Danish architect Bjarke Ingels is one of the most popular contemporary architects in the world. His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group—better known simply as BIG—is famous for its playful schemes and easy-to-understand architectural gestures. BIG is also known for its clean design diagrams, which demonstrate the logical but bold design moves that go into creating many of its iconic projects. Ingels believes that “architecture is about trying to make the world a little more like our dreams.”
BIG’s stance on sustainability is also clearly apparent in their body of work. It is described as hedonistic sustainability, which suggests that environmental building elements should not be afterthoughts but should be closely intertwined with other building program. This idea is probably most apparent in Copenhill, a power plant turned ski resort that is one of the most unique green buildings ever created.
Ingels’ mentor, legendary architect Rem Koolhaas of OMA, best summarized what makes the architect—and the firm—so unique: “Bjarke is the first major architect who disconnected the profession completely from angst. He threw out the ballast and soared. With that, he is completely in tune with the thinkers of Silicon Valley, who want to make the world a better place without the existential hand-wringing that previous generations felt was crucial to earn utopianist credibility.”
Read on to see 10 of our favorite BIG projects by Bjarke Ingels Group.
BIG designs more than single buildings. Their most recent large-scale project, Toyota Woven City, is a plan for an urban development focused on the advancement of mobility located near Mt. Fuji, Japan. The “living laboratory” is designed for all workers researching to improve future technologies for the benefit of mankind.
The urban incubator is supported by multiple scales of transit including three elements along each typical road. Traditional vehicular traffic, micro-mobility—including scooters, bikes, and other small personal transport vehicles—and a linear park for pedestrians and park elements are all woven together to create a 3×3 city block module which is repeated throughout the plan.
CopenHill/Amager Bakke in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo: Stock Photos from Oliver Foerstner/Shutterstock)
Officially opened in 2019, CopenHill (or Amager Bakke) is a new brand of green architecture. Ingels explains, “CopenHill is a blatant architectural expression of something that would otherwise have remained invisible: that it is the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world.” It is also a great example of BIG’s mission of hedonistic sustainability—a practice that involves implementing green ideas throughout the building design instead of creating separate, metric-based goals.
Aside from the 440,000 tons of waste that will be converted into energy each year, the building includes many other public services including the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world, an education facility, and a snowless ski slope.
MÉCA in Bordeaux, France (Photo: Stock Photos from JeanLuclchard/Shutterstock)
MÉCA, or Maison de l’Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine, is a cultural institution designed for Bordeaux, France. The building design is closely tied to the modern landscape and waterfront as a way to activate the area and create a “celebration of contemporary art, film, and performances.”
To do this, a generous ramp “leads into the urban living room” to guide passersby into the space. Visual connections are designed to draw those into the lively activity and celebration of art. The exterior is also designed for flexibility in order to host a wide range of events.
The Twist in Jevnaker, Norway (Photo: Stock Photos from tufo/Shutterstock)
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.
LEGO House in Billund, Denmark (Photo: Stock Photos from Peter Helge Petersen/Shutterstock)
LEGO House is one of BIG’s most recognizable projects. The cleverly stacked boxes create a playful collection of toys when viewed from above but an elegant cultural center when one approaches the building. Even though the literal building blocks are designed to look like LEGO blocks, it does not detract the clean and elegant aesthetic expected of a museum. The colorful tops of each module create a picture-perfect field of color and a truly unique public space.
“LEGO house is a literal manifestation of the infinite possibilities of the LEGO brick,” Ingels explains. “Through systematic creativity, children of all ages are empowered with the tools to create their own worlds and to inhabit them through play. At its finest, that is what architecture—and LEGO play—is all about: enabling people to imagine new worlds that are more exciting and expressive than the status quo, and to provide them with the skills to make them reality. This is what children do every day with LEGO bricks; and this is what we have done today at LEGO House with actual bricks, taking Billund a step closer towards becoming the Capital for Children.”
VIA 57 West
VIA 57 West in New York, USA (Photo: Stock Photos from Osugi/Shutterstock)
This project has now become an important addition to the New York skyline. Via 57 West takes inspiration for its unique form from two existing building types: the European perimeter block—like in Barcelona—and the Manhattan high-rise. The courtyard gives extra access to light and air, improving the quality of many units; while the high-rise accommodates the high density needed for this urban environment. The dynamic form also means that the building has a unique identity from each vantage point. In addition to the visual connection, the shifting height means the unusual building can still meet existing context and preserve views from other towers.
The Big U
The Big U spans the coast of Manhattan from West 54th street south to The Battery and up to East 40th street. It was conceived as part of Rebuild by Design of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Rebuild by Design calls for solutions to especially endangered areas that were exposed as potentially dangerous during Superstorm Sandy. The BIG U addressed these vulnerabilities by proposing interventions along the 10-mile area to protect it from future storms and overall sea level rise.
The full proposal is broken down into three parts: East River Park, Two Bridges and Chinatown, and Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. You can read the full document and learn about plans for each area here.
Superkilen in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo: Stock Photos from Oliver Foerstner/Shutterstock)
Superkilen is a landscape and urbanism project that celebrates the various kinds of public space. It runs about half a mile through one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Denmark and introduces a collection of “global found objects” from the many homelands—60 countries—of the area’s residents. The project is a celebration of diversity and of successful elements of public space.
8 House in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo: Stock Photos from Anna50/Shutterstock)
8 House or 8 Tallet is a residential building with 475 units designed to meet the needs of many kinds of residents. The footprint is literally in the shape of the figure “8” which creates two large courtyards with rows of units on each side. The central piece of the 8 allows for a clear connection between the two open areas on either side—a large park on one and the channel on the other. This building element also hosts communal elements for the residents and boasts a design that encourages neighborly interaction. The form itself is not only aesthetic, it also increases each unit’s access to light and view.
Ingels describes the project as follows: “8 House is a three-dimensional neighborhood rather than an architectural object. An alley of 150 row houses stretches through the entire block and twists all the way from street level to the top and down again. Where social life, the spontaneous encounter and neighbor interaction traditionally is restricted to the ground level, the 8 House allows it to expand all the way to the top.”
The Mountain in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo: Stock Photos from Lunnaya/Shutterstock)
The Mountain is a great example of the playful architecture BIG is known for. The project required far more parking than housing. The firm decided to combine each need into one structure and used the “less interesting” building function as a base for the housing. Now, each housing unit has a unique view and access to sunlight and fresh air. All apartments also have roof gardens. The housing development combines the density of urban life with the positive qualities of suburban life. BIG celebrates both building functionalities in a simple but unexpected form that leads to unique spaces.