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Who is Bjarke Ingels and What is he Famous for?

Bjarke Ingels is a Danish architect, who has become well known for his sustainable designs. Bjark Ingels Group, the firm he founded, has grown immensely over the years and won many awards and competitions. Join me in discovering some of his most famous designs, and what makes them so special. 

Bjarke Ingels has, in some way, surpassed the conventional Danish architectural techniques and brought about revolutionary reforms just matching the modern day demands. In all his projects, Ingels tries to attain equilibrium between art, architecture, nature and urbanism. He tries to embed the social, cultural, contextual, political and economic aspects into feasible physical structures for the uplift of current day living standards. Apart from this, Ingels also seems to be in a constant battle with climate changes and its influence on our buildings and architecture on the whole. He explains this in his own words as, “Buildings should respond to the local environment and climate in a sort of conversation to make it habitable for human life.” For this purpose Ingels invests a lot of his energy on sustainable designs and renewable energy concepts.


Bjark Ingels Life and Career

Born in Copenhagen in 1974, Ingels’ father is an engineer and his mother is a dentist.  Hoping to become a cartoonist, he began studying architecture in 1993 at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, thinking it would help him improve his drawing skills. After several years, he began an earnest interest in architecture. He continued his studies at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura in Barcelona, and returned to Copenhagen to receive his diploma in 1999. As a third-year student in Barcelona, he set up his first practice and won his first competition. 

From 1998 to 2001, Ingels worked for Rem Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam.  In 2001, he returned to Copenhagen to set up the architectural practice PLOT together with Belgian OMA colleague Julien de Smedt. The company received national and international attention for their inventive designs. They were awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2004 for a proposal for a new music house for Stavanger, Norway. PLOT completed a series of five open-air swimming pools, Islands Brygge Harbour Bath, on the Copenhagen Harbour front with special facilities for children in 2003.

The first major achievement for PLOT was the award-winning VM Houses in Ørestad, Copenhagen, in 2005. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation concept, they designed two residential blocks, in the shape of the letters V and M (as seen from the sky); the M House with 95 units, was completed in 2004, and the V House, with 114 units, in 2005. The design places strong emphasis on daylight, privacy and views. Rather than looking over the neighboring building, all of the apartments have diagonal views of the surrounding fields. Corridors are short and bright, rather like open bullet holes through the building. There are some 80 different types of apartment in the complex, adaptable to individual needs. The building garnered Ingels and Smedt the Forum AID Award for the best building in Scandinavia in 2006. Ingels lived in the complex until 2008 when he moved into the adjacent Mountain Dwellings. It’s interesting to see an architect who lives in his own buildings, it is much more common for architects to build their own independent homes: something that seems to speak volumes about Engels’ commitment to and belief in his communal living space projects. 

In 2005, Ingels also completed the Helsingør Psychiatric Hospital in Helsingør, a hospital which is shaped like a snowflake. Each room of the hospital was specially designed to have a view, with two groups of rooms facing the lake, and one group facing the surrounding hills. After PLOT was disbanded at the end of 2005, in January 2006 Ingels made Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) its own company. It grew to 400 employees by 2016.

BIG began working on the 25-metre-high (82 ft) Mountain Dwellings on the VM houses site in the Ørestad district of Copenhagen, combining housing with parking and parking space, with a mountain theme throughout the building. The apartments scale the diagonally sloping roof of the parking garage, from street level to 11th floor, creating an artificial, south facing ‘mountainside’ where each apartment has a terrace measuring around 93 m2The parking garage contains spots for 480 cars. The space has up to 16-metre-high ceilings, and the underside of each level of apartments is covered in aluminium painted in a distinctive colour scheme of psychedelic hues which, as a tribute to Danish 1960s and ’70s furniture designer Verner Panton, are all exact matches of the colours he used in his designs. The colours move, symbolically, from green for the earth over yellow, orange, dark orange, hot pink, purple to bright blue for the sky.  The northern and western facades of the parking garage depict a 3,000 m2 photorealistic mural of Himalayan peaks. Completed in October 2008, it received the World Architecture Festival Housing Award (2008), Forum AID Award (2009) and the MIPIM Residential Development Award at Cannes (2009). Dwell magazine has stated that the Mountain Dwellings “stand as a beacon for architectural possibility and stylish multifamily living in a dense, design-savvy city.”

