The design for the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium began with the simple parabolic curve of a ball in motion, as described by a mathematical formula. That basic idea served as the springboard for the resulting multipurpose structure, which succeeds in both housing and supporting program while not diminishing the value of the buildings surrounding it. Instead of blocking views and daylight from existing buildings around an open courtyard with the mass of a multistory structure, New York– and Copenhagen-based BIG’s design dug deep, excavating earth—which was then piled outside the ring of buildings to form a raised soccer field—and placing the bulk of the new high school sports hall below grade. The gently sloped roof—the curve of which is based on that original formula—provides an active public gathering space with integrated outdoor furniture.
Inside the 5,200-square-foot gym, glulam wood beams, with varied degrees of curvature, mark out regular intervals on the ceiling stretching over concrete retaining walls. Clerestory windows at the perimeter allow daylight to complement staggered fluorescent fixtures. At the courtyard level, the roof’s lowest edge doubles as a bench; clad in wood decking, the whole roof surface can be occupied.
The jurors were impressed by the gymnasium’s duality despite its singular design inspiration. “The mathematical formula reveals itself above,” juror David Jameson said. “It shows pressure and counter-pressure, and there is a gestural component that is made both performative and structural.” Juror Cathy Lang Ho also admired the flexibility of both interior and exterior spaces, noting that the single concept had been expanded to allow multiple possibilities. “This space is just so inspiring because it is open-ended,” she said. “You could do anything on the roof—hang out, sit, play, and lounge.”
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Project Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium, Hellerup, Denmark
Client Gammel Hellerup High School
Architect Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Copenhagen—Bjarke Ingels (creative director); Finn Nørkjær (partner-in-charge); Ole Schrøder (concept project leader); Ole Elkjær-Larsen (construction project leader); Frederik Lyng (project architect); Christian Alvarez Gomez, Jeppe Ecklon, Rune Hansen, Thomas Juul-Jensen, Narisara Ladawal Schröder, Jakob Lange, Xu Li, Riccardo Mariano, Henrick Poulsen, Dennis Rasmussen, Ana Merino, Anders Hjortnæs, Gül Ertekin, Hjalti Gestsson, Jacob Paarsgaard Thomsen, Jan Magasanik, Ji Young Yoon, Michael Schønemann Jensen, Snorre Emanuel Nash Jørgensen, Vincent He (project team)
Contractor and Landscape CG Jensen
Sustainability Consultant/Engineer Grontmij
Furniture BIG (design), Christian Langbjerg (manufacturer)
Size 11,840 square feet
Material and Sources
Facades and windows Aluflam aluflam-usa.com
Floors Junckers junckers.com
Lamps Sandlux, Delux sandlux.dk
Handrail Wooden handrail with LED strips
Roof Concrete roof with oak wooden flooring