I assumed he would be articulate as all OMA graduates are, and I’d heard he was as intellectually entertaining as only those TED Talk types can be, but I was surprised that Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect recently taking the city in a storm of media, could also simply converse. And he did so with ease last night in a Q&A with The Architect’s Newspaper as part of a Design Trust for Public Space council member drive at the oh-so-private Core Club. The theme was “New York After Bloomberg,” which frankly scares some people, especially architects, as the mayor has been a practically unprecedented supporter of the building arts and enlightened zoning throughout his three-term tenure.
Not that Ingels was prepared to address that scary subject per se. But the audience was far from disappointed with his slide show of current work backing up his theory of “hedonistic sustainability.” Who would disagree with the importance of doing the right thing, an embraceable position whether developers, architects or citizens? And so he showed hilarious slides of visitors to his Shanghai Expo bike ramp underpinned by the lesson that cars and bikes must find a way to co-exist, and provoked wows with his mountain of trash at a waste disposal plant turned urban ski slope, complete with a smoke stack that puffs educational smoke rings. (Dads can tell their children, he said, that ten puffs are equal to an astonishing ten tons of carbon dioxide.) He smoothly explicated his 57th Street project for the Durst Organization, showing how its unconventional deconstructed pyramid shape responded with perfect rationality to an assortment of empirical needs.
It was impressive and it was impossible to know how his sunny can-do approach is going to fly in the molten Mordor-like power-field that is New York’s built environment. And so I asked him how his first community board meeting went; he parried that he’d been through worse in Copenhagen when presenting a proposal for a mosque. No one quite believed him. And when asked if he could handle the demands for affordable housing, he was at the ready describing how his most famous built work to date, 8 House in Copenhagen, is based on an offset stacking of pre-fab units, a kind of Habitat for the 21st century. He seemed a little behind times in noting how wonderfully New York had embraced new bike lanes. But much appreciated was his reference to working for Rem Koolhaas and OMA as his “tour of Nam,” while he has clearly modeled his international staffing on Rem’s approach to diverse hires.
BIG has recently moved to the Starrett-Lehigh in Chelsea and is preparing for projects that “will be made public throughout the year,” as BIG’s director of business development, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, told the Real Estate Weekly. But for us, it was also appealing that Ingels did not only come to these shores out of blind ambition, but to follow a girl. It is clearly going to be interesting in the next five years to see what Ingels does to New York, and what New York does to Ingels, whether or not it’s post-Bloomberg.