Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has been described as a wunderkind and pop star of the architectural world.
What he really is is exceptionally busy.
At just 38, Ingels has already achieved a stature and portfolio befitting the name of his firm: BIG, short for the Bjarke Ingels Group.
Ingels has dashed across the globe, winning design competitions and landing commissions for more than 100 projects — 22 already completed, eight under construction — from Shanghai to Coconut Grove.
In the flat city of Copenhagen, he’s covering a waste-to-energy plant with a ski slope — and outfitting the plant’s smokestack to puff giant smoke rings.
He’s designing an entire city in the suburbs of Paris — and a lush, wind-powered resort community on what’s now a desolate island in Azerbaijan.
In Manhattan, he’s building an apartment building that twists and peaks like a pyramid.
BIG has done all this in only eight years, in a field where so much is rarely accomplished so fast.
“This is unprecedented in some regards. I’m not sure I know of another case where a young person has emerged with such force and so rapidly,” said Preston Scott Cohen, chairman of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
Ingels designs playful buildings, parks and museums that aren’t just meant to look cool — though they do. The sometimes strange, always striking designs are all driven by sensible, sensitive urban planning principles that Ingels eagerly shares.
With tousled, golden brown hair and an all-black wardrobe, he’s known for his enthusiasm in explaining why he’s plunking a ski slope onto a garbage facility (it creates a public value and connects neighborhoods, and the smoke rings raise environmental consciousness) or building a pyramid in New York (because the shape preserves neighbors’ views while creating better ones for the new building).
He sometimes lectures and tweets.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the young star is especially loved by students, and not just for his work. At a recent lecture at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach, a young woman in the audience told Ingels she likes his work — and him. Type his name into Google, and the search engine suggests looking up “Bjarke Ingels girlfriend.”
What’s the secret?
All of the attention makes some wonder whether the secret behind BIG’s fame is just a well-oiled media machine. Others have complained Ingels oversimplifies the design process by breezing through it in a few animated slides.
BIG explains the firm’s approach to architecture as trying to find “the balance of programmatic mixtures on the triple bottom line of the social, economic and ecological outcome.” Issues like sustainability, open access and even better government all become design challenges.
Take Europa City, for example.
BIG just won a design contest for the 80-hectacre project in the Triangle de Gonesse. The firm proposes to create an ultra-dense, multilayer hub of urban life where there are now only open fields. From above, Europa City takes the shape of an undulating oval. On the ground, the entire site is connected by a continuous loop, elevated walkways, bike paths and mass transportation stops. The whole thing is covered by a roof that’s actually a green park. There are thermal baths, skiing and cultural programming. Power comes from the sun, biofuels and geothermal energy, with excess heat and rainwater captured and reused.