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“Great buildings blatantly express their true essence to the world.” The lauded Danish architect Bjarke Ingels here shares his personal story and his bold approach to architecture, which he feels should always be playful, generous and empathetic.

Having nurtured a love of drawing since childhood, 18-year-old Ingels enrolled into The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in 1993, feeling that architecture would be “the perfect missing piece to be able to really draw worlds and populate those worlds.” The school, however, proved to be a very conservative institution where there was hardly any curriculum due to the idea that everything had to be original. In response to this, Ingels and a friend ended up spending their first years in the library, seeking inspiration from other architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas: “You find something that speaks to you, and then you try to understand it, by following its sources, and those sources have other sources, and at some point things connect.” In continuation of this, Ingels feels that the ideas that you put forward and the new ideas they produce are essential for architecture: “Not only does the building you make matter, but the example it puts out in the world matters maybe even more.”

When Ingels returned to Denmark after a couple of years working for Rem Koolhaas in Holland, it was with a slightly more bold approach than other Danish architects, who seemed to have lost their confidence and sense of experimentation following the failure of modernism in the 1970s. Instead of engaging with the issues of society, it was suddenly more about “making a really nice box and finding the perfect cherry wood for that box.” Ingels, however, dared “to play” and emphasizes the importance of playing, which he sees as a sort of “non-scripted form of human expression that opens for discovery.” The ideas that you put forward and the new ideas they produce are essential for architecture: “Not only does the building you make matter, but the example it puts out in the world matters maybe even more.”

How does a building remain relevant? Ingels feels that if a building has qualities that go beyond executing its original intentions, it’s possible to repurpose it, and if it is used continuously, it can potentially last forever. As an example, the pyramids turned to ruin, because they weren’t in use anymore, whereas buildings on e.g. the Faeroe Islands have wooden buildings that have lasted half a millennium, as they have been in constant use and therefore been cared for. Architecture is “a framework for the life we live.” However, it shouldn't simply be a checklist, it has to be able to transform to accommodate different situations and enable people rather than restrict them. In continuation of this, Ingels argues that the “superpower” of contemporary architecture is empathy: “To accommodate people – different kinds of people – you have to be able to understand and empathize with them.”

“The pen and the paper is a tool to make the world see what you see, or for you to see what you think before you’ve even seen it. And there are other tools for doing that.” Ingels feels that the different mediums that architects use when visualizing a building – such as foam models, 3D models, projection drawings or LEGO bricks – are all “different ways of approaching the same problem from different angles.”

Bjarke Ingels (b. 1974) is a Danish architect and founding partner of BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group – located in Copenhagen, New York and London. In 2013 BIG was chosen to redesign the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex in Washington, a project which will be implemented over a period of 20 years. His projects include The Mountain, a residential complex in Copenhagen, and the innovative Danish Maritime Museum in Elsinore. In 2004 he received the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale and the Danish Crown Prince’s Culture Prize in 2011. Moreover, BIG received Architizer’s Firm of the Year Award in 2014.

Bjarke Ingels was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in New York in October 2016.

Footage of Bjarke Ingels drawing: From ‘Architecture should be more like Minecraft’, courtesy of Future of StoryTelling.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard

Edited by: Klaus Elmer

Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017

Supported by Dreyers Fond 

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