Their third housing project, 8 House, commissioned by Store Frederikslund Holding, Høpfner A/S and Danish Oil Company A/S in 2006 and completed in October 2010, was the largest private development ever undertaken in Denmark and in Scandinavia, combining retail with commercial row houses and apartments. It is also Ingels’ third housing development in Ørestad, following VM Houses and Mountain Dwellings. The sloping, bow-shaped 10-storey building consists of three different types of residential housing and retail premises and offices, providing views over the fields and marches of Kalvebod Faelled to the south. The 476-unit apartment building forms a figure 8 around two courtyards. Noted for its green roof which won it the 2010 Scandinavian Green Roof Award, Ingels explained, “The parts of the green roof that remain were seen by the client as integral to the building as they are visible from the ground. These not only provide the environmental benefits that we all know come from green roofs, but also add to the visual drama and appeal of the sloping roofs and rooftop terrace in between.” The building also won the Best Residential Building at the 2011 World Architecture Festival, and the Huffington Post included 8 House as one of the “10 Best Architecture Moments of 2001–2010.”

In 2007, Angels was commissioned to design the Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør. The current museum is located on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of nearby Kronborg Castle. The concept of the building is ‘invisible’ space, a subterranean museum which is still able to incorporate dramatic use of daylight. In launching the $40 million project, BIG had to reinforce an abandoned concrete dry dock on the site, building the museum on the periphery of the reinforced dry dock walls which will form the facade of the new museum.  The museum’s interior is designed to simulate the ambiance of a ship’s deck, with a slightly downward slope. The exhibition gallery is to house an extensive collection of paintings, model ships, and historical equipment and memorabilia from the Danish Navy.  Ingels is collaborating with consulting engineer Rambøll, Alectia for project management, and E. Pihl & Søn and Kossmann.dejong for construction and interior design. Some 11 different foundations are funding the project. 

Ingels designed a pavilion in the shape of a loop for the Danish World Expo 2010 pavilion in Shanghai. The open-air  steel pavilion has a spiral bicycle path, accommodating up to 300 cyclists who experience Danish culture and ideas for sustainable urban development. In the centre, amid a pool of 1 million litres of water, is the Copenhagen statue of The Little Mermaid, paying homage to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.  In 2009, Ingels designed the new National Library of Kazakhstan in Astana located to the south of the State Auditorium, said to resemble a “giant metallic doughnut”. BIG and MAD designed the Tilting Building in the Huaxi district of Guiyang, China, an innovative leaning tower with six facades.  Other projects included the city hall in Tallinn, Estonia, and the Faroe Islands Education Centre in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands. Accommodating some 1,200 students and 300 teachers, the facility has a central open rotunda for meetings between staff and pupils. 

In 2010, Fast Company magazine included Ingels in its list of the 100 most creative people in business, mentioning his design of the Danish pavilion. BIG projects became increasingly international, including hotels in Norway, a museum overlooking Mexico City, and converting an oil industry wasteland into a zero-emission resort on Zira Island off the coast of Baku, Azerbaijan. The resort started construction in 2010, and represented the seven mountains of Azerbaijan. It was cited as “one of the world’s largest eco-developments.” The “mountains” were covered with solar panels and provide for residential and commercial space. According to BIG, “The mountains are conceived not only as metaphors, but engineered as entire ecosystems, a model for future sustainable urban development”. In 2011, BIG won a competition to design the roof of the Amagerforbrænding industrial building, with ski slopes of varying skill levels.  The roof is put forward as another example of “hedonistic sustainability”: designed from recycled synthetics, aiming to increase energy efficiency by up to 20 percent.  In October 2011, The Wall Street Journal named Ingels the Innovator of the Year for architecture, later saying he was “becoming one of the design world’s rising stars” in light of his portfolio. 

