BIG (Bjarke Ingles): Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium in Denmark

BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group,

Frederik Lyng, Jens Lindhe,

Sport & Wellness, Urban Architecture,



Surprising everyone with their plans for the expansion of Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium in Denmark, the architects of well-known studio BIG (Bjarke Ingles) have opened a new chapter in their philosophy of architecture. In the new central courtyard which forms the wooden roof of the gym below, the architects make the most of the potential of the cladding material to design a unique construction linking the historic building with the contemporary world.

BIG (Bjarke Ingles): Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium in Denmark
BIG (Bjarke Ingles) has designed an expansion for Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium based on a design philosophy that sets all sensationalism aside to focus on integration of place with function. The project unites the existing school building with a new sports area through a contemporary structure that will be sure to appeal to its young users.
One of the youngest new archistars, Bjarke Ingles is known for his wide-ranging public and private projects, which Floornature has covered often in recent years. From the famous “The mountain” housing development in Copenhagen to the more recent “8 Tallet”, also in the Danish capital, and projects which are still on paper, such as the ambitious Miami Beach Convention Center.
The amazement these architectural visions have always inspired in the public has not prevented Bjarke Ingles from concerning himself with the issues of environmental sustainability and users’ convenience. These themes are taken up in the recent expansion to the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium, in which the central courtyard, surrounded by a quadrilateral formed by the existing buildings, is given a purpose as an addition to the functions offered by the school.
The studio might have been expected to make use of this public appointment as an opportunity to design a self-contained work of architecture standing out for its formal innovation, perhaps even a landmark that would bring the old school building up to date. But this way of thinking, which the local government would have accepted quite happily, as it was anxious to build a new wing that would also be available for public use, did not win the day. The project makes use of the central courtyard to construct a hidden construction that is mostly underground, with its exterior simply covered in oak. BIG was asked to locate the new gym in a space that could also be used for public meetings and ceremonies, and created a single space 5 metres below ground level, with a curved roof that reaches a height of 8 metres at the centre. The 3 metres above ground form a surface that is suitable for a variety of informal uses by students; it is covered with oak boards to harmonise with the city’s pedestrian zones and skateboarding parks.
The big courtyard is enriched with street furnishings and lights so that it can be used both by day and by night: there are two areas dotted with white enamelled seats and another one with a long skateboarding track which can also be used as a seat, both lit up with led lighting which is particularly evocative at night.

The openings along the edges of the roof allow sunlight to illuminate the big underground space, while solar panels around the existing pavilions provide the necessary hot water.

Mara Corradi

Design: BIG (Bjarke Ingels, Finn Nørkjær)
Project leader: Ole Elkjær-Larsen
Project team: Frederik Lyng, Ole Schrøder, Narisara Ladawal Schröder, Henrick Poulsen, Dennis Rasmussen, Jeppe Ecklon, Rune Hansen, Riccardo Mariano, Christian Alvare Gomez, Xu Li, Jakob Lange, Thomas Juul-Jensen
Client: Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium
Location: Hellerup (Denmark)
Structural design: EKJ, Flemming Tagmose
Total usable floor space: 1100 m2
Project start date: 2009
Completion of construction: 2013
Builder: CG Jensen, Klaus Mels Nielsen, Dion Munksgaard
Roof of oak strips
Reinforced concrete structure
Photographs: © Jens Lindhe


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