"BIG never makes any design decisions
just for fun" says Bjarke Ingels

| 11 comments

Movie: in the first of a series of exclusive video interviews with Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect talks us through three of his practice BIG's current projects and explains why he considers diagrams to be such an important design tool.

West 57th by BIG
West 57th by BIG

One of the larger projects BIG is currently working on is West 57th, a 600-apartment block in New York featuring a rectangular plan, which is pulled up at one corner to create a tower nearly 150 metres high.

West 57th by BIG
West 57th by BIG

"We call it a court-scraper," Ingels explains. "It's a combination of a skyscraper and a courtyard building. One side is the height of a handrail and the other side is the height of a high-rise."

West 57th by BIG
West 57th by BIG

Ingels says the building is an excellent example of BIG's diagrammatic design approach.


Related story: West 57th by BIG


Looking at the dramatic shape of the building, people might assume it was the result of "some extensive sculpting exercise," he says. However, Ingels claims the building's form actually came about through a series of simple, logical diagrams.

West 57th by BIG
West 57th by BIG

"As a way of keeping track of all the design decisions we make, we break them down to diagrams," he explains. "We never make any design decisions just for fun."

West 57th by BIG
Diagram showing the design process behind BIG's West 57th project

He continues: "[The West 57th site] is sandwiched between a power plant, a sanitation garage and a highway. We thought, 'What they really need is a courtyard.' So we started by putting the courtyard on the site."

"But to give it Manhattan density we had to pull up the north-east corner, up to 500 feet, keeping all of the other sides low, so you still get the sun from the South and the West. You still get the views over the water."

West 57th by BIG
Diagram showing the design process behind BIG's West 57th project

He adds: "It has a striking silhouette. But in fact it's a series of very clear, well-informed design decisions that have created the shape."

Lego visitor centre by BIG
Lego visitor centre by BIG

Ingels also discusses two of BIG's smaller current projects, a visitor centre for Danish toy company Lego and a museum for the Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet.

Lego visitor centre by BIG
Lego visitor centre by BIG

BIG's visitor centre for Lego, "a childhood dream" for Ingels, will resemble a stack of the toy bricks rising from a public square in the company's home town of Billund.

Lego visitor centre by BIG
Lego visitor centre by BIG

"Denmark recently went through a structural reform so what they're actually doing is tearing down the former City Hall and building the Lego house instead," Ingels reveals. "That says much about the city of Billund!"

Audemars Piguet museum by BIG
Audemars Piguet museum by BIG

BIG's new museum for Audemars Piguet is shaped like a pair of intertwined spirals, seemingly coiling up from the landscape.

Audemars Piguet museum by BIG
Audemars Piguet museum by BIG

"[Audemars Piguet] is actually the last remaining family-owned Swiss watch company," Ingels says. " But a lot of people will know abut them because Jay-Z sings about them. There's a whole series of American rappers who like Audemars."

Bjarke Ingels portrait
Bjarke Ingels of BIG

This is one of a series of three exclusive interviews with Bjarke Ingels. Look out for tomorrow's movie, in which the Danish architect discusses his company's $335 million project to project Manhattan from flooding.

  • what is there so big in fact?

    It’s hard for me to think about the BIG office as an architectural studio. They surfed on that 2000-2010 wave of ‘out-of-scale banalisation’ and their ‘projects’ are something like ‘we have a great idea’ process of work. Only architecture is really much, very much more than that.

    Out of that first impression, when they sell their image, there are actually no more layers to discover. I don’t want to be hard on them, but in a way it was ‘fun’ in fact. Only those kind of trends normally last for about 10 years in architecture… then it becomes ridiculous.

  • djnn24

    Oh I just love Bjarke too much. Those diagrams…

  • Trent

    If BIG never designed for fun then why all the unnecessary architectural antics? The inefficiency in BIG’s projects is ridiculous. Architecture doesn’t need to be flamboyant in order for it to be perceived as interesting and smart.

  • Yupi

    He’s right. It’s not just for fun, but also for inefficiency purposes.

  • Colonel Pancake

    I can’t wait until BIG assumes its rightful place in history’s scrapheap of transient novelties.

  • bigup

    I think you are hard on them if you deny BIG being an architecture studio.

    • what is there so big in fact?

      I am indeed.
      But he is trying so hard to be a “star”, only that moment of architectural history is gone in that way. People are going back to the real values. This way of presenting himself and his projects is vulgar.
      It is in fact very simple to put all you have into PR, to be backed by big names since school and also backed with the pushing economy of northern countries, to the point that you banalise our architectural process in some cute-graphic diagrams and present a building, not as a space, but as a symbol. If he is educated as he should be, he should know about Étienne-Louis Boullée and many others after him, with much more to show in those projects.

      Sorry, but I fail to understand the kind of megalomania.
      BIG is just a mediocrity

  • le

    Oh please. Don’t you guys feel it’s time to accept its novelty as an integrated architecture? I agree that early work from BIG was pretty crazy, sometimes out of scale or seeming to include things that were unnecessary. But they’re doing remarkable work these days. I would particularly highlight their works in the U.S. I’m just getting more and more into their work. It feels like they finally learnt how to integrate fun into a complete architecture that has its own uniqueness.

  • bigup

    Those diagrams are not made for other architects to admire but to convince developers, city officials, residents etc. And judging by BIG’s output it seems to work.

  • waxbling

    After the interview Bjarke went back to amusing himself by making “hand farts”.

  • Plong

    You architects are the most miserable, bitter conservative and self-righteous bunch of peer-critics that are out there. No discernible sense of humour, name dropping, and enormously envious of your successful colleagues. Get a life.