A couple of years ago I wrote a post on beautiful power stations. One on the list was ‘s proposed design for Copenhagen, a building that he hoped would “transform people’s perception of what a public utility building should be.” Now that it’s been built and is up and running, we can take a closer look at it.
Copenhill (or Amager Bakke) is a waste-to-energy combined heat and power plant. It will turn the city’s municipal waste into electricity for 62,500 homes. Because it’s close enough to the city to pipe heat, it will also provide hot water to 160,000 homes. Clean water is created as a by-product, along with incinerator ash that can be used as an alternative to gravel in road construction. 90% of the metals in the rubbish are extracted too, so that materials are preserved.
It wouldn’t normally be advisable to build a plant like this so close to where people live, but this is a state of the art facility that burns much cleaner than the one it replaces. Its filters and scrubbers will reduce sulphur emissions by 99% and NOx emissions by 90%. It’s the cleanest incinerator in the world, and because it poses little air pollution risk, you might as well double up on the functions of the building.
That’s where Copenhill is most unusual, as it’s been designed as a visitor attraction. A year-round artificial ski slope is due to open down the length of its roof next year. The roof will be planted with trees, and it will also host a hiking track, a cafe and the world’s largest climbing wall. The walls of the building will be planted too, as the whole facade of the building is clad with a series of overlapping planters. Rainwater drips from one to the next, supporting a vast living wall.
In the hierarchy of waste management, landfill disposal is the worst thing you can do with waste. Energy recovery is second from bottom, so even with its metals and ash production, Copenhill is not as useful as recycling, reuse or prevention. There’s a place for it in a big city, but it’s still an incinerator. What makes it worth mentioning is that Bjarke Ingels’ building completely resets our expectations of what a waste-to-energy plant can be, both in its environmental performance and its design and use. It ought to open up a wider debate around what we expect from our municipal infrastructure.