One week after BIG founder Bjarke Ingels was photographed in Brazil alongside the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the Danish architect has provided AN with a more in-depth explanation of his time there.
Ingels was reportedly touring Brazil as part of a Nomade Group delegation, investors who had been invited by Minister of Tourism Marcelo Álvaro Antônio to explore sustainable tourism opportunities. The backlash online was swift given the President’s history of climate denialism, and only intensified when Culture Secretary Roberto Alvim was fired after lifting phrases and imagery from Nazi propaganda for a speech about funding national art that Bolsonaro finds acceptable. Heated back-and-forths over whether Ingels’ meeting was appropriate broke out on Twitter, as well as in AN’s own comments.
Ingels issued the following statement earlier today, where he called for critics to move beyond binary ways of seeing the world:
Our role and impact in the world
Many have asked what we are doing in Brazil.
My colleague and I have been on a fact-finding trip with Nomade Group to gather background information for a holistic masterplan for responsible tourism in socially and environmentally sustainable destinations in Northeast Brazil. Some may know the incredible, barefoot, light impact environments that Nomade is known for—a form of tourism that doesn’t replace the forest or the sand but rather inhabits and preserves it. A much-needed alternative to the high-rises on the beach that often happens when international tourism arrives as it has in Cancun only hours north of Tulum.
We traveled the Northeast Coast of Brazil from Fortaleza to Atins, crossing three states, meeting mayors, governors and ministers across the entire political spectrum, and most importantly, amazing people from all walks of life. The observations and ideas we presented in our preliminary research to the ministries of Economy and Tourism impacted them so much that that they asked us to present our ideas directly to the president’s office. How better to impact the future of the region and the country than to plant the ideas we believe in at the highest level of government? Neither the president nor the ministers are our clients, but we are happy to share our ideas and ideals with a government that is willing to listen.
As much as I would enjoy working in a bubble where everybody agrees with me, the places that can really benefit from our involvement are the places that are further from the ideals that we already hold. I love Brazil as a country, and I really want to see Brazil succeed. Slash and burn agriculture is one of many examples of how socioeconomic problems can become environmental problems. That is why I want to be actively involved with the necessary transformation of Brazil and share ideas that I believe would be a great alternative to the traditional development that destroys the landscape, deteriorates the ecosystems and displaces the local community. We may not succeed, but I am certain that we will not succeed, if we don’t even try.
Creating a list of countries or companies that BIG should shy away from working with seems to be an oversimplification of a complex world. Dividing everything into two categories is neither accurate nor reasonable. The way the world evolves isn’t binary but rather gradual and on a vast array of aspects and nuances. If we want to positively impact the world, we need active engagement, not superficial clickbait or ignorance.
I believe we have a great responsibility that comes with the creative platform that we have created. We should use that platform to change the world for the better. We can’t expect every public instance to be aligned with all aspects of our thinking, but we can make sure that we bring the change we want to see in the world, through the work we do. The ideas and ideals of the projects we propose bear their legitimacy. That means working in countries like Brazil (and the USA for that matter) despite the controversies that their elected leaders may generate. One of the core principles of democracy is the ability to coexist and collaborate despite political differences.
In my mind that is a way for us architects to have ethical impact. To engage actively to create the future that we want, by proposing our ideas to people, governments and businesses even if they have different points of view than we do. We have to engage and embrace our differences if we want to dare to imagine a different future.