WSJ. Magazine awards Bjarke Ingels

WSJ. Magazine (the Wall Street Journal’s monthly magazine) has given the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels its 2011 Innovator of the Year architecture prize for his environmentally conscious but still artistic approach to architecture: his belief in playful, exciting design that’s also environmentally friendly. (I wonder what the Wall Street Journal editorial page would have to say about this, given the whole not-believing-in-global-warming thing it has going on.)

Bjarke Ingeles's Greenland National Gallery. Photo courtesy Big, Ingeles's architecture firm.

More after the break.

Bjarke Ingels is an excellent architect, and WSJ. Magazine is wise to focus on his inventive playfulness and willingness to think big. I’m not quite as convinced by the idea that unlike other expressionistic architects, he also tries to be sustainable, however. Many leading ‘starchitects’ including the likes of Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas also do that. That said, it’s true that Ingels puts a greater focus on environmentalism than either of those architects, and it does feel more like an integrated part of many of his designs that it does of theirs.

In addition to this online video, WSJ. Magazine ran this lengthy story in its October issue about Ingels. It’s quite a good article.

The youthful face of Ingels, when framed and magnified by the tiny windows in this bold project or when talking in his video lectures on the Web, offers one of the most optimistic pictures of what the future of architecture might be. At the tender age of 37 he has gained a world-wide reputation for daring to think grandly about cities in the visionary manner of Le Corbusier, and for translating his hopeful philosophy of “pragmatic utopianism” into a thriving practice that has even caught the eye of bottom-line New York real-estate developers.

Thinking big is something I’ve long advocated here at Concrete Aspirations. Ingels looks forward with an open-mind, exactly the methodology we need moving forward in architecture. Unlike Le Corbusier, however, Ingels is not too dogmatic or impractical or impervious to normal human needs and wants. Often Le Corbusier’s plans refused to account for the idea that few people (only archictural enthusiasts like myself and perhaps like you, really) would want to live in huge concrete apartment buildings sitting on great pedestals, separated from both regular urban life and nature. Le Corbusier’s approach to architecture was legitimate (I do not believe architectural design should conform to the public’s desires), but his approach to urban planning, while innovative and worth understanding, was not.

Ingels, on the other hand, is playful and in tune with people. His buildings are fun, dynamic and engaging, and that carries over into his urban planning.

Ingels crouches next to the model and points to one of the last elements he and his team have been working on: a giant periscope for the lobby. “We tested it,” he assures me. “When you come in, you’ll be able to look into the courtyard of the garden and see the leaves on the trees, the seasons, the sun setting over the Hudson.”

What an inventive device! I love it! And such ingenious thinking works on a larger scale as well:

Ingenious solutions to messy design challenges have become a BIG trademark. In a 2002 competition to build a Maritime Youth House on an island near Copenhagen, Ingels and his team were faced with a seemingly impossible task: Make something that would function as a sailing club for children on a site contaminated with toxic waste. But after engineers determined the pollutants were heavy metals and wouldn’t interact with the surroundings, BIG created an undulating wooden roof over the offensive materials that doubles as a walkway. It is now an active neighborhood hangout where kids slide down the wavy “dunes” and adults walk their dogs in the evenings.

A residential building by Ingels. Photo courtesy Big (Ingels's firm).

I also find myself drawn to Ingels’s method for cultivating these ideas:

This “curating of ideas” is, he points out, “an extreme version of the way we work in the office.” He initiates but doesn’t dominate the process. “Everybody from the clients to the partners knows what we’re doing and can propose stuff. I also propose stuff. We might agree or disagree. It’s not as if one person or group has a monopoly on taste.”

Smart guy, this Bjarke Ingels. He has a powerful understanding of connections — between architecture and urbanism, between people and ideas, between ideas and architecture and the future.

Apparently Ingels has also written a graphic novel on architecture that is cleverly titled “Yes is More.” I haven’t read it, but I intend to soon!

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