In 2012, Ingels moved to New York to supervise work on a pyramid-like apartment building on West 57th Street, a collaboration with real estate developer Durst Fetner Residential.  BIG opened a permanent New York office, and became committed to further work in New York. By mid-2012 that office had a staff of 50, which they used to launch other projects in North America. In 2014 Ingels’s design for an integrated flood protection system, the DryLine, was a winner of the Rebuild By Design competition created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The DryLine stretches Manhattan’s shoreline on the Lower East Side, with a landscaped flood barrier in East River Park, enhanced pedestrian bridges over the FDR drive, and permanent and deployable floodwalls north of East 14th Street.

BIG designed the Lego House that began construction in 2014 in Billund, Denmark. Ingels said of it, “We felt that if BIG had been created with the single purpose of building only one building, it would be to design the house for Lego.”Designed as a village of interlocking and overlapping buildings and spaces, the house is conceived with identical proportions to the toy bricks, and can be constructed one-for-one in miniature. They also designed the Danish Maritime Museum in Elsinore, Denmark, and a master plan for the new Smithsonian Institution south campus in Washington, D.C. This is part of a 20-year project that will begin in 2016. Ingels also designed two extensions for his former High School in Hellerup, Denmark — a handball court, and a larger arts and sports extension. The handball court, in homage to the architect’s former math teacher, sports a roof with curvature that traces the trajectory of a thrown handball.

In 2015, Ingels began working on a new headquarters for Google in Mountain View, California with Thomas Heatherwick, the British designer. Bloomberg Businessweek hailed the design as “The most ambitious project unveiled by Google this year …” in a feature article on the design and its architects. Later that year, BIG was chosen to take up the design of Two World Trade Center, one of the towers replacing the Twin Towers. The work had initially been entrusted to the British firm Foster and Partners, but was revoked and given back to Foster in 2019.  Ingels was considered for the Hudsons Yard project.  In late 2016, the project became official. Alongside his architectural practice, Ingels has been a visiting professor at the Rice University School of Architecture, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and most recently, the Yale School of Architecture.


Bjark Ingels’ Design Philoshopy 

We shouldn’t forget what we are here to do in the first place as architects and landscape architects. It’s to improve the quality of life for everyone and not at the expense of the quality of life for other people or other life forms, for that matter.

– Bjark Engels

In 2009, The Architectural Review said that Ingels and BIG “has abandoned 20th-century Danish modernism to explore the more fertile world of bigness and baroque eccentricity… BIG’s world is also an optimistic vision of the future where art, architecture, urbanism and nature magically find a new kind of balance. Yet while the rhetoric is loud, the underlying messages are serious ones about global warming, community life, post-petroleum-age architecture and the youth of the city.” The Netherlands Architecture Institute described him as “a member of a new generation of architects that combine shrewd analysis, playful experimentation, social responsibility and humour.”

In an interview in 2010, Ingels provided a number of insights on his design philosophy. He defines architecture as “the art of translating all the immaterial structures of society – social, cultural, economical and political – into physical structures.” Architecture should “arise from the world” benefiting from the growing concern for our future triggered by discussion of climate change. In connection with his BIG practice, he explains: “Buildings should respond to the local environment and climate in a sort of conversation to make it habitable for human life” drawing, in particular, on the resources of the local climate which could provide “a way of massively enriching the vocabulary of architecture.”

Luke Butcher noted that Ingels taps into metamodern sensibility, adopting a metamodern attitude; but he “seems to oscillate between modern positions and postmodern ones, a certain out-of-this-worldness and a definite down-to-earthness, naivety and knowingness, idealism and the practical.”  Sustainable development and renewable energy are important to Ingels, which he refers to as “hedonistic sustainability”. He has said that “It’s not about what we give up to be sustainable, it’s about what we get. And that is a very attractive and marketable concept.” He has also been outspoken against “suburban biopsy” in Holmen, Copenhagen, caused by wealthy older people (the grey-gold generation) living in the suburbs and wanting to move into the town to visit the Royal Theatre and the opera. 

