Separate yet connected buildings are densely clustered around the kitchen.
The award-winning restaurant Noma worked with BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, both of Copenhagen, Denmark, to create its new home as a restaurant village just outside of Copenhagen’s city center.
The new Noma is in the portion of Copehagen called Christiania, originally built on landfill in the 1600s with fortified walls as a defensive position for the city. The area fell into neglect in recent decades until it was taken over by residents in 1971, first as a playground, and then as the base of Freetown, an experimental anarchist community that asserted that it was self-governing and self-sufficient.
The restaurant, recognized four times as best in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, last year closed its doors to the 16th-century harborside warehouse that had been its home for fourteen years. Noma’s new home reopened in February this year in a space developed and built in partnership with BIG.
Situated between two lakes and within the community of Christiania, the restaurant is built on the site of a protected ex-military warehouse once used to store mines for the Royal Danish Navy. Imagined as an intimate garden village, guests are welcomed to experience a new menu and philosophy that is expected to redefine the business.
“When we found the location for the new Noma, we knew we had to come up with an architectural solution which made sense for our guests, the team, and also the surroundings,” said Peter Kreiner, chief executive officer, Noma. “I believe that what Bjarke Ingels and the BIG team came up with is the ideal non-pretentious solution that we will enjoy calling our home for years to come. To say that we are thrilled with the end result would be an understatement.”
Central to BIG’s design was the idea of dissolving the restaurant’s individual functions and organizing them as a collection of separate, yet connected, buildings. A total of eleven spaces, each tailored to their specific needs, are densely clustered around the restaurant’s heart: the kitchen.
“Our collaboration with Noma chef and co-owner René Redzepi, and the Noma team, has been brewing ever since I had my first dinner there fourteen years ago,” said Bjarke Ingels, founding partner, BIG. “Similar to our own idea of hedonistic sustainability—where the more sustainable city is also the most enjoyable city to live in—Noma has pioneered a cuisine built upon shared values for creativity and sustainability,” he added.
Ingels continued: “The new Noma dissolves the traditional idea of a restaurant into its constituent parts and reassembles them in a way that puts the chefs at the heart of it all. Every part of the restaurant experience—the arrival, the lounge, the barbeque, the wine selection, and the private company—is all clustered around the chefs. From their central position, they have a perfect overview to every corner of the restaurant while allowing every single guest to follow what would traditionally happen behind the scenes. Each ‘building within the building’ is connected by glass-covered paths that allow chefs and guests to follow the changes in weather, daylight, and seasons—making the natural environment an integral part of the culinary experience.”
The Noma kitchen is designed like a panopticon with an oversized hood hovering over the chefs. From here, the chefs can oversee the entire kitchen and guest areas, including the dining room and adjacent private dining room. These spaces are made of stacked timber planks that resemble neatly piled wood at a lumberyard.
A large skylight and an expansive set of windows that slide to reveal the outdoor permagarden allow guests to truly sense all of the seasons and the restaurant’s natural surrounds. Outside, three freestanding glass houses provide the restaurant’s garden, test kitchen, and bakery.
Guests have the opportunity to walk through each of the surrounding buildings and to experience a variety of Nordic materials and building techniques. The barbecue is a giant walk-in hut, and the lounge looks and feels like a giant, cozy fireplace made entirely of brick inside and out. In between the individual buildings are spaces enclosed with glass, allowing guests and the Noma team to roam in constant connection with nature and the changing seasons.
The historic 328-ft.-long single-story warehouse completes the circle of buildings surrounding the kitchen. BIG preserved the raw shell of the warehouse’s concrete and inserted a massive wooden shelf for storage and display. All of the back-of-house functions are located here, including the prep kitchen, fermentation labs, fish tanks, terrarium, ant farm, and breakout areas for staff.