Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is usually not in the business of hiding things away. In fact, they tend to do just the opposite. So, the fact that they chose to bury the Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør in the north of Denmark – the firm’s first realized museum building – at the bottom of a dry dock, is nothing if not surprising.
By Jakob Harry Hybel
Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (b. 1974) and his office Bjarke Ingels Group (or, BIG, as they are more commonly known), have risen to world-wide renown in record time, winning commissions left and right. Their projects, wildly varying in form and expression, all burst of unflinching confidence and supercharged youthful energy.
However, the most astonishing thing about BIG is not the amount of commissions they have received or awards they have won - although staggering, considering the young age of the firm - rather, it is how they manage to communicate incredibly complex projects in such a confident and straightforward manner that people, from both within and outside the profession, are instantly dazzled and captivated. In fact, this might be a key to understanding BIG's success; they represent a new breed of architects to whom the communicative element have become an intrinsic part of the architecture.
BIG's incredibly effective storytelling skills could be explained by founding partner, Bjarke Ingels' life-long obsession with comic books. According to Ingels he studied architecture only because Denmark did not have a cartoon academy, and the firm's exhibition catalogue turned monograph (boldly titled "Yes is more") is the story of BIG told in cartoon form. To most architects, this would be an unthinkable medium - to BIG, however, it is a perfect fit, as it underpins the blunt and lighthearted tone you often see in their work.
Ingels graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1999, and after two years under the tutelage of Rem Koolhaas at OMA, Ingels started up PLOT with Belgian-born OMA colleague, Julian De Smedt. PLOT quickly gained a lot of attention and acclaim for their particular brand of what they called "narrative architecture", in particular the VM Houses with their characteristic pointy terraces. After a four-year-run they went their separate ways in 2005, however, and shortly thereafter, De Smedt started JDS Architects and Ingels founded his own studio with the ballsy acronym, BIG.
BIG got a running start due to Ingels' already well-established reputation, but award-winning residential projects like the Mountain and the 8 House (both next-door to the VM Houses), as well as the Danish Pavilion at EXPO 2010 and a recycling plant on Amager in Copenhagen that doubles as a skiing hill, suddenly prompted international interest. Word spread across the Atlantic to New York, where BIG established an outpost in 2009, shortly after winning the commission to design a skyscraper meets European-style courtyard block - or "courtscraper" as they like to call it - on West 57th Street. Currently, the firm has offices and buildings underway on three continents. And counting.
Because of BIG's highly conceptual approach, their formal style is extremely hard to pin-point. If you were to find a common thread in their work, though, besides their communicative excellence, it might be a sense of insatiable playfulness. That and a persistent willingness to constantly challenge the way architecture (and the role of the architect) is perceived and discussed.
Visit BIG's website here.
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