Ingels, the founder of BIG studio in Copenhagen, is not a disconnected town planner who designs people’s urban environments on the drawing board in a way that dictates how they should live. He embodies a new generation of architects who no longer see the sense in outlandish prestige buildings, but instead seek honest solutions to the great challenges of our time: urbanization, migration, natural disasters and poverty. He is a visionary thinker who has both feet firmly on the ground.
It is rather convenient, then, that Ingels is able to express his philosophy in slogans that are as easy to quote as they are to retweet. “Yes is more” is one of his credos, a mixture of all the design principles of the last hundred years – from minimalism to functionalism. Another concept is called BIGamy, according to which a building should ideally fulfill hybrid functions. But the fundamental question that still remains is: how can a building be social, economical and ecological all at once?
“We don’t design buildings for architects”, says Ingels. “We design buildings for people who work in power plants, who work in schools, who run museums.”
To achieve this, Ingels also combines principles that seem at first glance to be rather incompatible – pragmatic utopias, or hedonistic sustainability. The latter approach stating that green design can only be successful if it is more desirable than the status quo. “Sustainability has become a kind of neo-Protestant idea”, says Ingels. People believe that “it has to hurt to do good.”
Mountain Dwellings, one of his early designs, perhaps best describes what is meant by this. A Copenhagen penthouse residential estate on a slanting slope above a car park for residents, it is, according to Ingels, “the best example of what we call "architectural alchemy". The idea is that if we cannot create gold, at least we can create added value by mixing traditional elements such as apartments and car parks, and in this case even give people the opportunity of not having to choose between a life with a garden or a life in the city.”
Copenhagen has a lot of snow in winter, but no mountains. What could be done about this? Bjarke Ingels and BIG Studios use the Danish capital’s new power plant as a ski slope – and it’s a piste like no other.
Amager Bakke, Copenhagen, Denmark ©BIG&MIR
VIA 57 WEST is the name of the pyramid-like skyscraper on the Hudson. The city’s already impressive collection of skyscrapers can now boast with another striking building. The shiny silver building surrounds a green courtyard.
VIA 57 WEST, New York, USA ©Nic-Lehoux
With Mountain Dwellings in the Danish capital, the BIG architects have killed two birds with one stone: parking below, living above. Dual use entirely in the spirit of Bjarke Ingels.
Mountain Dwellings, Copenhagen, Denmark ©Iwan Baan
Nesting, tilting and twisting buildings is the Ingels style – just like here at Vancouver House in the Canadian metropolis. However, this is never merely for the sake of the idea. Because the property in Vancouver was so small, Ingels increased the building’s surface area with increasing height.
Vancouver House, Canada ©BIG
The Danish Maritime Museum was once housed in Kronborg, Hamlet’s castle, in Helsingør. When the castle became a UNESCO World Heritage site, the museum had to bow out. Everything had to be authentic and in Hamlet’s time, there had not yet been a maritime museum. The new location is just opposite the site of an old shipyard and viewed from above, the museum is shaped exactly like a ship.
Danish Maritime Museum, Kronborg, Denmark ©Luca Santiago Mora
Bjarke Ingels himself attended the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium north of Copenhagen. He certainly couldn't say no when his former mathematics teacher called him and asked him to design a new sports center. The result is an underground hall that is ideal for Denmark’s favorite sport, handball. It has a vaulted, wooden roof, furnished with benches and standing tables. The learners use it as a schoolyard or open-air auditorium.
Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium, Hellerup, Denmark ©Jens Lindhe
The circular National Gallery of Greenland is a proud expression of independence from Denmark. It fits like a ring of molten stone from the surrounding rock landscape in front of the gates of the capital Nuuk. In reality, the building only opens inwards, but from the higher levels there is a great view of the sea.
National Gallery, Nuuk, Greenland ©BIG&Glessner
“Form follows flow”, is what Bjarke Ingels says about his proposal for the new square in front of the legendary Battersea Power Station in London. This power plant in the south of the British capital, which has since been shut down, was once famous for gracing the cover of a Pink Floyd record. Now the area is being gentrified, with new skyscrapers designed by Frank Gehry and Sir Norman Foster sprouting up in the neighborhood. The square combines the old with the new. Although Ingels’ proposal has different levels separating cars and pedestrians, they still allow for togetherness. The new square will also be used for hosting events.
Malaysia Square, London, UK ©BIG
Each year, the director of the London Serpentine Gallery Julia Peyton-Jones gives a different architect who has not yet built in London the opportunity to erect a temporary pavilion at Kensington Gardens. In 2016, Bjarke Ingels decided to use 1,802 fiberglass modules, which he stacked into a 14-meter-high structure. The structure was open at the front and enclosed an inner cabinet.
Serpentine Pavilion, London, UK ©Iwan Baan
This large building complex in Copenhagen was originally meant to have the irrelevant shape of a huge rectangle. BIG turned it into a horizontal figure of eight, which is also the symbol for infinity. This resulted in two courtyards and, through differing heights in the building,lovely views from many apartments. The roof is accessible and can be used as a pedestrian and cycle path.
8 House, Copenhagen, Denmark ©Iwan Baan
Sustainability is important to Ingels, as is social tolerability. Because students in many major cities have problems finding affordable living space, BIG developed these floating modules from insulated recycled ship containers. The containers are grouped around an inner courtyard and can be combined into larger units and “parked” in empty spots in the harbor (and, if necessary, quickly be relocated to other “parking spots”).
Urban Rigger, Copenhagen, Denmark ©Laurent De Carniere
Ingels designed the VM Houses in Orestad, which were completed in 2005, together with his former partner Julien de Smedt (JDS Architects). The two buildings, shaped respectively like a V and an M, are characterized by their immense glass surfaces and the pointed, triangular balconies that form the facade and provide their occupants with an unobstructed view on three sides.
VM Hose, Orestad, Denmark ©Johan Fowelin
Rem Koolhaas, his mentor, once said that Ingels was the first architect ’with no fear”. This fearlessness now appears to have become his greatest asset. His company, BIG, is scooping up one architectural prize after another. He has more than a dozen buildings currently under construction, including the new Google Headquarters and the second tower of the new World Trade Center, and projects as far apart as China, the Faroe Islands and Mexico.
But Bjarke Ingels stopped being merely a builder of skyscrapers a long time ago – he also creates thought structures. The Dane is not only an architect, he is also equal parts pop star, prophet and philosopher. He has become a traveling salesman of issues of the future, part of the globally-minded movers and shakers who fly from one thought-leadership conference to another to present their version of a better tomorrow to the public.
There is one thing, however, that distinguishes Ingels from other oft-quoted speakers. Instead of witty maxims and slick PowerPoint slides, he brings with him practical solutions. BIG buildings always offer the promise that people’s lives will become better because of them.
Text: Michael Moorstedt
For more information:
“Hot to cold – An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation”, Taschen Verlag 2016
Photo: Bjarke Ingels ©Steve Benisty
Photo top: Draft of the new museum of Audemars Piguet in Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, where the swiss watch manufacture has been founded in 1875 ©BIG