At last week’s press preview of the National Building Museum’s exhibition “Hot to Cold: an Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation” by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Bjarke Ingels speak in some detail about his firm’s process, their vision and method of creating buildings in various parts of the globe. The virtual journey across the planet is smartly achieved in 800 feet of 60 three-dimensional models of projects that move from the world’s warmest climates to those that face some of Earth’s coldest temperatures. Helpful color codes that span the rainbow tell the viewer in which climate type the building resides.
The exhibition marks the firm’s return to the museum. No surprise they’d be asked back, since in two months their Maze exhibit last year attracted more than 50,000 visitors and the firm is currently working on a redesign of the Smithsonian’s campus. The Maze display engulfed the museum’s atrium. This time, for Hot to Cold, the exhibit takes visitors above the great hall and around the second floor, but there is no need to retreat from the expanse of the hall into a classroom or separate viewing space. The models have been cleverly suspended from the museum’s third floor to rest in line with the second floor’s railings and sit nestled in between the massive columns that surround the atrium. One can take in the model without feeling the least bit confined and get a sense of how the project would sit in its particular location.
This was the first time I had heard Ingels speak live. He’s been featured on several TED talks that have made the rounds online. He shared his thoughts on architecture with a passion and energy that is engaging. After making his opening remarks which included admitting an addiction to the show “Homeland” that he blames in part for his current love affair with Washington, DC – the group of press gathered for the preview of the exhibition wordlessly begged him for more. He graciously complied and got back on the podium to answer some questions and did not disappoint with the level of thought and attention given to each question.
The Potential of Problems
A common thread in Ingels approach to architecture is his desire to embrace climate challenges as a potential for the project. In his experience, he found that viewing climate challenges as an opportunity to explore and create ways to respond to existing conditions and enhance the building’s performance rather than succumb to it, opened the architect to making informed design decisions. He spoke of the dialog that exists between life and architecture and the way in which pure imagination can become the framework of our lives. The projects – when viewed as a whole – carry that idea into practice. In the design, whether it is a luxury hotel, a private residence or waste energy plant, BIG works to bring about a pleasing blend of the environment and functionality.
The work conceived by BIG spans miles, time zones, cultures, languages and climate variations that create challenges on many levels. Ingels told the group he described the designs as “informed responses to existing conditions”. Armed with this philosophy and tools such as ArchiCAD – BIG will continue to surrender design authority to the conditions of each project while coming up with designs that add to that environment.