Saving the planet doesnt need to entail self-deprivation.

Bjarke Ingels, the 46-year-old founder of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is on a mission to transform ugly, environmentally suspect sites into architectural wonders that make the planet a cleaner, safer place.

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The pièce de résistance of this vision can be found in Denmark, where Ingels is from. Copenhill is a waste-to-energy plant in the eastern outskirts of Copenhagen thats been turned into a ski slope. Locals can slalom down the artificial hill, while beneath them about 600,000 tons of waste get converted into heating and electricity.

It took Ingels more than 10 years to finish the project, as he navigated his way around legislative and practical hurdles.

Normally a power plant is designed to blow up the roof if there is an overpressure, but you cant really do that when you have skiers on the roof, Ingels said in an interview. In general we had a cascade of dilemmas and we had to go through quite a few steps to make this kind of fantasy into reality.

Ingels calls Copenhill a prime example of hedonistic sustainability. The idea is to solve environmental issues in a way that leads to comfortable and useful constructions for local communities.

Another example is The Big U, a park on the southern tip of Manhattan (also dubbed the Dryline), which is being designed as a communal space for locals. But more importantly, the site is intended to provide protection from flooding, a key goal after Hurricane Sandy.

Ingels, along with

17 other innovators, was recently tapped by

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as an adviser to help the

European Union fulfill its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. Von der Leyen has talked of reviving a version of the

Bauhaus movement. The idea is to combine beautiful design with practical applications that can be incorporated in Europes Green Deal.

Ingels says the project has enormous potential to change the way we live.

Our cities and buildings are the main culprits in carbon emissions, Ingels said. By exploring new possibilities from different sectors I believe we can make doing the right thing for the future so desirable that it becomes irresistible.

Copenhill in Copenhagen, Feb. 16.

Photographer: Carsten Snejbjerg/Bloomberg

When Ingels thinks back on Copenhill, he admits it wasnt a given that the project would turn out as well as it did.

My biggest nightmare was that once it was finished, it would just feel like standing on the roof of a power plant, he said. But the first time we could walk out on the hill here, I realized this is not just the roof of a building, this is really a man-made mountain and in that sense it has a majestic feeling even beyond what I had hoped for.

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