In 2014, Ingels released a video entitled ‘Worldcraft’ as part of the Future of StoryTelling summit, which introduced his concept of creating architecture that focuses on turning “surreal dreams into inhabitable space” Citing the power of alternate reality programs and video games, like Minecraft, Ingels’s ‘worldcraft’ is an extension of ‘hedonistic sustainability’ and further develops ideas established in his first book, Yes Is More. In the video (and essay by the same name in his second book, Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation) Ingels notes: “These fictional worlds empower people with the tools to transform their own environments. This is what architecture ought to be …” “Architecture must become Worldcraft, the craft of making our world, where our knowledge and technology doesn’t limit us but rather enables us to turn surreal dreams into inhabitable space. To turn fiction into fact.”


Bjark Engels’ Top Ten Designs 

1.Denmark Pavilion – Shanghai Expo, China

The Denmark Pavilion, as a showcase for Danish virtues of landscape and culture, is a large circular exhibition loop with a massive pool of freshwater from Copenhagen’s harbor that sits in the heart of the pavilion. The pavilion is a monolithic building of continuous white painted steel with heat-reflecting properties. Therefore, it keeps the building cool throughout the hot Shanghai summers. The roof contains a light blue surfacing texture similar to Danish cycle routes. The inside of the building has a soft epoxy floor with a blue cycle path in which visitors can ride bikes.

At the center of the pool you will find The Little Mermaid, a statue that has become a symbol for Denmark. And this time, it will be moved temporarily to China. In Bjarke Ingels words “it is considerably more resource efficient moving The Little Mermaid to China, than moving 1.3 billion Chinese to Copenhagen”.

“Sustainability is often misunderstood as the neo-protestant notion “that it has to hurt in order to do good”. “You’re not supposed to take long warm showers – because wasting all that water is not good for the environment” or “you’re not supposed to fly on holidays – because airtraffic is bad for the environment”. Gradually we all get the feeling that sustainable life simply is less fun than normal life. If sustainable designs are to become competitive it can not be for purely moral or political reasons – they have to be more attractive and desirable than the non-sustainable alternative. With the Danish Pavilion we have attempted to consolidate a handful of real experiences of how a sustainable city – such as Copenhagen – can in fact increase the quality of life”



2. Psychiatric Hospital

The psychiatric hospital in Helsingør, Denmark, is one of the oldest projects from Bjarke Ingels Group. The building exemplifies the importance of architecture when designing wellness facilities. The project is based in Helsingør and it was completed in 2006.

The hospital merges with the landscape and has a central core connecting the fingers. The chosen layout gives a sensation ofthe departments fitting together, while also allowing individuation. For the project, the BIG team interviewed patients and clinical teams to understand their needs and usability of the space. They ended up understanding that wellness facilities need, of course, to be organized, but also must be designed for quality of life. The design of the hospital is highly functional but avoids the traditional hospital look and feel. Openings throughout the building brings direct light to the interior, and different colors were used within the hospital to indicate location. Green areas were designed to encourage patients and staff to use communal space.


3. Via 57 West

An American dream project in the middle of Manhattan, New York City! VIA 57 West is a residential high rise with a central courtyard. The building has 32 stories, over 700 apartments, and the ground and second floors are commercial units. The transformation from a simple square building towards a tetrahedron shape enhanced the design within the big city. If you go around the block, each corner of the building appears differently. The corner that was pulled up seeks the height and strength of a skyscraper, while the lowest corners open up towards the Hudson River and allows sunlight inside of the central garden and apartments.

