Architectural avant-garde has always been negatively received, especially when it involves sustainability. The belief that sustainability hurts and keeps us from the pleasures of life is still strong. Some architects are fighting to disprove that.
One of them is Bjarke Ingels Group, often referred to as BIG, based in Copenhagen, New York, and London. Founded in 2006 by Bjarke Ingels, the Danish firm is successfully spreading the concepts of “pragmatic utopianism” and “hedonistic sustainability” while creating buildings that come from sci-fi movies. Pragmatic utopianism is the idea of harmonizing architecture and nature. Hedonistic sustainability wants to transform the sustainability movement into a youthful, dynamic and egalitarian concept. Both seek to prove that design and architecture can be economically profitable as well as environmentally sustainable.
BIG’s manifesto, “Yes Is More”, was published in 2010 and combines the thinking of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin. Borrowing from Darwin’s theory of evolution, BIG believes that architecture is good when it adapts to environmental needs fitting it to society’s demands. Sometimes it thrives while at other times it fails to survive in the same way species do showing that architecture is a key driver in the evolutionary process. BIG also dives into Nietzsche’s concept that one should say “yes” to oneself instead of “no” to something else. BIG says yes to society, an approach that has helped the company to find new ways of ecological and economic development. It challenges what we know as architecture.
Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG, became known after constructing the “Vertical Suburbia” housing complexes in Ørestad, Copenhagen. The first one is VM Houses, the apartments have diagonal views of the surrounding landscape and short corridors. There are some 80 different types of apartments in the complex adapting to different individual needs. The second complex is the Mountain, a 2/3 parking, and 1/3 living space. The parking area became the base of the terraced housing structure. The merge of functions into a symbiotic relationship instead of separate buildings was an adaptation to the flat Copenhagen. Each apartment has a view and a garden due to the diagonal facade. The mountain image on the side of the building was made for better air circulation in the parking lot attaching art, functionality, and nature to the project.
BIG’s buildings emulate nature, break paradigms, and create urban conversion spaces that allow public and private life to merge. The use of glass and weird shapes brings futurist feelings to it. Also, the cheap materials used have become part of BIG’s philosophy that beauty doesn’t have to cost much. In fact, it can be made with recyclable material. To them, architecture is not a choice, but an interesting puzzle that when solved can please and attend all needs. BIG’s designs with hope to promote harmony between lives, accessibility, community, and integration.
BIG shifts the mentality that buildings are structures, for them they are ecosystems. Their plants are designed to fit people’s lives, integrating consumption and leftovers to the equation. They alone took an evolutionary stand in architecture adapting to the new modern demands of life increasing life quality as a result. The company carries more than 25 awards. Their portfolio is composed by very futuristic buildings such the VIA 57 West in Manhattan, the Google North Bayshore headquarters, the people’s building in Shangai, the Amager Resource Center (ARC) waste-to-energy plant (that incorporates ski slope). They are giving architecture the freedom to change the surface of our planet and better fit to humanity’s future.
The most complex and interesting project up to now is the Seven Peaks. The resort and residential development in the Zira Island on the Caspian Sea, in Azerbaijan. The design of the project simulates the seven most important mountains of Azerbaijan, and in fact, work as mountain creating shelter for the wind, accumulating water and solar heat. The project is the First Carbon Neutral Master Plan In the desert Baku. It will work as an autonomous ecosystem where the flow of air, water, heat, and energy are channeled in almost natural ways. The island that has a deserted climate will have its water supply coming from local desalinated water. The buildings will be heated and cooled by heat pumps connected to the Sea. Integrated solar panels will help supply hot water, while photovoltaic panels will help with heat. Waste and storm water will be collected, cleaned and recycled on site. The island will also have its own CO2-neutral power supply. Showing that society works better when it based on nature. This project is the first sign that the future is here, and it does not pollute with CO2.