On Architizer, it feels like we are always reading or writing about Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’ latest big move. Not a month seems to go by where his name doesn’t pop up in headlines. In fact, in 2017 alone, we have already published seven articles either on the man himself or projects by his namesake firm, Bjarke Ingels Group.
Since rising to architectural stardom over the last half decade, the 42-year-old Ingels has secured and delivered the kinds of high-profile commissions that most 60-year-old architects can only dream of. As a result of this and his firm's incredible branding strategy, he has received an astounding amount of attention from both the design and mainstream media.
True to form, Ingels' new movie BIG TIME looks like being a typically polished affair, full of Ingels' colorful creativity and underpinned by his storytelling prowess. However, given the energy required to maintain the image of the world's most marketable architect, it should come as no surprise that a truly comprehensive documentary about the designer's incredibly ambitious career might take on a somber, more realistic tone.
The film, created by Danish documentary filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder, reveals an alt-look into Ingels’ professional life and the psychological pressure of being a top-tier architect today. Images of a tired Ingels resting in the car or staring at Manhattan’s skyline from a balcony — moments of stillness that many would never have imagined him having time for — pop up in between shots of him sketching or talking about his larger-than-life projects.
The key shift in mood arrives half way through the trailer. Ingels describes suffering a concussion that left him experiencing "more or less of a constant headache." Footage of him undergoing a brain scan will undoubtedly provoke a real sense of concern among the audience, far removed for the comparatively superficial talk of design concepts and broad architectural gestures.
Given this unforeseen turn of events, we can only assume that the cryptic, often contradictory atmosphere of the movie trailer was not planned. Maybe it was. Whatever Schröder's purpose in pursuing his story, the Ingels presented in this film strikes a drastic contrast with the man behind the confident and playful demeanor we are so used to seeing.
With Ingels’ endless proverbial optimism about the field of architecture, as well as the promotion of his firm’s never-ending roster of game-changing goals, it is easy to forget the fact that he is just one man. One does not have to champion his designs or support his branding techniques to sympathize with the simple fact that being an architect is extraordinarily demanding.
Some might say that being honest about the stress that can overcome architects when trying put up a building is brave, and somewhat necessary for us to do greater work — especially in an era where mental health awareness and work/life balance is more relevant than ever before.
Depending on how the full edit plays out, critics might argue the film dramatizes or even romanticizes psychological issues faced by normal people each and every day, simply to sell more movie tickets. That said, this film should make Ingels more accessible to us, revealing human traits behind the Instagram-friendly architect presented to the world for the past five years. This can be no bad thing.
When viewing this trailer or watching the film, consider this: An optimistic spirit for the work you do and the anxiety that comes with trying to make that work bigger and better can coexist in one mind. A hopeful attitude doesn’t negate worry. In fact, in the realm of architecture, a balanced pairing of caution and ambition probably makes us more aware of how to better build for our world.