Like Magritte’s famous ‘treachery of images’ painting (the one with the pipe that says “This is not a pipe”), projects by BIG should carry a disclaimer.
BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) architects, based in Copenhagen and more recently New York, are a relatively small firm (only 160 staff) but have rock star status because, when they’re involved, things are not always what they seem.
Agency partner David Zahle was giving a lecture at the Manchester Business School a few days ago, an event organised by RIBA.
Many of the buildings presented to the six-strong Uniform contingent (seated in their prime seats, wine glasses in tow) had similar metamorphic themes; An apartment building that was an artificial mountain set in the flat Denmark landscape, with an image of Everest punctured into a façade using varying sized ventilation holes as pixels. And then there was a maritime museum relocated to a disused dry dock, giving the building the form of a ship. But most evocative of this attitude of pipey-ness was the redevelopment of the envelope of an energy plant in central Copenhagen into a ski slope which blows smoke rings out of the top.
BIG describe their approach to the design process as ‘Hedonistic Sustainability’. It’s about putting the prolonged enjoyment of life at the centre – a noble concept that has failed many before (see modernists telling us how to live our lives!). BIG differs by being humble and devoted to function for the individual and the group.
BIG twist and turn the traditional modernist shoebox inside out to form loops and knots that allow all to see the view. Everyone gets to access courtyards and gardens, creating proper communal spaces. The result of this absolute dedication to form following is some of the most 3novel and groundbreaking architecture produced so far this century.
You begin to sense me falling into the cultish following of the BIG brand. It’s true, so join me and read the great BIG bible, ‘Yes is more!’ an architectural graphic novel. Everything that needs to be known to understand the BIG philosophy; which could, and should, be applied wider to all forms of creativity.
I’m looking forward to the future BIG seems to promise, a return to childhood dreams of flying cars buzzing around, and architecture that’s not unlike the world of George Jetson, but a little more practical.