Design firm BIG makes its mark on 21st Century architecture under the direction of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.
Since the Industrial Revolution, there’s been an “us-vs-them” dichotomy between the world as nature intended, and the factory and office buildings erected in the name of progress in design firms. In certain eras, such as the Victorian and Edwardian periods, architectural embellishments were factored into architectural exterior design to make the package a touch more pleasing. However, through the past two centuries, industrial and corporate architecture marked a clear delineation between the old world (nature, open spaces) and the new (production, progress).
Skuru Bridge - Sweden
Bjarke Ingels always figured there was a better way to reconcile nature and human nature with progress, especially as mankind and industry move deeper into the 21st Century with architecture. Rather than execute every project in a monolithic fashion, Ingels approaches each one with a careful analysis of various parameters, factoring in the local culture and climate of the project’s location, ever-evolving lifestyle and workplace trends and the ebbs and flows of the global economy.
Recent headline-making projects, such as the Toyota Woven City in Japan and the S.Pellegrino Flagship Factory in Italy, reflect his belief in collaboration, as every building under the care of his design firm must be more than its exterior, foundation and infrastructure to be useful, enduring and inspirational.
“The influence from multicultural exchange, global economic flows and communication technologies require new ways of architectural and urban organization. [We take on] a pragmatic utopian architecture that steers clear of the petrifying pragmatism of boring boxes and the naïve utopian ideas of digital formalism,” Ingels said.
Like a form of programmatic alchemy, we create architecture by mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, working, parking and shopping.
Grove at Grand Bay - Florida
“Like a form of programmatic alchemy, we create architecture by mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, working, parking and shopping. By hitting the fertile overlap between pragmatic and utopia, we architects once again find the freedom to change the surface of our planet, to better fit contemporary life forms.”
The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the design firm Ingels founded in 2005 after co-founding PLOT Architects in 2001 and a stint at noted Rotterdam firm OMA, is a global village of talent with hubs in his native Denmark, as well as New York, London</a and Barcelona. As he defines BIG’s mission as the “art and science of making sure our cities and buildings fit with the way we want to live our lives,” he leads a curated team of architects, designers, urbanists, landscape professionals, interior and product designers to achieve a cohesive result.
UMass Isenberg Business Innovation Hub
He also sees his life’s work as “information-driven-design as the driving force for his design firm process” and a “careful analysis of how contemporary life constantly evolves and changes” as proposals and commissions continue to come in from Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East.
Although he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME Magazine in 2016 and his buildings continue to win international recognition, Ingels is more focused on the impact BIG’s teamwork will leave behind on the world.
Although he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME Magazine in 2016 and his buildings continue to win international recognition, Ingels is more focused on the impact BIG’s teamwork.
Kings Cross Station - United Kingdom
Above and beyond his own architectural practice, Ingels has shared this philosophy through lecturing at Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University and Rice University, serving as an honorary professor at the Royal Academy of Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen and reaching out to the general public with talks hosted by TED, WIRED, AMCHAM, the World Economic Forum and others.
To grasp why the projects BIG tackles are such a big deal in the architectural design firm universe and beyond, it’s best to start with the design process, or, as Ingels puts it, identifying the key criteria of a project by asking questions like “what is the biggest problem – what is the greatest potential?” rather than arbitrary aesthetic or stylistic prejudice. With this, all decisions are based on project specific information—Information Driven Design.
Toyota Woven City - Japan
BIG is conceptualizing Toyota Woven City as a living laboratory, or the “world’s first urban incubator dedicated, to the advancement of all aspects of mobility, autonomy, connectivity, hydrogen-powered infrastructure and industry collaboration.” In other words, BIG is rethinking automotive and industrial technology to be more environmentally friendly and address the public’s demand for more sustainable factories and workplaces.
The ambitious re-imagination of a “company town” is set to break ground in 2021 in Susono, near Mt. Fuji’s foothills. The process involves the design firm transforming a 175-acre former factory site into a sort of utopian, carbon neutral city for company employees powered by solar energy, geothermal energy and hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Toyota Woven City - Japan
From a global perspective, the final outcome could serve as a model for communities around the globe in terms of how technology can make day-to-day life more sustainable and safer while instilling good habits among those living in the community.
