I met Ingels in his studio in Copenhagen in the fall of 2008. That’s when I first heard of his “architectural alchemy”: “the idea that by mixing traditional ingredients like normal flats and a normal parking structure, when you combine them, they become gold,” he told me. Back then, he was talking about the recently completed Mountain, but he hinted at the Eight House: “We’re taking that idea to the next level with a project we’re working on called the Big House or the Figure Eight,” he said. “We’re mixing the office components and rowhouse components to create a hybrid.”
The inspiration for the project was the popular neighborhood in Copenhagen known as Potato Row. “The homes there are all two-story brownstone townhouses with gardens in front,” Ingels told me on my visit. “They’re low but extremely dense and have this incredible social life surrounding them. We took the idea that the public realm is normally restricted to the ground floor and everything above it is private space. We thought that because this is in a new neighborhood of Copenhagen, in Ørestad, it’d be sick to provide a new kind of housing.”
Ingels refers to the Eight House as his second work of architectural alchemy—and the similarities between The Mountain (his first stroke of gold) and this project don’t end there. Built in the same area of untarnished landscapes, the Eight House, just like The Mountain, stands against the sky with a strong profile.
In Copenhagen, where the cost of living makes a dinner out worth weeks of savings, the residents spend much more time inside their homes than many Americans. As a result—and due to the country’s incredible collective design conscience—they may not have many things, but what they have is thoughtfully picked out.
And even when Eight House residents go out, in Ørestad, there’s a limited selection of what to do—something Ingels tried to compensate in the building’s design. “When you building in the middle of a city, you can do the most boring, hideous apartment building but it’s still going to be pretty nice because you can still go down and buy a croissant in a cafe,” he said. “But when you build where there’s absolutely nothing you can’t expect too much from your surroundings. You essentially have to create as much quality in your immediate vicinity as you possibly can so there’s a possibility that what you do becomes a place. Then you hope your neighbors do the same thing.”
The VM Houses were about openness (a resident recalls in our September 2009 article that from his unit one of the two towers, he could easily watch a woman vacuum in her underwear in the other tower through the large glass windows) and The Mountain was about privacy (tall walls around each unit's garden made peeping more difficult). In the Eight House, it is a mix of individual and communal space, with a hope for spontaneous interactions at every level of the building.
"When we design project, we ask ourselves why you would ever want to move there," Ingels said before we parted ways. "Maybe we could provide something that wasn’t available anywhere else. With the VM Houses, it’s that the flats are all duplexes or three-plexes and you can get a three-dimensional apartment that would be impossible to find in Copenhagen. With the Mountain, it’s that each unit is a penthouse with a private garden. With the Eight House, it’s the idea of having the Potato Rows in an urban block."