Bjarke Ingels met the New York developer Douglas Durst in the early 2000s when he was in Denmark. Durst, who visited Ingels’ Copenhagen studio in February 2010, found him very inventive, noting that unlike other architects, “What was striking about his work was that each design was so different, and designed for the locale.” In spring 2009, Durst Fetner Residential commissioned BIG to bring a new residential typology to Manhattan. In 2011, BIG opened an office in New York to supervise W57’s development and construction. According to The New York Times, the name was chosen “because the southbound West Side Highway slopes down as drivers enter the city, right at the spot where the building is situated”, serving as an entrance to Manhattan “via 57th”. 

VIA 57 west approaches residential units in an unconventional way: one façade composed of curved stainless steel panels, while the other sides are made by high performance glass and aluminum frames. The project utilized sustainable solutions as a core part of the concept. The building stands out in Manhattan; not an easy thing to do! VIA 57 West has became an iconic element of New York City architecture.


4. Noma Copenhagen 

You may have heard of Noma through their uber famous cookbook, the Noma Guide to Fermentation. They also, however, are a beautiful and world renowned restaurant in Copenhagen. The opposite of a skyscraper, Copenhagen restaurant Noma shows how BIG can bounce between large and small scale projects, without losing a sense of authenticity. Located in a singular site surrounded by nature, the restaurant enhances simplicity and elegance through the exterior-interior finishes, furniture, and layout. Danish design and Nordic cuisine intermingle in a refined way to experience one of the most renowned restaurants in the world.

The restaurant is a one story building that accommodates a large kitchen and patron seating. Glass walls were placed towards the water in order to connect customers with nature. An open space allows those enjoying their meal to watch those working in the kitchen. The interior was designed by Copenhagen-based Studio David Thulstrup, and is as wonderful as the building itself. If you want to reserve a table, bookings open three months ahead of each season and go very quickly, so we recommend you check their website for updates!


5. Copenhill

CopenHill, also known as Amager Bakke, embraces hedonistic sustainability to match Copenhagen’s objective of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. The building is a novel type of waste-to-energy plant that caters to an urban recreation center by a ski slope, hiking route, and climbing wall. Additionally, it functions as an environmental education center, transforming social infrastructure into a landmark. CopenHill exploits the latest waste treatment and energy production technologies to replace the 50-year-old waste-to-energy facility.

Meanwhile, the 10,000m2 green roof rewilds a biodiverse environment while absorbing heat, eliminating air particles, and reducing stormwater runoff in an 85m high park’s challenging micro-climate. The Whirring furnaces, steam, and turbines beneath the slopes can provide enough clean energy to power 150,000 homes.

While certainly an incredible space to experience, the building’s true contribution to the public will be the 440,000 tons of waste that will be converted into energy each year. This all happens in the Amager Resource Center located inside of the CopenHill project. The center may be an important step to help Copenhagen reach its carbon-neutral goal by the year 2050. Bjarke Ingels shares his hopes this project will have not only have an influence on the local community but the world. “Standing at the peak of this human-made mountain that we have spent the last decade creating—makes me curious and excited to see what ideas this summit may spark in the minds of future generations.”


6. Lego House

Architecture doesn’t get more fun than this! Opened in 2017, the LEGO House is an experiential centre with six separate zones and over 25 million LEGO bricks.There is a LEGO store, conference facility, multiple restaurants, and a number of incredible interactive activities for children and adults alike, including programming a robot and creating a stop-motion film.

LEGO House was a chance for Bjarke Ingels Group to showcase playfulness in a way they hadn’t been able to before, and the results are wonderful. The house itself looks like stacked, colorful LEGO bricks when viewed from above, and the roof terraces all include playgrounds.


7. Meca

The MÉCA serves as a framework for celebrating contemporary art, film, and performances, providing Bordeaux with a gift of art-filled public space that extends from the waterfront to the city’s new urban room. MÉCA is centrally located between the River Garonne and the Saint-Jean train station, and it is conceived as a single loop of cultural institutions and public space. The promenade’s pavement has become the ramp that leads guests immediately into MÉCA’s outdoor urban space, providing a porous institution that allows visitors to freely walk between the Quai de Paludate street and the river promenade. The outdoor spaces at MÉCA can be used as a stage for concerts and theatrical productions or as an extra gallery for art projects.

