Bjarke+Thom

Bjarke Ingels and Thom Mayne discuss architecture, cities, and public space

Architecture East Newsletter
Bjarke Ingels and Thom Mayne (Courtesy New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation)
Bjarke Ingels and Thom Mayne (Courtesy New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation)

At a forum hosted by the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation on May 5, Bjarke Ingels and Thom Mayne discussed the theme “Public Works” with architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff.

Ingels and Mayne approached the topic from disparate perspectives: At 41, Danish architect Ingels is on a career high and bursting with projects on a variety of scales that he hopes will greatly impact their cities; Pritzker Prize­–winning Mayne, at 72, has an additional 30 years of experience that seems to have left him weary of making overarching, glowing promises.

Mayne spoke first, discussing the trajectory of architecture over the course of his career: “Twenty years went by [in the industry] and the series of questions I was engaged with on large scale of public projects and the criteria changed: I was now allowed to operate in a world where the project had social, cultural, political, ecological, and infrastructural consequences,” he said. “It moved from thinking as a designer to thinking in terms of thought leadership and moving toward something more strategic.”

However, Mayne concluded later in the lecture, current projects have been reduced back to an architectural scale rather than a civic one. He lamented the loss of his “client,” the public, and the ability of the city and developers to understand the public in terms of city making. Mayne, in particular, slammed the One World Trade Center, “What was ultimately built there was absolutely tragic, it was an embarrassment. The opportunities for rethinking what that space could be were enormous. [The Port Authority] never even looked at the all of the ideas that were available to them,” he said.

Thom Mayne’s Perot Museum in Dallas. (Iwan Baan)

Thom Mayne’s Perot Museum in Dallas. (Iwan Baan)

Instead, Mayne turns to Europe for inspiration in the public space, the piazza concept in particular, and cites Dallas and Los Angeles as examples of modern American cities in terms of broadening work sites to connect with their surroundings and considering public spaces. He focused on fostering the “connective tissues” of a community and replacing starchitect-designed “disconnected icons” with continuous, thoughtful architecture.



By contrast, Ingels discussed his U.S. public works in the greater context of contemporary architecture in a more positive light. “Social infrastructure was a term from the 70s that mostly referred to kindergarten, but now we mean it much more literally in terms of positive social side effects,” said Ingels. He discussed incorporating a Copenhagen-style courtyard into his W57 tower to introduce a much-needed oasis in Hell’s Kitchen and researching the Dry Line (A concept he likens to the “love child of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs”), which will be 12 miles of contiguous waterfront protection to protect New York from storm damage while remaining “in close dialogue with community.”

“The fact that privately-funded buildings and projects [in the U.S.] are taking responsibility is not a bad thing,” Ingels mused in response to Mayne’s critique of the lack of city support for public works.

Amager Bakke Power Plant (Courtesy BIG)

Amager Bakke Power Plant (Courtesy BIG)

Abroad, Ingels frequently referred to his Amager Bakke Copenhagen power plant, with its ability to transform waste into power, as one of his most socially oriented projects—not to mention the fact that it will also moonlight as a ski slope and emit non-toxic rings of smoke to raise awareness of carbon dioxide emissions.

“If we can’t make a difference with our vote, then what we can do is move the world forward to something we believe in with what we do,” Ingels said. “Of course, I would love to only have philanthropic clients or well-funded states, but we can try to tackle the problems that we have through other means.”



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