Copenhill by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group)

Copenhill Amager Bakke by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group)

Unbelievable. Despite the fact, that I’ve been talking about Copenhill and its future rooftop for years, now that it’s open, it surprises me every time I climb it. How unlikely was it to realise a ski slope on a power plant?!

Copenhill is…

Copenhill is many things. It’s pure and sustainable energy, it’s cutting edge high tech, it’s business, it’s bold, it’s controversy, it’s a visionary vessel for hope for the future, and it’s a public space, so unique and spectacular that it could easily be dismissed as a hallucination of a crazy person.

… not (that much of) a ski slope.

Ironically, I feel that among the many things that Copenhill is, a ski slope is far down on the list. Admittedly, it’s the best one in Denmark – but competition is non-existing! The slope is 450 meters long and only a few days every year will there be snow on it. So you’ll be skiing on the best alternative to the real thing, a plastic ‘dry skiing’ surface.

However, I state this as a fact more than as a negative critique. Because the quality of skiing is not the important issue. The important issue is, that Copenhill suggests a drastic change of approach to sustainability as a phenomenon. We are so used to think about sustainability as a show stopper, with all the fun things we ought to give up. Flying, eating steaks, having kids…

No wonder, we are inclined to just carry on and leave it to someone else to sacrifice their quality of life in the name of sustainability.

Hedonistic Sustainability (say what?!)

hedonistic (adjective)
Engaged in the pursuit of pleasure; sensually self-indulgent.
“a hedonistic existence of booze, drugs, and parties”
Similar: self-indulgent, indulgent, pleasure-seeking, pleasure-loving, sybaritic, lotus-eating, epicurean, luxurious, unrestrained, intemperate, immoderate, overindulgent, excessive, extravagant, fast-living, sensual, voluptuous, decadent
Opposite: ascetic

With his concept of ‘hedonistic sustainability’, Bjarke Ingels is turning things upside down. He suggests that our current climate emergency is more than the threat of an apocalypse any minute. It could also present new opportunities for a smarter and even more attractive way of life. And the Copenhill is the perfect showcase for that concept. As a single project, Copenhill will, of course, not save the planet. But as an example, that there are ways to be sustainable AND have fun, it could inspire a more hopeful and innovative way forward.

More than a ski slope, it’s a public space, offering public access to the highest point within tens of kilometers. Skiing costs, but an elevator and two long stair climbs take everyone to a height of 85 meters for free. Furthermore, the side of the building now features the world’s highest (man-made?) climbing-wall. And there are learning facilities for school classes and others with an interest in cutting edge waste handling and energy production.


No need to say, technology is going through a fast-paced development. So in the decade between the conception of the idea and the startup of power production, a financial crisis (lower consumption) and increased recycling (less waste for burning) means less waste than projected. And thus the facility is short of waste, and consequently imports garbage from other Danish cities and even from the UK. Maybe (hopefully?), this DKK investment of public money will turn obsolete much sooner than anyone had anticipated.


With a very positive impression of the conceptual qualities of the project (and with the almost trivial reservations towards most of BIG’s projects: lack of attention to detail and material), there are still two ‘stumblings’ that bother me. On is very literal, the other visual:

  1. The concrete stair flights all the way up, on each side of the ski slope, are maybe designed with runners in mind (or with nothing in mind). They are not made for walking, as every other step is 1½-length, and you have to pay extra attention just to stay on your feet.
  2. And worse (because I can’t come up with any explanation for this): the outside run of stairs break off from the ski slope to land on ground level with a small distance to the slope. That means a fence is put up to prevent access outside of opening hours. This just seems so unnecessarily careless that this mindblowing grand vision greets its visitors with 200 meters of standard fences. Details and corners on and around the building are yet to be finished, but I don’t really see how this could be one of them.


With these few reservations, there’s only one possible conclusion: get there first thing! And whether you’ll go skiing or not, you’ll experience something truly extraordinary and the more you consider it – unbelievable!

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