During their 2009 lecture at the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota's College of Design, Grace La and James Dallman, AIA, of Milwaukee-based La Dallman, advocated for architects' increased involvement in the design of infrastructure. Projects such as roads, bridges, viaducts, utility towers, and waste-treatment plants typically fall within the purview of civil engineers, are designed to standard specifications, and are executed without architects’ participation. As a result, the pair said, the built environment is replete with hyper-functional constructions that rarely inspire or delight—despite their prominent physical presence.

A recent exception is a waste incineration tower in Roskilde, Denmark, designed by Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat. Built for the waste-management company Kara/Noveren, the new Incineration Line accepts 200,000 tons of waste annually, generating enough electricity to power 44,000 households and enough district heating for 26,000 households each year. Based on its effective conversion of waste to electricity and heat, the tower is anticipated to operate at near 100 percent efficiency—a 35 percent increase from that of the facility's two previous units, which were built in the 1980s, reports Waste Management World.

The incineration tower is not only technologically advanced but also innovative in design. The tower celebrates its historical and industrial context via a reinterpreted material language as well as an unexpected scale-shift. The aluminum panels that comprise the two-layer façade are tinted in raw umber, reminiscent of early iron works and weathered naval architecture. The addition of circular perforations at various sizes and densities makes the building appear to be a much larger structure at night, as the glowing apertures resemble a dense urban skyline rather than a typically windowless incineration plant. Backlighting applied to the façade's exterior layer pulses over time, intensifying every few minutes to symbolize an industrial flame.

The project represents a successful approach to architecturalizing infrastructure work, celebrating rather than disguising its presence. Although facilities like waste-treatment plants fall squarely within the undesirable NIMBY category, Egeraat’s project amplifies its own historical and material context, appearing to be a much larger and more active operation than its surroundings. Despite this defiance of NIMBY logic, the result is satisfyingly unexpected—even whimsical—and a welcome addition to the Danish skyline.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.