Monday, March 22, 2010

The comic strip hero of architecture

OSLO. Designing an eye-catching building is a complicated creative process where the architect has to convince a number of people of the brilliance of hers or his idea.
How can you best explain that process?
Bjarke Ingels, the 35-year-old international star of Danish architecture, came up with an unusual solution.
Together with his colleagues at BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) in Copenhagen he did it in a comic book that is as playful and practical as the architecture that has given his office a world reputation.
“The book has become an unexpected success. Many non-architects have told us that this is the first time they actually got something out of a book on architecture”, says Bjarke Ingels (left) when I by chance walk right into a small press briefing with him in Oslo.
Ingels was at the National Museum of Architecture in the Norwegian capital to open the exhibition “Yes is more” that led to the comic book with the same title.
The Oslo exhibition that runs until April 25 is a smaller version of the original showing from the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that was a success last year. Ingels takes us through the exhibition and later in the day gives a lecture before a packed room of architects and students.
“Yes is more” is described as “an archicomic on architectural evolution”. In the book, readers are guided through the creative processes behind 35 of BIG’s projects. It shows how exciting ideas are rejected, just to show up again much later in another project.
“It often turns out that a great idea could be the right answer to a different question than the one you’re working on”, says Ingels.
After his education, Ingels spent a couple of years with Rem Koolhaas and his OMA in Rotterdam before heading home to Copenhagen to set up PLOT together his young Belgian OMA-colleague Julien de Smedt.
PLOT was an immediate success, but Ingels and de Smedt decided to go separate ways and the Bjarke Ingels Group was formed in 2006. It now has a staff of 86, a number of awards to its merit list and clients all over the world.
BIG’s work, a continuation of what was started at PLOT, has been described as seeking a balance between playful and practical approaches to architecture. The playfulness can be seen in most of BIG’s buildings, and even more in the objects that haven’t been built.
“In eight or nine years we have designed over 200 projects. Only eight have been built, and a few more are on the way”, says Ingels.
But he is not discouraged by the statistics.
“That’s the name of the game. The ideas live on. It’s a form of evolution.”
He describes 2009 as BIG’s best year so far, both artistic and economically. His office won a number of international competitions and exciting new projects are being built.
“Architecture is the art and science of resurfacing the surface of the earth”, says Ingels as he opens his lecture later in the day.
He is an entertaining speaker who tells a good story. If you would like to see an example of it, you can watch this video that I posted earlier in the blog.
When the Shanghai Expo 2010 opens in May, the world will get another taste of Bjarke Ingels and his architecture. BIG designed the Danish pavilion where they will try to convince visitors that sustainable urban development isn’t a burden, but rather increases the quality of life.

Copyright: Jens Lindhe (photo)/National Museum of Architecture, Oslo
"The Mountain" in Copenhagen, one of BIG's most celebrated designs.

Copyright: Bjarke Ingels Group/National Museum of Architecture, Oslo
Hafjell ski resort, an example of BIG's playful design. The skiing begins on the roof.

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