Interview with Bjarke Ingels

Bjarke Ingels is the founder of Copenhagen-based architectural group BIG. Bjarke’s approach to Architectural design is the experimentation of space, to create buildings that provide solutions to current problems. His “Yes is More” manifesto, is a comic book he created to express the importance of “thinking big”, treating problems as challenges and finding sources of genuine inspiration.

The Architecture created by Bjarke Ingels emerges from his careful analysis of how life constantly evolves and changes. His Architecture is a combination of  exploring living, leisure and working, which collectively test the balance of programmatic mixtures on the triple bottom line. His work focuses on smaller details that exist within the “big picture”.

As an Architect with a mission to prove that its okay to wear t-shirts and sneakers and  that you don’t have to be over 50 to be recognised; he is a huge inspiration.


Archi-ninja Interviews Bjarke Ingels

1. Which of your projects has been the most rewarding and why?

BI: It is very nice to see your efforts get realized. Once you interact with reality and the full spectrum of forces in the world including the turmoil of political, economical, technical, social, ecological and legal influences then they begin to let loose on a project and start to evolve it in unprecedented directions.  The true creative moment is when a big idea interacts with these uncontrollable but at times navigable forces of society.

I like the idea of architectural evolution in a Darwinian sense; that the forms and shapes (designs if you like) of the biosphere have evolved through millennia-long selection processes – various lifeforms (design attempts) have encountered the forces of the nature (society) and have been edited to become what they are today. So for me the projects that have made it to their final stage – where they start to inhabit our planet and accommodate our lives are by far the most rewarding. Unfortunately way too many of our projects die at infant stages or prenatally.

2. BIG recently won first prize to build the Shenzhen International Energy Mansion. What aspects of the competition proposal do you think contributed to its success?

BI: At our first meeting with the clients they said: We don’t want a landmark – we want a sustainable building. The masterplan dictated a relatively basic volume of 2 towers – 100 and 200 meters tall – leaving almost only the facade open for interpretation – so we asked ourselves – why don’t we revisit the facade of the skyscraper and see if we through a rethinking of the envelope can evolve the skyscraper into something new.

The facade is rippled like a pleaded dress – blocking off all direct sunlight while opening up towards the soft light from the north. The closed part consists of a design which evolved in collaboration with Trans-solar that deploys solar heat collecting glass tubes that through an ingenious use of thermal draft, active salt and osmosis dehumidifies the air – reducing the buildings energy consumption by 70 percent. Architecturally the pleaded dress is manipulated to create main entrances, urban squares, panoramic meeting rooms and so on. As a result the architecture of the towers is like a subtle evolution of the classic highrise from the 30’s, evolved to be both economically and ecologically sustainable

International Shenzen Energy Museum by BIG
The International Shenzhen Energy Museum (images from Archdaily)

3. How do you think architecture will change in the next 50 years?

BI: It will evolve into something that is both completely different and also exactly the same as today and the built environment (our cities) will most likely be completely recognisable and also surprisingly new.

4. What changes would you like to see in the Architectural profession?

BI: Bigger budgets, cheaper materials, braver clients, more elastic building regulations and more tolerant neighbors.

5. Do you think that Architecture tends to be trendy today?

BI: We don’t concern ourselves with being trendy, in general we tend to study the works of our dead ancestors rather than our contemporaries – first of all they have often dealt with similar issues but in times with dissimilar techniques and possibilities. Such research means we lean a lot but we might have new materials at hand and new techniques to allow us to go beyond. Secondly the dead don’t complain when you ‘steal’ their ideas ;- )

6. What would students learn from reviewing the body of architectural projects you have completed? Do you have any advice for upcoming students?

BI: You don’t have to look to French philosophy or the Kabala to make architecture interesting – the right mix of practical and everyday ingredients such as inexpensive apartments, the desire for a house with a garden, the need to resolve parking and the optimal orientation for daylight and views can turn in to a potent mixture of architectural alchemy, creating (if not gold) added value and new forms of architecture.

Rather than choosing between the practical or the ideal – we strive towards a pragmatic utopian architecture that  turns making the world a better place into a practical objective.

