FORGET Norman Foster or Frank Gehry- the new up-and coming star of architecture is Bjarke Ingels. A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, his architecture studio, BIG, is based in New York City. His many projects- around the world, but mainly in Denmark and New York- are radical works of art and expression, testing the boundaries between form, functionality, and sustainability. It is a new way of thinking about architecture, and the built environment around us.
Bjarke grew up in a small house in the suburbs of Copenhagen, and at first dreamed of becoming a graphic novelist. He soon, however, became interested in the work of Rem Koolhaas (known for Seattle’s famous Central Library). In 2005, he got around to starting his own architecture firm, BIG. Soon, he started making his name as an internationally renowned architect in design competitions. In his 2009 book Yes Is More, Ingels explains his design philosophy and the concept of “hedonistic sustainability”. In many of his projects, he explains, sustainability has been included in an almost playful way, and actually benefited living standards.
“Historically the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes. On one side an avant-garde full of crazy ideas. Originating from philosophy, mysticism or a fascination of the formal potential of computer visualizations they are often so detached from reality that they fail to become something other than eccentric curiosities. On the other side there are well-organized corporate consultants that build predictable and boring boxes of high standard. Architecture seems to be entrenched in two equally unfertile fronts: either naively utopian or petrifyingly pragmatic. We believe that there is a third way wedged in the no-mans-land between the diametrical opposites. Or in the small but very fertile overlap between the two. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective,” he writes in the book.
Despite only moving to New York City in 2011, Ingels has considerable influence over the city’s future. His firm has designed a massive, triangular apartment block on West 57th Street, and has been selected to design the new 2 World Trade Center, near the site of the 9/11 attacks. He explains that what his group tries and tries to do is weave the practical and the beautiful. Some architects, for instance Santiago Calatrava are known for their gigantic, hugely expensive cathedrals. Ingels is known for his creativity and problem-solving. His remarkable ability to do this is probably the reason why he is so popular with developers. It’s sort of mutually beneficial for everyone.
Bjarke’s designs are good for the environment, developers, and most importantly, the people who actually use them. And they look good too. For instance, 2 World Trade Center will have terraces with gardens on the upper floors of the building. He has this almost magical ability to create something unique out of an ordinary commission, while keeping the budget decent. This is a quality not all architects have.
At West 57th Street, one of Bjarke’s first New York projects, instead of the usual monstrous block that is common in New York, he has engineered a clever design, with the building rising up in a steep slope to the peak of 450 feet, blocking out noise from the nearby West Side Highway, and opening up views of the Hudson. And right in the center, Ingels has placed a courtyard, with green space. With a little bit of smart planning, Ingels has created an alternative to the monstrous, inhumane skyscraper that New York seems to have so many of. In fact, Ingels himself called it a “courtscraper”.
Images courtesy of BIG
However, one project caught my attention in particular above all others. Called the Amager-Bakke waste-to-energy plant, it will feature a ski slope on the roof of the plant. If that weren’t enough, then it will also blow rings of smoke. Sounds more like science fiction, right. But no, the plant is under construction. It’s the most practical use of space, as the plant has the potential not only to create Copenhagen’s energy from its waste, but also to become a gathering place for the city’s residence. Perhaps that’s what Bjarke means with his philosophy of “hedonistic sustainability”. Ultimate practicality and cool details. Something that’s good for the environment and the city’s residents. A win-win situation. No wonder Bjarke is one of the most popular living architects. It just goes to show, good architecture is in everyone’s interests.