Three architecture students on Danish firm BIG’s 8 House scheme, a fresh take on urban living

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)’s 8 House proposes a fresh way of urban existence where the ease of suburban life is fused with the energy of a big city, where business and housing co-exist, and where common areas and facilities merge with personal life.

With views overlooking Copenhagen Canal and Kalvebod Fælled’s protected open spaces, the project, for client St Frederikslund Holding, is a 60,000m2 mixed-use building – a hybrid between shops, offices, apartments and 150 town houses.

Instead of dividing the different habitation and trade functions of the building into separate blocks, BIG has spread out the various functions horizontally. The apartments are placed at the top while the commercial programme unfolds at the base of the building.

BIG was inspired by classic townhouses and the open, democratic nature of functional architecture for the design of the accommodation which includes apartments of varied sizes, penthouses and townhouses with small gardens and pathways to encourage outdoor communication.

8 House’s layout encourages its inhabitants to bike all the way from the ground floor to the top, moving alongside townhouses with gardens winding through an urban perimeter block. The bow-shaped building creates two distinct spaces, separated by the centre of the bow, which hosts the communal facilities. At the very same spot, the building is penetrated by a 9m wide passage that connects the two surrounding city spaces: the park area to the west and the channel area to the east.

Three architecture students share their views of the scheme

Craig Allen’s verdict:

Bjarke Ingels Group’s 8 House Scheme leaves a foremost impression of freshness, creativity and aptitude. The practice’s research and drive to deliver a 21st century inhabitation is barefaced and conspicuous throughout the project - a highly commendable feat, especially when drawing comparisons with analogous architects who it could be claimed preach similar ideas without putting them into practice.

The playfulness evident in the developmental models, which incontestably convey design decisions and the planning to sew this block into its surrounding has happily spilt over into the real thing.  One reference that initially comes to mind - perhaps due to the dramatic yellow clad interior spaces - is Piet Blom’s cube houses in Rotterdam. However, in terms of its overall design, BIG’s scheme is less a one liner, less of a monument and more of a place built to enhance the inhabitants’ lives.

I relish the sight of people cycling, running and simply living up and down and amongst this Smithsons-esque take on 21st century life, Allen

I relish the sight of people cycling, running and simply living up and down and amongst this Smithsons-esque take on 21st century life. The seemingly steep gradient of a route along one particular face of the building only raises hopes that this is intended for a dramatic, if alarming cycling incline.  Howbeit, the possibilities of this building heighten the imagination in countless ways. The bow-tie grassy roof, the fantastic view offered across Kalvebod Fælled’s protected open spaces, the mixture of actions where work, life, play, drama and a host of other activities will butt against one another and merge, are testament to intelligent urban design.

I sincerely hope this building works.  It saddens me to concede that it is hard to imagine such a bold high-density urban development being undertaken in Britain that encompasses this level of equality, contentedness and community. The proposed redevelopment of Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith’s Park Hill Development in Sheffield perhaps comes somewhat close to an exception, but that development is not of the now in the same way the 8 House is reflective of the ambitions and traits of the modern Danish lifestyle.

Hannah Thomas’ verdict:

This project is an interesting attempt to provide multilayered and multifaceted living. The project is a detailed exploration into the combination of social and commercial activities with people’s private and home life. It provides a new environment for those wishing to enjoy the benefits of the engaging and vibrant aspects of city life without compromising their quality of living; additionally it provides a safe and controlled environment for families maybe wishing to continue this lifestyle with children.

The form is striking, each facade providing a dynamic and almost imposing display from a distance. The changes in level as the figure of eight progresses is necessary as it allows an architectural flow in what could easily be a huge eyesore. The sheer size of the project means the aesthetics have had to be carefully considered; the level changes allow a more organic appearance almost as if the structure is emerging from its surroundings rather than domineering them, successfully complementing its context.

It is a fascinating and innovative project with a new approach to combining city and private life, Thomas

This said, the project is calculated and ordered down to every last space meaning it has sadly eliminated the idiosyncrasies of city living. Residents will not adventurously discover small, long forgotten spaces that are steeped in history and character – every space is new and gaining ownership through discovery will not be part of the experience. 

It is a fascinating and innovative project with a new approach to combining city and private life. As a concept I believe it has great potential, in reality I believe it may be too insular to create the social interaction it strives for. Cities depend on flow and outside influence, the closed nature of this project means it is in danger of becoming stagnant and losing the vibrancy it promises.

Amie Taylor’s verdict:

The green roofs of BIG’s 8 House are alluring upon first impressions and the development does seem to have a fun and funky atmosphere, almost reminiscent of a holiday abroad with its hotel-like appearances. The division of spaces with commercial developments closest to the ground floor and residential at the top enables an unusual collaboration between the aspects of life which are usually kept separate – and perhaps for good reason. Whilst the idea of using dwellings at the top to make the most of the daylight and the availability of a variety of sized homes to suit individual needs sound like good ideas, I’m not so sure that this so-called ‘functional’ building really considers human needs in terms of the want to separate these two lives. We as humans require a severance between personal lives and working lives and the lack of distinction between the two may affect the experience of living in such a place.

Craig Allen is an architecture student at London’s Royal College of Art. Amie Taylor and Hannah Thomas are studying architecture at Nottingham Trent University.