you want but there’s no denying that CopenHill shimmers in the distance as an architectural marvel. Whilst the smoke emitting pipe that sits on top might challenge the sustainability ideal, I still prefer the idea of burning trash over burning coal.

Labels aside, what I greatly admire – perhaps more than the design itself – is what it embodies. Something that could have become another piece of hidden infrastructure has been brought to the forefront of social life, sitting as a modern icon and pumping fresh blood through the veins of Danish architecture.

As designers, now is not the time to be pushing away the stuff we don’t want to see. It’s time to think about how we design our spaces, places and buildings in a way for the collective good.

1, 2, 3, 4: Bjarke Ingels Group, 2019. Amager Bakke. https://big.dk/#projects-arc

Cover: Lauren Ghinitoiu, 2019. Copenhill Hiking Trail
1: Dragoer Luftfoto, 2019. Copenhill from above.
2: Soren Aagard, 2019. Inside Copenhill.
3, 4: Rasmus Hjortshoj, 2019. Copenhill ski slope.
5, 6: Lauren Ghinitoiu, 2019. Copenhill Hiking Trail and Aerial Shot.

Sasha Spasic

Master of Landscape Architecture student trying to finish her thesis and stay sane.