Bjarke Ingels Group Discovers Simplicity In a Forest

Bjarke Ingels designs a factory for furniture maker Vestre and I like it.

Factory in forest among trees


When I write about the work of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), I am usually complaining about something. Bjarke is my poster child for needless complexity. Where German-American architect Mies van der Rohe said "less is more," Bjarke is from the Morris Lapidus school—the architect of over-the-top Miami Beach hotels and whose motto was "too much is never enough."

Stairway and windows


But this new factory for Norwegian furniture manufacturer Vestre is different. It is everything that Bjarke and his buildings are not: subtle, restrained, quiet. Not screaming, "LOOK AT ME!!!"

According to a press release by BIG:

"Norway’s single largest investment in furniture industry in decades, the 7,000 m2 production facility doubles as a public park for hiking and camping and aligns with the region’s mission to establish a green manufacturing hub outside of Oslo. Constructed in just 18 months, the building is made of local mass timber, low-carbon concrete, and recycled steel, and is set to become the first industrial building to achieve the highest environmental BREEAM Outstanding rating."
building as plus sign


Of course, it is called The Plus because it looks like a big plus sign. Did I say Bjarke was subtle? Each wing serves a different function: warehouse, color factory, wood factory, and assembly, with "an efficient, flexible, and transparent workflow between the manufacturing units and the intuitive visitor experience."

view of roof and central court


it is in the middle of a 300-acre public park and includes an exhibition space where the public learns about energy, water, and circular design.

Interior of Vestre factory


Bjarke Ingels explains:

“Together with Vestre, we have imagined a factory that puts the entire process of furniture-making on open display – at center stage. Rather than fearing industrial espionage, the factory wants to show and share their knowledge to help accelerate the global transition towards sustainable manufacturing. Constructed from locally-sourced timber and running on local hydropower, the beauty of The Plus is in the clarity of its organization. Conceived as the intersection of a road and a production line, it forms a big plus shape that connects all aspects of manufacturing. The radical transparency invites visitors and hikers to enjoy the whole process of creation while providing Vestre’s team with the thrill of working in the middle of the forest. To us, The Plus is a crystal-clear example of Hedonistic Sustainability – showing us how our sustainable future will not only be better for the environment, but also more beautiful to work in and more fun to visit.”
kids looking at core of building


Many of us rolled our eyes when we first heard the term "hedonistic sustainability," defined by Ingels to be "a mind-set that integrates aspects of sustainability with playfulness into a building to improve human life." It often involves architectural jokes, like the Plus sign.

BIG partner David Zahle picks up on the fun: "Playfulness, democracy, and sustainability are at the heart of the Vestre brand and everything they do; our wooden, colorful factory in the middle of the Norwegian woods – surrounded by a 300,000m2 public forest park where the local community can come to experience the gigantic Vestre furniture pieces sprinkled throughout – lives and breathes this philosophy."

right to roam


We have discussed the "right to roam" before. They take it seriously in Norway and in this building, letting the public roam right over the roof with stairs, a ramp, and a slide back down.

kids running up to roof


It's all built of local wood, low carbon concrete, and recycled reinforcement steel.

"The Plus will generate 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional factory. The factory has an efficiency rating of A+ and the building will generate around 250,000 kWh of renewable energy per year. Vestre will use 100% electric vehicles for transportation."
interior of factory space


There is no word on how much this all cost, and it is surprising that a company that makes street furniture and terrible squiggly bike racks could afford it, but good for them.

As BIG concludes:

"Proving that production can be sustainable and profitable even in a high-cost country like Norway, The Plus – a hybrid of a transparent and open production facility, a public park, and a literal green landmark for the manufacturing industry – exemplifies how advancements in fabrication and manufacturing can help shape both the factories of the future, and the way we experience them."
stair from interior of court