Since the beginning of the new millennium, the international contemporary architecture scene has a new major player. This force to be reckoned with goes by the name of Bjarke Ingels. After working for several years in the internationally renowned office OMA, under the tutelage of the famous Rem Koolhaas, he then founded with his Belgian College Julien de Smedt, the agency PLOT. The latter, despite its short existence (2001 to 2006) was the most prolific, designing a series of outstanding projects, celebrated as much by the architectural community as the public and political, economic and social scene. Following the momentum of this fabulous series of successes, Ingels then founded his own architectural firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, also known under the acronym BIG.
The agency, which today has offices in Copenhagen, New York and Beijing, has an undeniable influence on contemporary architecture. There are, in fact, now more than 200 'BIGsters' , bringing together architects, designers and other creative minds, who each year design dozens of outstanding projects scattered around the world. Their achievements, working on all scales (from furniture to urban planning), offers a new way to design and test architecture through an optimistic philosophy that seeks to turn problems into solutions. The slogan of the firm, Yes is More (a fun reinterpretation of
Less is More by Mies Van der Rohe), perfectly symbolises the positive approach of BIG.
It is with great pleasure that we are presenting to you today, three projects that have marked the history of this unique architectural firm. From Shanghai to Copenhagen, you will discover ground-breaking projects which redefine the new face of residential and public architecture.
In the early 2000s, the City of Copenhagen decided to construct a new residential district, Ørestad, located south of the historic centre and close to the international airport on the island of Amager. The VM Houses get their name from the form of the building seen on the plans. Moreover, as can be seen in this photograph, the south façade of the building V, was envisaged with strange angular balconies. These not only help boost this outdoor space and create a dramatic architectural gesture, but also limit the shadows created by neighbouring balconies to ensure each resident can enjoy the sun on their outdoor space.
The project is a contemporary reinterpretation of residential units designed by Le Corbusier. These famous buildings revolutionised our understanding of social housing and residential architecture in general. Thus, the project of VM Houses re-imagined two fundamental aspects of the project of Le Corbusier.
First, the architects were influenced by the interlocking geometries of housing units that allow for more apartments, spreading over several levels in a compact and economic form of architecture. However, as Le Corbusier offered only two modules, the creators of this contemporary project provides over 80 different iterations for the 230 apartments inside. These are nested within each other like a game of Tetris, yet in a complex and elegant fashion. This creates not only typological and architectural diversity, but creates apartments with unique sizes and morphologies, further promoting social diversity within the same building. This notion invites singles, young professionals, small families, large families and pensioners to live together all under one roof!
Reinterpreting the idea of
interior streets by Le Corbusier, the architects too, wanted to rethink the interior corridors as social spaces, just like a street. Despite his mastery, there were flaws in the plans of Le Corbusier, who preferred very straight long spaces, and cul-de-sac endings that were starved of natural light. So, Smedt and Ingels used the broken floor plan to design shorter corridors and illuminated the ends with generous openings. These circulation spaces are furnished in bright colours - different for each floor—to create a sense of community. They are, moreover, punctuated with alcoves for bicycles and golden neons creating an atmosphere out of a Sci-Fi movie.
In 2010, visitors came from all over the world to visit China for the World Expo in Shanghai. As is customary, each country designs and presents a pavilion that allows it to showcase its heritage and culture, both traditional and contemporary. Thus, Bjarke Ingels and his team of 'BIGsters' won the architectural competition for the design of the Denmark Pavilion. This iconic project, with a most unique morphology, will become a bit like the business card, as it has unilaterally placed the Danish firm on the world stage of contemporary architecture.
The pavilion takes up an area of 3000 square metres, and has been designed in the shape of a continuous loop. In an elegant gesture, the exhibition space has a rooftop terrace and covered walk way. This infinite loop protects a pool of water in the centre, which creates a cooling atmosphere based on Chinese Feng-Shui principles. This impression breaks up the material textures of steel and white surfaces, adding an organic element to the space. The riveted surface and undulating swirl shape is both exciting and vastly interesting at the same time.
The aim of the pavilion was not to present Danish culture in a cold and impersonal fashion, as seen too often in museums and exhibitions, but rather to allow visitors to experience the lively atmosphere of the city of Copenhagen. Bicycles are an important part of Danish life, so this amazing building has an infinite cycling path, as well as 1500 bikes available for use by the visitors. This gesture unites Chinese and Danish urban landscapes, as this alternative method of transport is inherent to both cultures.
In this image, we see yet another exciting touch. The central pool of the pavilion was filled with water directly from the Copenhagen harbour—a personal and unique touch. Visitors could go and cool off by bathing in this incredible pool or just close their eyes, breathe in the smell of the sea, and feel as if they were at the heart of the Danish capital. It was also a wonderful opportunity to question the value of water, and identify that action needs to be undertaken to ensure its quality and universal access.
Finally, at the centre of the pavilion, one of the biggest icons of the city of Copenhagen was installed on her faithful rock, the statue of the Little Mermaid, the heroine of the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
It's been just over a year since the new Danish Maritime Museum opened its doors, installed in the town of Helsingor, which is globally recognised as the backdrop of the Shakespeare tragedy, Hamlet. From the street, the project goes completely unnoticed, only easily seen at night by the shining bright gateways. This project has been installed fully underground, surrounding and crossing an industrial dock. This has allowed the architects to design a unique contemporary building without much change to the landscape, preserving a pristine panorama to the castle of Kronborg, the symbolic home of Shakespearean heroes that we can catch a glimpse of in the upper left corner of the photograph.
The composition of the museum itself is relatively simple. Here, we see geometry, colour and translucency intertwined into one another, creating a playful link between various surfaces. The outskirts of this space houses exhibitions, while the centre, via the three glass bridges, welcomes the auxiliary space of the museum to be used as an amphitheatre, a café and large public halls. It also acts as an intriguing circulation and transitional area, and allows visitors to interact fully with the museum.
These galleries zigzag through the dry dock, and are not only used for circulation, but have been designed with the idea that they can hold cultural and social activities. We discover a beautiful open amphitheatre, bathed in the warm light of the afternoon sun. This space, which is reminiscent of the auditorium of the Kunsthal Koolhaas, takes advantage of the volume inclined gateway to seamlessly display the different rows of bleachers. In this image, we feel a relationship between the morphology of spaces and their functions.
The dry dock dates back more than sixty years, yet remains unscathed, touched only by the golden light emanating the gateways. This space, which serves as a memory of the industrial past of the area, is well preserved, but has also been reactivated as an incomparable public walking space. There is, moreover, a special beauty in the contrast between the rough and textured look of the original buildings and smooth and shiny surfaces of the new project. A dialogue between the past and the present that deserves to be considered at a time when our cities are becoming denser, and more historic buildings are becoming abandoned.
In summary, we find through these three exemplary projects a vibrant and energetic architecture that seeks to respond to social, environmental and historical needs. We can only hope that the work of Bjarke Ingels and BIG pave the way for a new generation of architects with utopian minds and big dreams.