How Bjarke Ingels Changed Architecture

Defying the archetypal image of the architect as a “suffering artist”, Ingels’ message is one of endless opportunities and optimism.

Lidija Grozdanic Lidija Grozdanic

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Few architects in the world have mastered the marketing game as well as Bjarke Ingels. His adaptability to different cultural and economic influences has made the 42-year-old enfant terrible a divisive figure within the professional community. Ingels’ designs, representation style and public persona reinforce his iconoclastic status as either the best representative of the young architectural vanguard or, for some, a master of self-promotion.

Ingels is young, fun and ambitious, advocating the release of architecture from its disciplinary bubble. His vocabulary is a blend of pop references and classical philosophy quotes mixed together for maximum impact with both peers and lay audiences. BIG’s designs and marketing are effortlessly consistent and filtered through a belief system based on the idea of playfulness.

The firm rigorously incorporates popular media and new technology in their marketing campaigns, utilizing GoPro videography, augmented reality, comic books, holograms, catchy manifestos and calls to action that marry architectural theory with the current cultural and political zeitgeist. Its message is one of endless opportunities and optimism.

8 House by BIG

Ingels is the architectural equivalent of a successful tech entrepreneur. By exploring new financing models and experimenting with innovative design solutions and materials, BIG is broadening the scope of architectural practice. Its incubator, called BIG IDEAS, allows innovators to create design prototypes, products and new materials for the AEC industry. Among the projects being developed under the BIG IDEAS umbrella are an Internet of Things door lock called Friday, prototypes for a life-sized Tesla coil, steam-ring generators, smart building materials and even a Hyperloop high-speed transportation system.

Meanwhile, the firm’s recently launched in-house engineering department will bring together architects, product designers and landscape architects to collaborate on the firm’s technically challenging projects. This entrepreneurial approach portrays a new type of architect: not one who fights for their vision against outside influences, but a problem-solver unafraid to step outside of their immediate area of expertise. If the image of the architect as a misunderstood figure pressured by politics and moneymen has eroded in the last few decades, Ingels certainly represents its final demise.

VIA 57 West by Squint/Opera

Yet, Ingels makes his relationship with innovation and entrepreneurship seem entirely effortless. In the promo video for VIA 57 West in Manhattan by Squint/Opera, the exterior and interior of the building gradually appear in front of us as if responding to Ingels’ hand gestures, perfectly embodying the promise of “turning fantasy into concrete reality.” This VR 360 film is viewable in 4K both on a screen and through a VR headset when played through Google Cardboard.

Europa City by Squint/Opera

Another video by Squint/Opera on BIG’s Europa City shows Ingels sitting at an interactive horizontal screen, channeling Tony Stark working on his spiffy hologram technology. A follow-up video on Europa City takes a diagrammatic approach that leads the eye to several pop-ups, urban landmarks and connections. The camera dives down to street level not to show off the atmosphere or formal aspects of the design, but to create an impression of a vibrant urban life.

Danish Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

BIG present their projects as much more than buildings. The design of the Danish pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo is marked by several, strictly speaking non-architectural features that make its influence surpass its physical constraints. Denmark donated 1,000 bikes that visitors could use to navigate the entire Expo.

In a video produced by BIG, Bjarke Ingels bikes through the pavilion with a Black Eyed Peas song in the background, showing that impatient visitors can see the entire project in under two minutes. Ingels aims to eliminate every potential dull moment of navigating his design and offers the opportunity to experience it in time-lapse.

“My Playground – Preview” by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

A documentary on parkour by Kaspar Astrup Schröder prominently features Bjarke Ingels and his Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen, among other projects. While the scenes where we see this fringe athletic discipline reveal interesting new ways in which people reappropriate urban environments, in terms of architecture, parkour seems to primarily be a kind of plot device, the main role of which is to reinforce the idea of using the city as a playground.

This playfulness also relates to memorable, marketing-friendly narrative offshoots that imply that BIG’s design efforts reach far beyond architecture. The courtyard of the 57 West in Manhattan has the same proportions as Central Park, only it’s 13,000 times smaller, while the chimney of the Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant in Copenhagen is planned to emit vapor rings at intervals that mark every 250 kilograms [550 pounds] of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

For the 2010 Danish Pavilion, Denmark shipped clean harbor water from Copenhagen to Shanghai. The sculpture of the Little Mermaid was also transported from Denmark to the site to become the central element of the pavilion for the duration of the Expo.

Ingels talks about sustainability as a design opportunity that can increase the quality of life instead of imposing a series of restrictions. BIG’s marketing is moving the concept of sustainability away from the perpetual cycle of scientific finger-wagging and infuses the issue with a degree of levity. The firm takes on big subjects — globalization, sustainability and social cohesion — and proposes evolution instead of revolution.

While the word “revolution” relates to the tradition of emerging architects shattering old norms and fighting against the architectural establishment, evolution implies a natural, less aggressive progression. BIG’s idea of evolution implies an absence of “enemy.” It doesn’t aim to disturb the status quo but will ride the wave of natural — in this case, cultural — development that itself will eliminate resistance.

For more from BIG, check out the firm’s in-depth firm profile on Architizer.

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