Through the roof

BIG with CG Jensen + EKJ + Grontmij have completed a new multi-purpose hall for Bjarke Ingels’ former high school – Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium, north of Copenhagen – turning a courtyard into a new social meeting point and sports facility combined.

BIG conceived a large multifunctional space that could be used for sports, graduation ceremonies and social events. The new hall comprises a sunken 1,100-square-metre space, placed five metres (16.5 feet) below the ground in the center of the school’s courtyard, ensuring a good indoor climate, low environmental impact and high architectural quality. The hall, formed by bevelled concrete walls, is covered by a soft vaulted wooden roof formed by a series of uniquely curved glued laminated timber beams. The roof, serving two functions – as an interior and exterior skin – is a welcome addition to the existing 1950s campus of yellow-brick buildings. The hilly courtyard creates an informal meeting place that can host numerous activities from group work to larger gatherings.

The exterior wooden-decked surface consists of untreated oak wood and white-enamel-coated steel benches, also designed by BIG. The only light sources at night are the benches and BIG-designed seating, which are outfitted with tiny LED lights beneath, lighting up the entire courtyard. The edge of the roof is designed as a long social bench; its lattice design ensures the penetration of daylight below. Solar panels placed strategically around the existing buildings provide heat for the hall.

Says Ingels, “Rather than placing the hall outside the school – and spread the social life further – we have created a new focal point and link between the school’s existing facilities. The roof forms a molehill that serves as a giant piece of informal furniture engaging and supporting student life. The main architectural idea emerged from the rules of handball as the soft curved roof takes its form from the mathematical equation of the trajectory of a thrown ball: form follows function. In an homage to my old math teacher, we used the mathematical formula for a ballistic arc to shape the geometry of the roof.”

During the construction of the sports hall, BIG was further commissioned in a second phase to design another building on the campus that sits adjacent to the multi-purpose hall. The next phase will connect the courtyard and hall with the sports fields and parking areas located on the west side of the school. With a gross floor area of 1.400 square metres (15,000 square feet), the future building consists of two levels of education facilities and classrooms for art and cultural activities – arts, music, drama, and student counseling. The design places the classrooms next to the facade to ensure abundant natural light and views out, while the secondary functions are all located to the rear and partially below ground level. The building will be constructed with a supporting column / beam system and stabilizing concrete walls. The selection of materials seeks to create a new visual unity for the school, taking its cues from the sports hall entrance by incorporating glass facades, a single sided sloped green roof and concrete paving. The next phase will be completed in summer 2014.


BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group is a leading international partnership of architects, designers, builders and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research and development. BIG is led by eight partners – Bjarke Ingels, Andreas Klok Pedersen, Finn Nørkjær, David Zahle, Jakob Lange, Thomas Christoffersen and Managing Partners, Sheela Maini Søgaard and Kai-Uwe Bergmann – with offices in New York and Copenhagen. In all the partners’ actions they try to move the focus from the little details to the BIG picture. For more info, visit


Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium is a sixth form college/high school situated in Hellerup, north of Copenhagen. It was founded in 1894 and was originally a boys’ school. Today it is a mixed school with more than 900 students, offering a variety of specialized study programmes within the fields of social science, the humanities and natural science. Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium has a reputation of high academic standards and outstanding examination results, engendering mature and independent students ready for the challenges of higher education at universities in Denmark and abroad. For more info, visit