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Better city, better life

Creative mind from Copenhagen.

Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group).

The young Danish architect Bjarke Ingels designs buildings that aresocially and environmentally sensitive as well as fully resolved and experimental all in one.

One architecutral model among the other in the BIG-studio in Copenhagen.

Six years ago, Bjarke Ingels — who is just 37 years old — founded the BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) architectural practice and is currently regarded as the shooting star in the industry. He is winning architecture competitions and gathering awards at an astonishing rate, has designed buildings around the globe and has been named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” for the year 2010 by U.S. magazine Fast Company. Which begs the question: How has he managed to achieve so much so quickly? Under the tutelage of Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam, he learned that being a good communicator ranks as highly as creativity in an architect’s skill set. After spending a couple of years at OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture), he and a colleague established the studio PLOT.


It was at this time that he formulated his own approach to his profession: While a building should not be as exalted as “starchitecture,” it should also not be as dreary as the utilitarian structures that dominate cities. Instead, he aspires to creating places that perfectly dovetail social, economic and ecological demands. “Pragmatic utopian architecture” is Ingels’ moniker for this philosophy, which he has held fast to even after the dissolution of PLOT and the opening of BIG.


His understanding of this modus operandi can be seen in the numerous models stacked on window ledges and shelves in the BIG offices on Nørrebrogade street. For all that Ingels’ designs are unconventional, bold and humorous, they are still affordable. An apartment block in Copenhagen features triangular balconies, which not only maximize floor space but also minimize the shadows cast and give the façade its striking geometry. The architects were also commissioned with a second residential highrise and a parking garage right next door. Rather than putting up separate buildings for each function, BIG fused them, constructing apartments that cascade down, their terraces forming the roofs over the cars parked in the multi-story garage. Since the building looks like a mountain rising up from Copenhagen’s otherwise flat-as-a-pancake topography, Ingels wrapped the parking garage in an aluminium façade, which is perforated to let in fresh air and natural light while creating an image of Mount Everest.


When it came to developing a concept for the Danish Pavilion at Expo 2010, BIG responded to the ex- hibition theme of “Better City, Better Life” with a simple idea — to show the joys of cycling in Copenhagen. A fleet of 300 city bikes was made available to visitors, who could pedal in an endless loop around the original Little Mermaid statue “abducted” from her home in the Copenhagen Harbor. For the new Tallinn Town Hall, BIG envisioned the City Council with a reflective ceiling. “We call it the ‘democratic periscope’,” explains Bjarke Ingels, “because it links political transparency with public views.” Politicians who lift their gaze see city life mirrored above them, while citizens can see their representatives at work from the stree


“Finding simplicity in complex things,” is Bjarke Ingels’ goal. “In the same way that computer programmers strive to write ever more concise codes for ever more complex operations, we attempt to produce the greatest effect in architecture with the fewest means — maximizing possibilities for a minimal investment. Underpinned by this principle, his buildings’ designs are shaped by the desire to provide greener, more energy-efficient and socially attractive lifestyles in urban centers. And the same concerns also inform his theoretical work.


Apartment towers doing the splits: model of the „People’s Building“ for Shanghai in shape of the chinese letter „ren“ (human).

Bjarke Ingels thinks big — not simply because that’s his company’s name which is, after all, only an acronym for Bjarke Ingels Group. The first monograph devoted to BIG was published in 2010 in comic book form and contains a collection of ambitious ideas — for instance, a star-shaped super harbor in the Baltic and a skyscraper in the shape of the Chinese character ren, which means “the people” — enthusiastically presented by the founder. However, only a small number of these innovative concepts have taken root in cities. “Architecture is a gentleman’s sport,” muses Bjarke Ingels unperturbed. And why should he be? Since then, the number of times he has toured a newly completed building designed by BIG are rapidly mounting up. As Ingels says, “It’s always an especially magical moment when you experience first-hand something you’ve spent five years working on.” One of these particularly memorable occasions occurred at the start of this year when the first families moved into 8 House. Tracing a figure of eight, the 61,000-square-meter building complex in Copenhagen offers retail, office and residential space and carries the trademark BIG signature: The south-west corner of the structure slopes toward the ground, allowing sunlight into the courtyard. With the roof designed as a ramp, 8 House is also a giant bicycle path reaching from the street to penthouse level.

A perspective-localized painting by Felice Varini.

“We architects are the people who permanently alter the face of the planet,” explains Bjarke Ingels, “and we have within our power the means and opportunity to transform it so that it’s more fun to inhabit.” But the young architect isn’t just about fun. “We need to see ourselves as shaping ecosystems that intertwine the environment and economics as well as channel the flow of resources.”

Just how such a world will look is perfectly clear in Bjarke Ingels’ mind’s eye. In early 2011, his firm won a competition for the design of a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen. The industrial behemoth is shaped like a mountain — and one so tall that this time cyclists would find traversing it something of an extreme sporting experience. It will be the highest point on the city skyline and BIG came up with the idea of using it as a ski run: “We have the climate for winter sports here, it’s just the peaks that are missing!” An elevator will carry snow-mad Danes to a platform 100 meters up. On the way, they will be given a peek inside the plant facility, which will use the capital’s garbage to generate heat and energy. The project as a whole bears testimony to Bjarke Ingels’ abilities as a conceptual conjurer — here’s a man who can move mountains to Copenhagen.


Bjarke Ingels at Design Miami/ 2011

In cooperation with Audi, Danish architectural studio Bjarke Ingels Group showcased an interactive LED installation dubbed “Urban Future” at Design Miami/, which was staged between November 29 and December 4, 2011. The concept took its cue from Ingels’ vision of mobility in the future created for the 2010 Audi Urban Future Award. The heart of the presentation was the Audi A2 concept, which made its debut appearance in the U.S. as part of the installation. All movement in the booth was captured by 3D cameras and fed into the LED surface so that the visitor became part of the installation and experienced the communication between the car, pedestrians and the street live. Audi has been the exclusive automotive partner and an active exhibitor at Design Miami/, the world’s leading platform for design, since 2006. The four rings have always used the fair as an opportunity to experiment with the themes of mobility, technology and design, to make a statement on the future of design and contribute to the dialog on the subject with a presentation of its own.


  • Find footage of Bjarke Ingels and his installation “Urban Future” on


                  Dorothea Sundergeld (copy) & Frank Bauer (photos)


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