Of Course Copenhagen Has a Ski Slope Built on a Power Plant
The cleanest waste-to-energy plant in the world also has a bar.
When we think about what it means to be sustainable, there’s usually an understanding that a sacrifice has to be made—whether that means limiting oneself, compromising convenience, or spending a little extra money. But in Copenhagen, a city that seems so effortlessly ahead of the curve, sustainable endeavors work to enhance life. Take a quick scan of the city and you’ll see locals enjoying a happy, green existence: cycling on well-maintained bike paths; swimming in pristine urban harbors; sporting the chicest eco-friendly fashion; and eating farm-to-table like there’s no other option.
But perhaps the coolest example of this life-made-better ethos is CopenHill, an artificial, snow-free ski slope located on the industrial waterfront of Amager. The 1,300-foot rooftop park is built on top of a waste-to-energy power plant—the cleanest in the world—flagged by a giant chimney that puffs out purified steam. Designed by Danish architecture firm BIG (founded by architect Bjarke Ingels) and opened in 2019, CopenHill aligns with the city’s ambitious goal of becoming the first carbon neutral capital by 2025.
On CopenHill’s green terrain, made of a synthetic turf known as Neveplast, you can ski with a coefficient of friction equal to snow. The top part of the ski slope is for advanced skiers, while the middle and bottom sections welcome newcomers and kids. And if skiing isn’t your thing, you can hike on tree-lined trails, climb the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall, grab a drink at the apres ski bar, or simply enjoy the view from the highest viewing plateau in the city. The green roof (designed in collaboration with SLA Architects) houses a lush, biodiverse ecosystem that absorbs heat, filters the air, and minimizes water runoff.
The waste facility below, Amager Bakke, doubles as an environmental education hub, which you can peer into through glass-walled elevators that take you up to the park. Furnaces, steam, and turbines work to convert 440,000 tons of garbage annually into electricity and heat for 150,000 homes.
According to their site, the exhaust is cleaned as much as possible before being unleashed into the air, as Amager Bakke is the first waste-to-energy plant in Denmark equipped with a catalyst to remove the atmospheric pollutant NOx. And the plant aims to eventually become the first CO2-neutral waste energy plant through a process called CO2 capture.
“One can debate the merits of waste-to-energy,” says David Bergman, architect and author of Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide. “Yes, it makes energy from garbage, but it’s still incinerating it and spewing not-so-great things into the air, even when it’s called clean waste-to-energy. And wouldn’t it be better to not make so much garbage in the first place?”
Bergman goes on to explain, “But put that aside for the moment and look at CopenHill for what it does with the concept. It takes a usually boring (or worse) municipal function—essentially a combined garbage dump and power plant—and makes it interesting and attractive. In doing so, it counters the stereotyped dullness of both that utilitarian use and of, too often, green design in general.”
CopenHill is a manifestation of architect Bjarke Ingels’ “hedonistic sustainability”—the idea that a sustainable approach can provide a more favorable alternative. In other words, sustainable buildings are not only good for the environment; they’re also more fun.
Bergman adds, “If you know the architectural phrase ‘less is more,’ well, this is a building that listens to the counterpoint that another architect termed ‘less is a bore.’ CopenHill does this both aesthetically and functionally; it’s not just a power plant and not just a green building. It’s a ski slope. And it’s cool. You want to go there.”