7. What are you most proud of in your career or any aspect of life?

BI: Before starting on our own I had been shopping around probing the work environment and atmosphere in different places who’s work I admired.  Before going independent i promised myself that I wanted to prove that it was possible to make interesting and intelligent work in a happy environment with a positive and collaborative atmosphere. I am actually proud to say that BIG is the best place I’ve ever worked – with the coolest and most brilliant colleagues I’ve ever worked with ;- )

8. Who do you think is the most overrated architect, and who do you think deserves more credit/recognition?

BI: Philip Johnson – to both questions

I always hated Philip Johnson  – until he died and i discovered that he actually did a lot of great work – i just recented his often cynical quotes and seemingly soulless eclecticism which bordered on promiscuity. However I realised that it also gave him an openness and receptiveness to new ideas that allowed him to be an agent of change and a protagonist for the next generation rather than a fossil fighting to fend off the future.

Apart from that i have an army of architectural heroes that all deserve a lot of credit and probably more than they already get. Like they say – the best way to learn a language is to get a girlfriend that speaks it – the best way to learn architecture is to fall in love with architects that do it well (and their work.)

9. What aspect of Architecture do you find most important? What is fundamental to your practice and your design process?

BI: Architecture is the art and science of continually refurbishing the surface of our planet so it fits to the way we want to live. As life evolves – our buildings and cities should evolve also, so we have a physical framework tailored to our ideal lifestyles – rather than being forced to to live in ways imposed upon us by outdated structures of the past. Architecture is not the goal – but a bridge to reach the goal. The goal is to maximise the potential for unfolding human life to the fullest. And in our own humble way – that’s what we try to do ;- )

10. What inspired you to become involved in Architecture? What inspires you now?

BI: I wanted to become a graphic novelist – but in the lack of a comic book academy I enrolled at the Royal Art Academy’s Architecture School, i did this to enhance my drawing skills and move from there towards comic books which is where I wanted to be. Instead I got derailed and grew a passion for architecture.

Lately science fiction writers such as Ian M Banks and thinkers such as Kurzweill and magazines such as WIRED are a significant source of inspiration

11. What other interests do you have?

BI: My favorite Film is Adaptation /Kauffmann/Jonze. My favorite book is The neuromancer trilogy /Gibson. My favorite Philosopher is Nietsche. My favorite Music is Bjørk/ Kraftwerk/ The Knife. My favorite Comicbook is The Dark Knight Returns / Miller.

12. What is your favourite time of the day, and why?
BI: Anytime of the day!

13. What would be your ultimate design project?

BI: I’d love to make a house for and with Charlie Kaufmann – in a way i think his work as a scriptwriter is what we aspire for in architecture. To make a complex work unfold from a simple idea.

14. What are you doing at the moment?

BI: We are involved in a film called “My Playground” about urban movement with documentarist Kaspar Astrup Schrøder and the Parkour team Jiyo. It portrays the appropriation of our work by freerunners and traceurs. It will be our contribution to the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bienale 2010.

And then we are attempting to keep up with the speed of construction in Kazakhstan – attempting to make the construction drawings for the National Library of Kazakhstan before the building is completed!

astana-national-libraryAstana National Library

15. Who would you most like to work with on a project?

BI: Right now id like to do something with Stefan Sagmeister who I recently had the pleasure of meeting. Apart from being incredibly talented and insanely nice to hang out with,  he also has his heart in the right place. A designer that talks about uncool things like ‘happiness’ and ‘design that touches the heart’ are a rare species – designers as well as architects have a lot to learn from that.

Also I’d like to work with Kauffmann on our new book – a quid pro quo – we do his house with him – he does our plot with us!

The Danish Pavilion, Shanghai EXPO 2010

Maritime Youth House

Mountain Dwellings

VM Houses

tatTallinn City Town Hall in Estonia

Maritime Museum

I’d like to thank Bjarke for participating in the interview, it was a pleasure. If you’re interested in getting in touch or finding out more about his projects, e-mail BIG at

Also, it’s worth grabbing a copy of his book – Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. Yes is More is the first monograph devoted exclusively to BIG. Pre-order your copy at Amazon. You can also see his talk at TED.

If you are interested in being interviewed and featured on Archi-Ninja, please contact me.

Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution


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