With 18,000 square meters (almost 194,000 square feet) of space, MÉCA does not lack for anything. BIG conceived the building as a single loop of cultural institutions and public space by extending the promenade with a ramp that leads into an “urban room.” As the concrete and glass facade looms overhead, visitors are invited to lounge on the steps or use the open area as a skateboarding paradise.It’s within this context that three important cultural institutes will function—ALCA for books, cinema, and audiovisuals, OARA for performing arts, and Frac Nouvelle-Aquitaine for contemporary art. The project, which was given to BIG in 2012 after a public competition, is a grand space where visitors can take in a show at the 250-seat theater, watch film screenings, enjoy cutting-edge art in spacious galleries, dine in the CREM restaurant, and take in views from the public roof terrace.

“Mot only does MÉCA spill its activities into the public realm and the urban room, but the public is also invited to walk around, through, above and below the new cultural gateway,” shares Ingels. “By inviting the arts into the city and the city into the arts, MÉCA will provide opportunities for new hybrids of cultural and social life beyond the specific definitions of its constituent parts.”


8. Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet 

In 2014, Bjarke Ingels Group won an architectural competition organized by Audemars Piguet to enhance its historic buildings. A modern spiral-shaped glass pavilion was designed to strengthen the company’s oldest building, established in 1875 by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet. The architecture of the building intends to represent the combination of tradition and forward-thinking at the heart of Audemars Piguet’s manufacturing. The pavilion rises smoothly on structural curving glass walls that support the steel roof. Additionally, the green roof contributes to the temperature regulation while absorbing water.

The interior layout is a continuous linear flow with a well-crafted spatial narration. The floors follow various slants to conform to the natural gradient of the land. An interlude, a mechanical sculpture, or an artistically designed decorative item introduces each chapter’s unique design language.


9. Tirpitz Museum 

Tirpitz Museum is a former German bunker located in Blåvand, on the west coast of Denmark. BIG created an aperture within Blåvand landscape in order to combine four different organizations into one: an amber museum (stone that can be found on Danish land), a history museum, a bunker, and a gallery. The entrance is by a central and open courtyard. When standing at the middle, it is possible to see the four different galleries, as well as the four cuts within the landscape which lead the visitors towards the dunes.

The underground concrete construction reminds visitors of old bunkers, but large openings around the building liven up the project. The construction details, such as the long span ceiling and tall glass walls, were carefully designed and executed. Tirpitz Museum reconnects viewers with history and the Danish landscape. A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation were the main donors for the construction of the museum.


10. The Twist

The Twist is a great example of how BIG’s architecture is defined by an easily accessible design move that results in a unique space. This bridge museum is created by twisting a simple rectilinear box as it spans the Ranselva river. The interesting interior space is simply the result of this gesture. The move is also highlighted as the simple exterior ribbing and large glass façade remain continuous as they are distorted to complete the central twist. The building is part of the Kistefos Sculpture Park in Jevnaker, Norway.

BIG first won an international competition to create the bridge in 2015. The 1,000-square-meter (10,764-square-foot) aluminum-clad bridge connects the two river banks, with its twisted form allowing it to move from a lower to a higher elevation with ease. In fact, this uneven elevation between the two sides of the river created the problem that then transformed into the ingenious design known as The Twist. This contemporary bridge is just the latest art piece to appear at the Kistefos Museum and Sculpture Park, which was founded in 1996 by businessman Christen Sveaas on the site of his family’s former wood pulp business. Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, and Fernando Botero all have work in the sculpture park and the complex also features exhibition galleries and an industrial museum. The addition of The Twist increases accessibility and will also allow for even more exhibitions within the museum.

“What’s really incredible about Kistefos is the sculpture park. The idea of the museum was more of an add on, but by making it into a bridge, it really became an integral part,” shared Ingels. “It’s not like you go to the museum then you go to the sculpture park and then you go home, you go through the sculpture park, roughly halfway you go through the museum and then you continue.”


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