Free Bjarke Ingels

Free Bjarke Ingels

By 2017, residents of Copenhagen will be able to ski down a 333,700-square-foot slope off the roof of BIG’s Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant.
Courtesy BIG / Taschen

The book cover (left); BIG’s pyramid-shaped residential building on West 57th Street (right).

Ingels quickly sets a jubilant tone with a vibrant heat map of the earth to geo-locate BIG’s work, an iconographic periodic table of projects and a poignant essay entitled, “Engineering without Engines.” The text is an exposition on the lost art of vernacular building, an embrace of site specificity, and an imperative to the design community to balance maximum performance with minimum resource consumption.

The book, and the companion show at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is organized by climate (from hot to cold), beginning with a media headquarters in the Middle East and ending with a Finnish ski village. Between the bookends, BIG takes a world tour, illustrating work both built and conceptual, with stops in Taiwan, Manhattan, Denmark, and Seoul, to name only a few of the far-flung locales.

In Kuala Lumpur, BIG has proposed a skyscraper that literally turns the accepted form, and the antiquated methods for conditioning interior spaces, on its head. The landmark tower splays out as it rises, like an inverse Ziggurat, providing increased real estate on the higher, more coveted floors. Three horizontal bands mark the locations of lobbies and correspond to the mass of the building stepping outward. The lobbies strategically allow for air circulation and the associated overhangs provide shade and help passively cool the interior.

The BIG Pin project is proposed to someday rise high above Phoenix, Arizona, and will not only provide unparalleled views out toward the sprawling desert, but will also become a striking icon in a city not widely known for progressive architectural commissions. Programmatically reminiscent of similar towers in Seattle, Toronto, and Paris, the project will feature a single slender column supporting a gauzy, helix-like globe from which visitors will be treated to broad vistas and a breezy respite from the harsh surface temperatures so prevalent on the arid streets below.

The BIG U, a plan to increase the resiliency of Lower Manhattan with a floodwall and green infrastructure.

HOT TO COLD, like the firm’s previous book, Yes is More, leans heavily on progressive concepts, speculative work, and graphic fireworks, but it should be noted that many of BIG’s projects are being constructed. The Hualien Residences in Taiwan, with sculpted mountain-like forms oriented to maximize views and shading, and the Albany Marina Residences in the Bahamas, which features a honeycomb composition of apartments fronted by private pools, are currently under construction and represent provocative, and evidently feasible examples of the potential changes in our built environments.

It is clear that the office operates at the scale of the buildings, cities, and regions with equal exuberance. An interactive Valentine’s Day installation in Times Square, a power plant transformed into an urban ski slope and art installation, a floating student housing complex made of Polish shipping containers, and a light rail master plan linking 4,250 square miles of Denmark and Sweden all receive the same measure of insight, analysis, and utopian daydreaming.

The book—and likely the architects at BIG as well—draws no distinction in hierarchy between what is built and what is conceptual. While some of the projects initially appear borrowed from science fiction, HOT TO COLD accompanies each seemingly outlandish image with logic so sound that one can’t believe the whole world is not yet dotted with bespoke BIG structures.

Officially the images collected on these pages document the work of the Bjarke Ingels Group, but it feels like the Bjarke show. He is a master of architectural rhetoric and project narrative, and humanizes projects that might otherwise be intimidating by adding humor and personal anecdotes into text usually reserved for technical details. The book contains essays on Vancouver, social infrastructure, and the importance of public engagement in the planning of a Copenhagen city park. The pieces are informative, at times a bit cluttered, and almost always heavy on the exclamations.

Someday, perhaps, the world will catch up to Bjarke Ingels and his band of renegade rationalists. Someday all buildings might be responsive to the specificity of their site. Maybe all buildings will be intuitively and effectively sustainable. Someday every structure could balance the exceptional and the expected. Someday all sentences might be exclamations. Free Bjarke Ingels!