Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, principal of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), has set his sights on the Big Apple. Since September, he has been jet-setting back and forth between his Copenhagen headquarters and his new Manhattan office in preparation for a closely-watched mystery debut.
Already an established member of the young architectural vanguard (with an icon of his own in the shape of a figure-eight-shaped housing complex in Copenhagen), Ingels told AN that he is prepared to take American real-estate development head-on: “Everyone has been warning us that it’s impossible to work with American developers—that they’re too profit-driven,” Ingels said. “But it’s really exactly the same with developers everywhere.”
Jens Lindhe and Jakob Boserup
While some architects balk at the idea of working with big-time developers, Ingels enjoys finding overlapping interests. In fact, Ingels is working on a new book tentatively called Bigamy, detailing this manifesto of inclusivism, much of which he said he sees all around New York. “It’s what America is all about,” the architect said. “Bigamy is a radical embrace of different interests and ideas. To accommodate instead of eliminate. America’s surf-and-turf is the best example of bigamy. Combining two opposite things into a new hybrid is really quite delicious.”
For Ingels, developer and architect can be allies. “People want nice apartments with good views, day light, and good public spaces. That’s also good marketing for a developer. When you increase the quality, you increase the value. We’re designing for overlap.”
Ty Stange and Jens Lindhe
After completing a series of large-scale residential blocks in Copenhagen, BIG’s first American commission pushes the boundaries further and appears tailor-made for sustainable-minded Ingels. Last year, the Durst Organization, developer of the ultra-green Bank of America Tower, invited BIG to evaluate a massive site along Manhattan’s West Side for a planned residential project. “Durst is really innovative, especially in terms of the sustainable highrise,” said Ingels.
BIG’s 57th Street project isn’t their first foray into North American architecture, either. Ingels worked on the Seattle Public Library while still at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the 1990s and is currently working on a high rise in Vancouver, a museum competition on the East Coast, and recently partnered with SOM on a proposal for the St. Louis Gateway Arch design competition (the Michael Van Valkenburg team won).
Ingels’ own big plans are to also go west: “Chicago hasn’t found its form yet, but we’re in talks with [developer] Dan McCaffery about a large, mixed-use New Urban waterfront development,” he explained. The project would be part of the four-billion-dollar, SOM-planned South Works, on the site of an old U.S. Steel plant.
Stuart McIntyre and Jens Lindhe
While the physical forms of BIG’s designs can seem radically new, Ingels insists they are the product of continuous evolution rather than revolution. “I believe in the exchange of ideas over time. Revolutions are messy. You lose a lot of stored cultural knowledge by starting from scratch, and end up making the same mistakes anew.”
Ingels sees New York in its own evolutionary period brought about by financial and climate stress. “These crises are allowing for a reconsideration of the parameters that created a city like New York,” he said, pointing to the city’s advances in bike lanes, amenities like the High Line, and an initiative to plant one million trees as evidence of this shift. Already raring to go like a real New Yorker, the architect said, “We’re blurring the boundary between urban and suburban, and merging them into a hybrid that allows us to explore more interesting typologies.”
Ingels is keeping a closed mouth on further details about the anticipated 57th Street project. “All I can say is that 57th Street represents the marriage between the European courtyard building and the American skyscraper. But there’s a lot of room in there. Even if you know what the parents look like, you can’t tell how the child will end up.”