CLAD interview

Bjarke Ingels

The Danish architect on Lego and Lego House and the culture at BIG

Lego House recently opened in Billund, Denmark. What did that project mean to you?
If BIG had been founded for one single building, it would have been this one. It’s such a joyful exploration of all of the different potential expressions of Lego.

Like any Dane, I grew up with Lego. What’s unique about Lego as a toy is that it’s actually not a toy, it’s a vehicle for systematic creativity that enables the child to create its own world and then to inhabit that world through play.

As architects, we have the ability to build the world we’d like to live in. The sense of empowerment that architecture can give when it’s working well is the same kind of empowerment that Lego gives a child.

What’s the team like at BIG?
Of course, I founded the company and I’m the creative leader, but I’ve never kept it a secret that I work with great, gifted people. Of the partners at BIG, about half of them were interns in the early days of the company, so we’ve been together for a ridiculously long time. We’ve developed a culture through friendship and collaboration that’s very strong.

So you wouldn’t agree when you’re sometimes portrayed as a kind of lone genius?
The truth is that collaboration is about collective effort and it’s also about individual contribution – so both are actually true. There wouldn’t be any BIG without me and there wouldn’t be any BIG without all the ‘BIGsters’.

I don’t see that there’s a dichotomy. Has Steven Spielberg made you think that he’s the only one contributing to his films? Not really. But, of course, he’s the director and he also consistently manages to put together a team that can deliver something that other directors don’t.

What challenges have you faced as a firm?
We launched BIG in 2005 and we were doing some big projects, like 8 House complex in Copenhagen and the Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør. But by the fall of 2007, we were going down. I took control of our finances for a year, let go of 35 people, cut down everything I could, including lunches and our cleaning services, borrowed some money and managed to turn the company around.

After that, I hired Sheela Maini Søgaard, who is now a partner and CEO of the firm. Sheela has a really healthy confrontational attitude. She started phoning late payers, getting them to cough up. Where architects are typically overly optimistic, Sheela has a healthy scepticism. We needed that.

The culture at BIG – which includes parties, a ‘BIG band’ and even cycling trips over the Andes – is well known. Did you set out to create this?
It’s not an agenda, it’s more a question of how you’d like to lead your life. Architects tend to work long hours, but even working a normal day is still half your waking hours, so you’d better have a good time doing it.

It’s not just about the parties though. If you put a lot of like-minded, energetic, passionate, brilliant, creative people in a room with some fascinating problems to solve and a big deadline at the end, it’s practically like a party. So even without intoxicating substances, it’s a blast.

Why did you decide to relocate from New York to Copenhagen?
The last few years have been dominated by America, but there’s no doubt that Europe is back at full throttle. I’m keen to spend a few years focusing on opportunities in Europe. We’ve got plenty to be excited about.

Bjarke Ingels was interviewed by Magali Robathan. Read the full article in CLADmag issue 4 2017

Key dates

Bjarke Ingels launches PLOT with Julien De Smedt

Ingels launches the Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen

BIG becomes a partnership with eight partners: Bjarke Ingels, Sheela Maini Søgaard, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, Andreas Klok Pedersen, David Zahle, Jakob Lange, Finn Nørkjær and Thomas Christoffersen

BIG opens its New York office

Research and development lab BIG ideas is born

BIG appoints four new partners: Beat Schenk, Daniel Sundlin, Jakob Sand and Brian Yang

BIG’s London office opens in Kings Cross

BIG launches its own in-house engineering, landscape, interior and space planning department

Cooming soon .......

The theatre will be both stage and actor in the city of Tirana - Bjarke Ingels

The National Theatre of Albania is a three-in-one cultural venue shaped like a bow tie. Designed in collaboration with British consultancy Theatre Projects, the venue has been commissioned to host local and touring theatre companies

Like a collective campus rather than a monolithic stadium – Bjarke Ingels

East Austin District is a sports and entertainment neighbourhood in Texas sheltering stadia and arenas under a dramatic chequered roofscape. The roof’s design is inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s grid system for dividing America’s fields, forests and towns into square-mile sections

Cascading work environments connecting Googlers across multiple floors – Bjarke Ingels

A scheme for Google’s headquarters has been designed by Heatherwick Studio and BIG. The 11-storey ‘landscraper’ proposal will be the first wholly owned and designed Google building outside the US

The panda enclosure is the new rotation point for the zoo – Bjarke Ingels

Copenhagen Zoo’s new panda enclosure will be shaped like an enormous yin-yang symbol, half for the female and half for the male panda. The habitat features bamboo, trees, rocks, logs, waterfalls, pools and streams

Collective commuting, individual freedom, near supersonic speed – Bjarke Ingels

BIG and Virgin Hyperloop One, the world’s first Hyperloop high-speed transport system, are pursuing a passenger and cargo network in the United Arab Emirates. BIG designed the system’s stations, control centre and pods