“The Woven City is conceived as a flexible network of streets dedicated to various speeds of mobility for safer, pedestrian-friendly connections. The typical road is split into three (types), beginning with the primary street, optimized for faster autonomous vehicles with logistical traffic underneath.
The Toyota e-Palette, a driverless, clean, multi-purpose vehicle, will be used for shared transportation and delivery services, as well as for mobile retail, food, medical clinics, hotels and workspaces,” BIG design firm representatives tied with the project said.
BIG is rethinking automotive and industrial technology to be more environmentally friendly and address the public’s demand for more sustainable factories and workplaces.
Toyota Woven City - Japan
The design firm representatives further stated, “The recreational promenade is occupied by micro-mobility types such as bicycles, scooters and other modes of personal transport, including Toyota’s i-Walk. The shared street allows residents to freely meander at a reduced speed with increasing amount of nature and space.
The third type of street is the ‘linear park,’ a path dedicated to pedestrians, flora and fauna (providing) a safe and pleasant environment for leisurely strolls and nature breaks through the ecological corridor connecting Mount Fuji to the Susono Valley.”
Housing, retail and business buildings within the Woven City will combine the look of Japanese construction traditions with sustainable and energy-saving features, such as the use of carbon-sequestering wood and installation of rooftop photovoltaic panels. Residences by the design firm are devised as “smart homes,” bringing in new technology like in-home robotics and sensor-based AI technology to perform functions such as automatic grocery deliveries, laundry pick-ups or trash disposal
Pelligrino Flagship Factory - Italy
In 2017, BIG set out to similarly conceive and execute a flagship factory renovation and expansion for Italy’s internationally beloved San Pellegrino water with a 17,000-square-meter design rooted in the water’s source, historic heritage and current Italian way of life. Rather than go with a literal translation of Italian urbanism or baroque with heavy use of classical elements, Ingels and his design firm set out to create something that would enhance and underscore the natural surroundings of the Brembana River valley and Italian Alps.
“Shaped by the serpentine run of the Brembo river and the sloping Alpine mountainsides, our proposal for the new S. Pellegrino Campus inherits its narrative structure from the landscape of the Brembana Valley. Like an aquatic equivalent of a wine cellar, the repeating archways expand and contract to create the narrative framework for the purity and clarity of the mineral water, in an environment characterized by lightness, openness and transparency,” Ingels told trade publication Arch20 as his design firm first approached the project.
“The architecture of manmade elements is embraced and enhanced by the forces of nature, tapping into the rhythmic rationality of the industrial heritage of S. Pellegrino while eliminating the traditional segregation between front and back of house, creating a seamless continuity between production and consumption, preparation and enjoyment.”
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet -Switzerland
In La Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, the recently completed Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet captured the imagination of luxury timepiece connoisseurs and architecture enthusiasts months before its planned June 25, 2020 opening. The swirling design of the building, inspired by the inner workings of a prestige watch or clock, is a metaphor for time, as well as the core values of BIG, the autonomous family-owned design firm company. However, the curves of the structure and its surroundings are also intended to be harmonious with French Switzerland’s topography and the historic buildings of the nearby town.
“Watchmaking, like architecture, is the art and science of invigorating inanimate matter with intelligence and performance. It is the art of imbuing metals and minerals with energy, movement, intelligence and measure—to bring it to life in the form of telling time,” Inglels told trade website Archilovers.com during the construction about his design firm.
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet -Switzerland
“Unlike most machines and most buildings today that have a disconnect between the body and the mind, the hardware and the software, for the Maison des Fondateurs the design firm attempted to completely integrate the geometry and the performance, the form and the function, the space and the structure, the interior and the exterior in a symbiotic whole.”
BIG’s proposal for the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet describes the building (ultimately a collaboration with local architectural firms Atelier Brückner and CCHE) as an oxymoron, existing in a place between striking and subtle and the ephemeral and timeless.
The double-spiraling structure by the design firm creates a built-in narrative for the museum’s galleries and workshops, where a continuous workspace is surrounded by galleries. It is certainly a dramatic way to explain the history and the process of watchmaking, making all of it accessible to the visitor.