In January, we brought you an exclusive on Bjarke Ingels’s wacky plan to design a trash incinerator that doubles as a ski slope in his native Denmark. He billed the project as a paragon of “hedonistic sustainability.” But now comes news that the whole thing is perhaps more hedonistic than sustainable. Yesterday, several design blogs reported that the city of Copenhagen scrapped the proposed Waste-to-Energy plant because--wait for it--it’d damage the environment.
Whoops.Here’s the thing. The project isn’t actually dead. At least not yet. Copenhagen’s City Council still has to vote it up or down. “The power plant is a inter-municipal collaboration between Copenhagen city--the main owner--and four other municipalities,” Ingels told Co.Design in a phone interview from Beijing late yesterday. “All other municipalities have voted and approved the project. Copenhagen City Council has a vote coming up December 15.”
What has happened is that the department handling Copenhagen’s infrastructure and urbanism recently came out against Ingels’s proposal--"completely against expectations," Ingels says. It’s worth noting that the department isn’t taking issue with the particulars of the architect’s design. (Who would hate on a ski slope?) It’s the fundamental conceit: The proposed plant--a replacement of an existing facility--would burn waste to generate heat and electricity. According to Politiken, a Danish newspaper, it could raise emissions from 140,000 to 200,000 tons of CO2 a year. So city officials want to slash the incinerator’s capacity in half and instead focus on recycling waste.
“What they’re saying is a bit like peeing their pants to get warm in the cold,” Ingels says. “It works in the short term but will create a lot of problems in the end.” As he tells it, recycling is good in theory. The only problem is that the plant would burn waste that isn’t actually recyclable. “They‘re proposing to reduce capacity to half then export waste to adjacent municipalities, which means it will be disposed of in a less environmentally friendly way,” he says. “If Copenhagen doesn’t go forward with this project, they’ll have 200 trucks of garbage a day. I’m not sure that they actually considered the bigger picture.”
We asked Ingels if he’d consider designing a smaller plant--but still with a ski slope!--in the event that Copenhagen’s City Council shoots down current plans. He demurred: “There is no single rational argument for going against the project as it is.” Guess council members will be the judge of that next week.