A lively urban fabric that combines radically different streetscapes – Bjarke Ingels

EuropaCity is a huge development on the outskirts of Paris covering more than 300,000sqm offering a mix of retail, culture and leisure

Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: Robert D. Henry Architects + Interiors
Robert D Henry Architects (RDH-Architects) was founded in 1990 in New York City by Bob Henry, known as the “sensuous architect of serenity.”
BluGalaxy a Division of Blu Spas
Blu Spas
This animation showcases the beautiful concept design of BluGalaxy Spa.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
Roosegaarde has a masters in architecture from the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam
"I want to demonstrate that creativity is our true capital as humans "

Rather than feeling fearful and helpless about the future, we must design a way out of the environmental problems we have created, argues the innovative Dutch designer, artist and inventor Daan Roosegaarde

The swimming pool looks out onto the quarry floor
Martin Jochman founded JADE+QA in 2013. He formerly worked for Atkins
"We didn’t want to put in any gimmicks. We wanted to create a building that’s inherently sustainable through passive sustainability"

When Martin Jochman set out to transform an old quarry into a luxury hotel, he faced some serious challenges

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
Elina Grigoriou
Elina Grigoriou
"Temperature, noise level and colour affect our stress levels. As designers we should be asking ourselves, how do these things match up?"

The London-based interior designer and wellness expert hopes her new book will help readers understand how to design with wellbeing in mind

Francis graduated as a landscape architect in Belgium. He returned to Lebanon in 1993
"I believe gardens are where the soul rests"

With a focus on desert landscapes and collaborations with Zaha Hadid and OMA, the principal of Francis Landscapes has a deep belief in the power of nature

Health & Fitness: Working it
"We’ve designed the space so that the atmosphere is intimate"

Les Mills’ new studio spaces at its iconic Auckland City Gym showcase a trend away from masculine ‘grunty’ gyms to something altogether different

Elizabeth de Portzamparc
"We need to stop the destruction of our world through predatory practices. We need to think of the future"

The architect behind Nimes’ Musée de la Romanité on designing to counter loneliness and the need for more cultural buildings

The award-winning mixed use Santana Row project in San Jose, California
Scott Lee became president of SB Architects in 2000. Tracy Lee founded TLee Spas in 2015
"We design to connect the guest to the place, positioning people at the centre of the design"

Architect Scott Lee and spa consultant Tracey Lee on marrying the worlds of design and wellness in a series of interesting projects

cladkit product news
Cosm unveils Experience Centre with ‘one of a kind’ LED dome
The new Experience Centre houses a 20m LED dome
Magali Robathan
Cosm, a global technology company that builds end-to-end solutions for immersive experiences, has unveiled its Experience Centre which houses a ...
LianTronics’ glasses-free 3D Star Trek LED screen attracts attention
Magali Robathan
LianTronics’ giant curved LED wall with stunning glasses-less 3D spaceship display effect has attracted many on the street of Chengdu, ...
Painting with Light pushes boundaries to create unforgettable visual concepts
The team combines lighting, video, sound and special effects, with scenic and architectural elements, to create unforgettable visual experiences
Megan Whitby
Belgium-based light and video design studio, Painting with Light, will translate the story of your location into a visual experience, ...
cladkit product news
Christie laser projectors power new Five Senses Bubble dome theatre
The dome aims to integrate technology with arts and culture
Magali Robathan
Christie® GS Series 1DLP® laser projectors are delivering vivid and lifelike visuals in a new dome theatre located in Xiong’an ...
Atelier Alain Ellouz launches handcrafted precious stone lighting collection
LYRA has a sleek, cylindrical design complete with an elegant brass dimming switch
Megan Whitby
LYRA, GAMA, MONA and ATHENA are the first pieces from designer Atelier Alain Ellouz’s new.édition collection of handcrafted stone lighting ...
Diamond balloon concept merges tourist attraction with advertising billboard
Magali Robathan
A group of Dutch engineers have presented a new attractions concept that combines a flying observation cabin with LED digital ...
cladkit product news
ASPA International launches handheld UV-C light disinfection lamp
The compact plug-in product can be used easily in a commercial spa or domestic setting to disinfect surfaces with UV-C light
Megan Whitby
For over 30 years, ASPA International has designed and built high-quality spas for the hotel, health and wellness sectors. During ...
Siminetti unveils first glimpses of Mother of Pearl decorative surfaces inspired by the four seasons
The new winter design is finished with naturally occurring hexagonal patterns found in snowflakes
Megan Whitby
Siminetti has collaborated with British designer Chrisanna London to create a luxury Mother of Pearl decorative surface range inspired by ...
Móz Designs columns anchor the world’s largest indoor aquarium
The design of the columns was inspired by the sea
Magali Robathan
After a two-year renovation, Oakland-based metal experts Móz Designs have unveiled their inclusion in Georgia Aquarium’s new shark gallery. Located ...