BIG HQ: Who decides?


Illustration: BIG architects

BIG’s plans to build a headquarters at the end of Sundmolen Pier in Nordhavn, Copenhagen have sparked heated debate between the municipality, local residents and the architects.

It has long been a poorly kept secret that Bjarke Ingels Group was eyeing a site at the end of Sundmolen for its new headquarters. Yet the path to the new building is proving quite challenging for the world famous architectural firm. 

Contrary to expectations, the initial local area development plan for the project was rejected by the municipality’s technical and environmental administration, which called for a more sustainable design – and also objected to the aesthetic qualities of the design. Local politician Jacob Næsager of the Conservative Party went so far as to call the proposed building “historically ugly”. 

Fierce debate ensued, with architects in one corner and local politicians in the other, firing arguments back and forth. The debate centered around the decision-making process in projects such as these and the key questions: who knows best, who should decide and what does the city need?

In this case, a world famous architecture firm tried its best to follow the recommendations of the administration itself. Meanwhile in the other corner, elected politicians who did not necessarily have any aesthetic qualifications spoke on behalf of citizen’s interests. 

BIG clarified the sustainable aspects of the building and produced more attractive visualizations for the politicians. These efforts proved successful the second time around, and the project entered into the local planning process. 

Not surprisingly, this marked the beginning of a new debate questioning: How much are architects allowed to embellish their visualizations? 

The first proposal showed the building with a white-toned background and not much surrounding detail. The second proposal went all-in on the Photoshopping, including nice weather, birds, children playing, and lush trees. The latter portrays a must more realistic picture of the end result, but aren’t these visualizations sometimes overly optimistic about the final product? 

BIG HQ has not yet been built, and for a long while it was uncertain that it would ever be. Things are looking brighter now and in september 2019, the municipality approved the project. The last thing, an accept from the citizen advistory committee is the only hurdle left to clear. One thing, however, is still more certain than ever: Bjarke Ingels is known for making architectural headlines in Denmark and abroad. This is just as true in 2019 as when he made his international breakthrough in the late 00s with his series of award-winning buildings in Ørestad. 

Fun facts


  • This is not the first time that BIG was rejected at this end of Nordhavn. The next pier to the south, Redmolen, was the proposed site of a large, Inca-inspired glass pyramid for the pension fund PFA. The plans were later revised as a cylinder-shaped office/hotel building.
  • Standing at the end of Sundmolen Pier on a clear day, you can see all the way to Malmö, Sweden and the 190-meter-high Turning Torso, Scandinavia’s tallest building. But that title may not be long-lived if BIG and HCAAT realize their plans to build a 280-meter-high Hans Christian Andersen Adventure Tower. The proposed site of the tower is further out in Nordhavn, behind the large UNICEF global supply center. Chances are slim that the project will be permitted to erect a 280-meter-high tower. HCAAT is presently working on the design of a somewhat smaller version of the tower. 


Copenhagen, Nordhavn


BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group


BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group