Perhaps it’s something about the brutally cold winter months in Northern Europe that make people want to live inside a reinforced concrete bunker. A more likely explanation is Scandinavian practicality, plus a fondness for clever adaptive reuse ideas for their abandoned industrial landscapes.
Both attributes can be seen in Denmark’s Gemini Residences, an apartment block made from the bones of the twin Frøsilos seed silos once owned by the Soya Bean Cake Factory on Copenhagen’s Islands Brygge waterfront. Rather than simply punching holes in the exterior and filling the silos with flats, architects at the Dutch design firm MVRDV used the figure-8-shaped concrete towers as an internal support upon which to hang apartments on the exterior during the 2005 conversion.
The decision to adding living space to the outside illustrated the limits of working with these old concrete structures, first built in 1963 and closed in the 1990s. As described in a recent Inhabitat article, the number and size of openings that can be cut out of the walls for doors and windows is severely limited to protect the silo’s structural integrity.
By attaching the apartments to the outer walls, the apartments could include wide, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious balconies, providing natural ventilation, daylighting and gorgeous views of the waterfront.
This allowed MVRDV to keep the silo interiors mostly empty and convert them into open-space lobbies, with circular internal balconies and a series of staircases. To save on energy, the roofs of both silos were replaced with translucent skylights, providing an even, diffused glow throughout the white interior. The concrete floors of the lobbies were also left as is to remind residents of the original purpose of the towers.
The Gemini Residences is not the only example of silo-to-apartment adaptation. Another project in Norway converted a 19-story concrete grain elevator into the Grünerløkka Studenthus, used for college students. The concrete structure, built in 1953 for Oslo’s closed Nederfoss Mill, was converted in 2001 and won the city of Oslo’s Architecture Prize in 2002, but is also stands as a slightly cautionary tale for future silo conversions.
The designers, HRTB Arkitekter AS, helped brighten the forbidding exterior by adding multicolored glass panels under each window. However, the windows themselves, along with the apartments inside, are relatively small to ensure that structural integrity was maintained. In 2008, the iconic $30 million project suffered another setback when leaks were discovered in the building’s cisterns. The resulting water damage forced the evacuation of 70 residents and mold contamination in many units that required repairs costing between $3 million and $5 million.