Danish Domestication

During World War II a factory was constructed in the Islands Brygge section of the Copenhagen harbor to process soybeans into animal feed. Now, 30 years after the factory was shuttered, two of its storage silos nourish well-heeled homeowners. Dutch architecture firm MVRDV has reimagined them as an exclusive apartment building.

Officially named Gemini Residence but more commonly referred to as Frøsiloen, the design effectively preserves the silos as empty artifacts. Instead of converting the interiors to residences, MVRDV—which was invited by Swedish developers NCC to compete for the project—fashioned 84 apartments in an eight-story glazed volume that wraps around the upper three-fourths of the two concrete drums, linking them in the middle. While the structures retain their discreet circular footprints, a horizontal cross-section in midair reveals an hourglass.

According to Andreas Blomberg, the team leader for project architects JJW Arkitekter, the old buildings in Islands Brygge are “industrial monuments that have to stay to tell the story about the former use of the harbor area.” Redeveloping the 147-foot-tall silos also provided NCC with a marketplace advantage. “In Copenhagen you can only build six or seven stories,” Blomberg says. “The skyline must always show the spires of the churches.”

Glass balconies run the length of the perimeter, taking advantage of the unprecedented height and providing the modest homes (only 968 to 2,152 square feet) with the illusion of boundlessness. In addition to sacrificing this sense of expansiveness, building inward would have forced MVRDV to punch so many doorways into the original concrete that the architects feared compromising its structural integrity. Instead the glass addition appears to float by balancing entirely on a first-floor girder.

The silo interiors now contain dramatically austere atrium lobbies that house the glass elevators and open stairways that lead to the apartments. Hallways and asymmetrically stacked stairwells are clad in ribbons of white corrugated metal, while floors and overhead surfaces are painted black. “All other color seemed arbitrary,” MVRDV principal Jacob van Rijs says. “So the colors are neutral—black and white—on the inside. The original concrete of the silo is visible from both the lobby and street.” The graphically striking view from within looks as if HAL 9000 commissioned one of Escher’s Metamorphosis woodcuts. Absent the original roofs, the gaping holes into the sky that MVRDV first laid eyes on have since been covered with a ceiling of Foiltec, a product comprising air-filled cushions, which floods the cylinders with natural light.

Islands Brygge is undergoing extensive transformation into a residential neighborhood. The city has invested in plazas and a waterfront promenade, while private developers take on other conversions and break ground on empty parcels of land. So when friends told health-care executive Jan Melsø that a two-bedroom unit was available in Frøsiloen, he agreed to purchase it immediately, unpacking his boxes in October. “Yes, the lobby is unusual,” he says, “but this is the best view in Copenhagen.” And perhaps the best investment: his real estate agent estimates that the property, originally priced at approximately $800,000, is already worth at least 20 percent more.

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