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A Breathtaking Look At Denmark's Daring New Starchitects

A comprehensive new book surveys the forms the last decade of Danish experimentation has wrought.

  • <p>8 House was the Bjarke Ingels Group’s bold approach to reinventing housing. Designed around the idea of a residential block, the "House" has a bow-tie shape and a cycling path that runs up to its 10th floor, encouraging interaction among neighbors.</p>
  • <p>Bjarke Ingels’s firm, BIG, designed this high-profile pavilion for the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. Its bike-able ramps revolved around a pool at the structure’s center that showcased Copenhagen’s famous "Little Mermaid" statue, along with water from the city’s harbor.</p>
  • <p>BIG designed an art center for this former mining town that looks like a highly evolved log cabin. Its dual orientation reflects its location at the intersection of the city’s two main streets, one of which runs diagonally through town.</p>
  • <p>The topographic wooden deck on PLOT’s Youth House practically floats over the polluted soil beneath, and serves as a recreation area for the club’s youngsters.</p>
  • <p>ADEPT Architects (in collaboration with Sou Fujimoto)  won first prize for their proposal for a media library in Sweden features a transparent, layer-on-layer facade.</p>
  • <p>BIG’s design for the National Gallery is reminiscent of the Guggenheim’s interior ramps, but its water view reminds visitors that they’re in Greenland, not on Fifth Avenue!</p>
  • <p>Bjarke Ingels Group’s design for Greenland’s National Gallery takes the form of a melting ring that follows the site’s natural slope, much like a glacier or drifting snow.</p>
  • <p>Bjarke Ingels’s design for the pier in St. Pete, called "The Wave," ultimately lost out to Michael Maltzan Architecture’s "The Lens." Maltzan’s design has proved controversial, and residents are now in a pitched battle over its future.</p>
  • <p>BIG Architects designed a residential complex for Seoul whose design resembled a hashtag. Guess they’re hoping we’ll tweet about it.</p>
  • <p>Johannes Molander Pedersen of NORD Architects says his firm’s Centre for Cancer and Health operates with a duality: a warm, inward-facing, wood-clad yard, and an iconographic aluminum facade which changes with the light.</p>
  • 01 /10
    | 8 House, Orestad, Copenhagen, 2011

    8 House was the Bjarke Ingels Group’s bold approach to reinventing housing. Designed around the idea of a residential block, the "House" has a bow-tie shape and a cycling path that runs up to its 10th floor, encouraging interaction among neighbors.

  • 02 /10
    | Danish Expo Pavilion, Shanghai, 2010

    Bjarke Ingels’s firm, BIG, designed this high-profile pavilion for the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. Its bike-able ramps revolved around a pool at the structure’s center that showcased Copenhagen’s famous "Little Mermaid" statue, along with water from the city’s harbor.

  • 03 /10
    | Kimball Art Center, Park City, Utah

    BIG designed an art center for this former mining town that looks like a highly evolved log cabin. Its dual orientation reflects its location at the intersection of the city’s two main streets, one of which runs diagonally through town.

  • 04 /10
    | Maritime Youth House, Copenhagen, 2004

    The topographic wooden deck on PLOT’s Youth House practically floats over the polluted soil beneath, and serves as a recreation area for the club’s youngsters.

  • 05 /10
    | Media Library at Dalarna University, Falun, Sweden, 2010

    ADEPT Architects (in collaboration with Sou Fujimoto) won first prize for their proposal for a media library in Sweden features a transparent, layer-on-layer facade.

  • 06 /10
    | National Gallery of Greenland

    BIG’s design for the National Gallery is reminiscent of the Guggenheim’s interior ramps, but its water view reminds visitors that they’re in Greenland, not on Fifth Avenue!

  • 07 /10
    | National Gallery of Greenland

    Bjarke Ingels Group’s design for Greenland’s National Gallery takes the form of a melting ring that follows the site’s natural slope, much like a glacier or drifting snow.

  • 08 /10
    | St. Petersburg, Florida Pier Competition

    Bjarke Ingels’s design for the pier in St. Pete, called "The Wave," ultimately lost out to Michael Maltzan Architecture’s "The Lens." Maltzan’s design has proved controversial, and residents are now in a pitched battle over its future.

  • 09 /10
    | Cross # Towers, Seoul, Korea, 2012

    BIG Architects designed a residential complex for Seoul whose design resembled a hashtag. Guess they’re hoping we’ll tweet about it.

  • 10 /10
    | NORD Healthcare Center for cancer patients, Copenhagen, 2009

    Johannes Molander Pedersen of NORD Architects says his firm’s Centre for Cancer and Health operates with a duality: a warm, inward-facing, wood-clad yard, and an iconographic aluminum facade which changes with the light.

When you think about upstart cultures, the Danes don’t immediately spring to mind. They’re a homogeneous bunch, largely middle class, smugly satisfied with their little country despite high taxes and chilly weather. Hardly a recipe for radical innovation.

Still, over the past decade, a new generation of architects in Denmark has staged a feisty revolution in their tranquil kingdom by designing buildings that don’t look anything like their storybook predecessors.

Starting in 2000, they stormed the scene with swashbuckling new ideas blending pragmatism and utopianism. Created in a context of globalization, leavened by environmental concerns, and emboldened by digital tools, they created exotic new shapes that looked like futuristic forms from another planet, especially when contrasted with the medieval streetscape of their capital city.

Some critics found their buildings daring and exciting. Others thought they had gone too far, throwing out the cherished values of Danish architecture—local building traditions, a time-honored attention to detail—with the bathwater, in their haste to create something surprising and to address long-standing problems with unconventional solutions.

Now, a new book takes a comprehensive look at what that decade of experimentation has wrought. The New Wave in Danish Architecture by Kristoffer Lindhardt Weiss and Kjeld Vindum is a hefty volume in which images of many of the decade’s most dazzling projects—some that were built, others that were dazzling leaps of imagination but have yet to find financing or a builder willing to commit—are depicted, many along with photos of their original models, concept drawings, elevations, and floor plans.

Interspersed with these engaging projects are interviews and essays on topics such as "welfare urbanism," architects as storytellers, and whether the "new wave" of the title is really a paradigm shift or merely a passing trend. A fair amount of ink is devoted to the impact of country’s best-known young architects, Rem Koolhaas protégés Bjarke Ingels of the firm BIG and his former partner, Julien de Smedt of JDS, on the culture, specifically: Are they groundbreaking innovators or consummate media manipulators?

Full disclosure: I participated in an interview for the book on topics like Ingels’s "hedonistic sustainability" and architecture’s role in community value creation. Also, the book has reprinted my original story on Ingels, told in the graphic novel style, from our October 2011 issue.

Leave aside my own contribution, and you’ll still find this tome one of the year’s most fascinating chronicles of a rare decade in architecture, and the coming of age of an extraordinary group of fearless and visionary young Turks who are as masterful at marketing as they are at 3-D modeling.