Bjarke Ingels : Building a pragmatic utopia

22 : 11 : 2009 The Fifth Scenario : Bjarke Ingels : Utopia
Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan, Zira Island by Bjarke Ingels Group Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan, Zira Island by Bjarke Ingels Group
Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan, Zira Island by Bjarke Ingels Group Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan, Zira Island by Bjarke Ingels Group
Mountain Dwellings by Bjarke Ingels Group Mountain Dwellings by Bjarke Ingels Group
Mountain Dwellings by Bjarke Ingels Group Mountain Dwellings by Bjarke Ingels Group
Big House by Bjarke Ingels Group Big House by Bjarke Ingels Group
Big House by Bjarke Ingels Group Big House by Bjarke Ingels Group

The Person: Bjarke Ingels
The Idea: Building a pragmatic utopia

Architect Bjarke Ingels believes in utopia – and to prove his point he’s building it, one gasp-inspiring, conversation-dominating structure at a time.

Founder of the Copenhagen-based studio BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Ingels is currently working on projects including the Mountain Dwellings, a hybrid car park/apartment block shaped like a gleaming, artificial hillside in Copenhagen; and the Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan, a resort city on Zira Island. Through each, Ingels reaches for what he calls a ‘pragmatic utopia’.

‘This idea of a pragmatic utopia is about getting away from the idea that things can either be rational and boring, or sort of fantastic and expensive and impossible,’ Ingels tells LS:N Global.

It’s a philosophy he brings to each of his creations. The Mountain Dwellings, which won the 2008 World Architecture Festival award for housing, make up a cascading structure of 80 high-rise roof-garden apartments on top of a multistorey, multicoloured garage – which the organisers of electronic music festival Distortion considered so cool they held their closing party there last year.

Zira Island’s defining features are its seven manmade peaks, inspired by Azerbaijan’s mountains, and its aim to make no environmental impact. Each peak is a building that will house offices and a hotel or shops and a convention centre. All feature environmentally aware systems such as wastewater treatment and solar-, wind- and wave-generated energy.

As he begins to realise yet another practical expression of his vision of pragmatic utopia, Ingels remains adamant that architects should put people, not philosophies, first.

‘People want to live the way they want to live,’ he says. ‘We should design our societies, our buildings and our cities so they allow people to live the way they want to – but in a sustainable way.’

Our top five take-outs

1: You can please everybody all of the time – or you could at least try. ‘If you try to commit yourself to fulfilling the demands of everybody, it increases the demand on the architectural response, to the point where you have to find some kind of impossible somersault that actually fulfils all these contradicting demands,’ Ingels says. It’s the kind of defining consideration that brought BIG to the Mountain Dwellings.

2: Suburbia is coming to a city near you. ‘Rather than a binary choice between urban penthouse or suburban house with a garden, there’s going to be a multitude of different variants,’ Ingels says. Take his forthcoming Eight House in Copenhagen: a 60,000-square-metre development in the form of a distorted figure 8, it features offices, shops, townhouses and apartments.

3: Make things interesting. Folding a number of different functions and structures into one project may sound chaotic, but Ingels sees this as an opportunity to shake up the urban landscape. ‘My concern is to create as much diversity and urban experience as possible,’ Ingels says.

4: Green makes the world go round – in China as much as anywhere else. ‘We have this perception of China as being this big, industrial, polluting nation,’ Ingels says. But when the electricity supplier to Shenzhen in southern China commissioned BIG to create a new corporate headquarters, Ingels was told: ‘We don’t want a landmark, we want a sustainable building.’

5: Location, location, location. The local climate and locally available materials should dictate a building’s final form more than any other single factor. Aiming to ‘engineer the engines’ out of buildings, he has challenged students at New York’s Columbia University to take local climates into consideration and eliminate overused components such as electric lights and mechanical ventilation. It’s another way that Ingels is trying to realise his vision of a sustainable, pragmatic utopia – a vision that also happens to sit well with our Fifth Scenario.