In a profession where, mostly, the creations are flamboyant, but the creator is not, the 46-year old Danish architect Bjarke Ingels is a media sensation; with a famous Danish designer going to the extent of wryly remarking, “If there were a movie star within architecture, it would be Bjarke…he’s a mix between the Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin and the American actor and musician Jack Black.’!
Born in Copenhagen in 1974, Ingels studied architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Technica Superior de Arquitectura in Barcelona. Post a three-year stint at OMA in Rotterdam and later co-founding PLOT Architects in 2001, Ingels created the Bjarke Ingels Group(BIG),in 2005. Over the years, BIG has managed to establish an international presence.
Ingels first came to be known in Denmark for undertaking highly noticeable category-defying projects. Like his first affordable housing developments, wherein one was in the shape of a figure 8, with a bike path that looped up and over ten storeys of apartments; while a subterranean maritime museum was in the shape of a boat.
Over the decades, Ingels’ firm has overseen building skyscrapers, condominiums, museums, stadiums, and parks in four continents. Of late, Ingels is discussing the viability of building on Mars, and a hyperloop connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Towards this end, BIG has hired a former SpaceX rocket scientist to prove that he is not indulging in just speculative architecture. Ingels plans to achieve this futuristic mission through a collaboration with scientists, architects, engineers and multi-disciplinary experts, and by changing from “BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group” to ‘BIG LEAP’; ‘LEAP” being an acronym for Landscape, Engineering, Architecture and Production.
Some of the completed/ongoing projects include: Danish National Maritime Museum, Superkilen Park, Mountain Dwellings, Gammel Hellerup Sports Hall and Art School--all in Denmark. Ingels is also credited with Danish Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, Hualien Residences, Taiwan, BIG Maze, USA, Via 57 West, New York, USA, Hyperloop One, UAE, Google North Bayshore Campus, USA, Two World Trade Center, USA…
In an interview to QUARTZ magazine in June 2019, when asked if there is a common thread underlying all BIG Projects, Ingels replies, ‘‘ Yes. You can call our practice and our worldview pragmatic utopia. We have the power as human beings to organize all the elements of our world and society in a socially and environmentally perfect way. The power we have as architects is that we can say, yes, we’re going to give you everything you asked for and in addition to that, we’re going to give you something more—something you didn’t ask for.’ Significantly 10 years ago at a 2009 TED talk, he announced his philosophy, ‘yes is more’ and ‘hedonistic sustainability’; this video has since been watched by over 2.3 million worldwide.
Essentially many of his projects seek a blend of sustainability with a playful and responsible spirit fused into buildings to enhance living standards. Ingels would like to veer away from the compartmentalization of two extremes architecture design practice—one which originates from philosophy, mysticism and computer visualisations which though look stupendous are not rooted in living reality; and the other characterized by predictable and boring match boxes of high standard. Ingels wants architecture to carve out a third way wedged in the no-man’s-land between the diametrical opposites. Or capitalize on the potential offered in the fertile overlap between the two.
Ingels has really acquired the reputation of a Starchitect in the true sense with a global fan base, not just for his architectural dynamism, but also for his straight-to-the-point communication style, his good nature and charisma, and his highly creative approach. Clients and admirers clearly see a confidence in him to clearly explain his dreams. And even though the ideas appear to be magnificent and complex, he has the tenaciousness, suaveness, and drive to see them through to the finish line.
In spite of his unique philosophy and conviction, Ingels is not known to impose his own aesthetic dogma—he is ready to find solutions vis-à-vis the demands of the client , and has constantly evolved from project to project. The firm’s unorthodox work—an intermingling of utopian visions and pragmatic solutions—is decidedly of and for the 21st century.
Though Ingels moved to New York in 2010, it appears he now has more control over the next iteration of the city’s skyline than any other architect. In 2015, Ingels bought an apartment in New York's Dumbo neighborhood and a year later started living with his girlfriend, Spanish architect Ruth Otero, at Burning Man. They have a son.
The Robb Report of September 24 2019 which has a tantalizing title ‘How Bjarke Ingels Became Architecture’s Most Subversive Superstar’ states that ‘Ingels turned a roof into a ski slope and made a museum out of Legos. If the architect has a signature move, it’s subverting expectations.’
Hemalatha is a Chennai-based architect with experience in practicing & teaching architecture, and co-founder of SIDART Photography.