November’s featured architect is my friend, the young and charismatic Bjarke Ingels, who is a Danish architect and the founder of Bjarke Ingels Group—better known as BIG. He was born in Copenhagen in 1974 and demonstrated an interest in drawing from a very young age. Ingels dreamed of being a cartoonist and was encouraged by his parents to study architecture so that he could learn more about drawing and increase his career possibilities. He began studying architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts before going to study in Barcelona at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura. Ingels’ first job was with Rem Koolhaas at OMA in Rotterdam.
Ingels achieved success and international acclaim very young in life, when his first architecture firm that he formed with OMA colleague Julien de Smedt—PLOT—was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2004. PLOT continued to receive attention and awards for their projects like the VM Houses in Ørestad, Copenhagen, but disbanded at the end of 2005. Ingels went on to form BIG, which achieved near-immediate fame with his Mountain Dwellings residential complex.
Bjarke Ingels was very quickly considered to be one of the most inventive and sought-after architects; his designs are thought to be provocative and when he first came on the scene in Denmark, people weren’t sure what to do with him. Yet, over the last 15 years, he has introduced many revolutionary ideas and changed many people’s minds about what is possible. One of his philosophies is known as “hedonistic sustainability,” and suggests that designing for sustainability doesn’t have to be about making sacrifices, it can be about actually increasing the quality of life. Ingels has come up during the rise of the sustainability movement and has been heavily influenced by its tenets.
One of his best-known projects that has been designed with hedonistic sustainability in mind is the Copenhill Power Plant with a rooftop ski slope in Copenhagen. The power plant is the “cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world” and includes tree-lined walking/running trails, the tallest climbing wall in the world, a rooftop bar, a CrossFit area, and a ski slope that measures 400 meters. The power plant incinerates waste and powers 150,000 homes each year. What Ingels loves about architecture and projects like this one, is that he says he is able to “give form to the future that we want to live in.” Some of his other works that have been similarly revolutionary for their pragmatic utopian design is the Google Headquarters in California, Via 57 West in New York City, and the Gammel Hellerup Sports Hall and Art School in Denmark.
Ingels also believes that he doesn’t need to make a choice or make compromises when it comes to his designs. He often describes this philosophy as “Yes is More” and even published a book with this same title that is written as a comic book. Thinking in this way has led him to “crowdsource” some of his designs by getting the community involved in design decisions. He sees this as an inclusive approach that incorporates the concerns and needs of everyone in the community. Ingels, who is featured in one episode of the Netflix show Abstract: The Art of Design, states that this is “a recipe for making something extraordinary because it has to perform in so many different ways.”