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

2001
Bjarke Ingels launches PLOT with Julien De Smedt

2005
Ingels launches the Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen

2009
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

2010
BIG opens its New York office

2014
Research and development lab BIG ideas is born

2015
BIG appoints four new partners: Beat Schenk, Daniel Sundlin, Jakob Sand and Brian Yang

2016
BIG’s London office opens in Kings Cross

2017
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

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: The Wellness
Through boundless insights, The Wellness specialises in innovation and sustainability of design, engineering, construction and after-sales services of spa, pools, fitness, leisure and other spaces for the hospitality and wellness industries.
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
features
Collaboration is at the heart of NBW’s working practices
Thomas Woltz
"I am very proud of stewarding the largest public space to be built in Manhattan in a century"

The Wall Street Journal’s Design Innovator of the Year on designing the gardens at Hudson Yards and looking to the Native Americans for ideas on how to create a resilient future

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, US
José Almiñana
"We are committed to designing evocative landscapes informed by the best environmental science"

The Andropogon principal on pushing the boundaries of landscape design for the benefit of humans and nature

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
The new White Hart Lane stadium aims to connect with the local community
Christopher Lee, managing director at Populous, is overseeing the stadium development
"Creating an accessible public space is important commercially, but it’s even more important socially"

Lifts the lid on the design of White Hart Lane

Scott and Tracy Lee met while working on Calistoga Ranch, US
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

A central island acts as a food preparation area for multiple people
"I’ve used my own life as a living lab to study the hurdles from a busy career mom’s perspective"

Veronica Schreibeis Smith couldn’t find a kitchen which worked for her plant-based diet, so she invented the wellness kitchen

features
Schumacher joined Zaha Hadid Architects in 1988 after studing architecture in Stuttgart and London
"Zaha was a star… very courageous, very driven in terms of wanting to excel"

The director of Zaha Hadid Architects on how ZHA plans to keep innovating with passion

Lego House’s Masterpiece Gallery houses large models made by Lego fans
“If BIG had been founded for one project, it would have been Lego House,” says Ingels
"We want to take responsibility and initiative in giving form to our future"

The BIG founder talks about Lego House Mars Science City and the role of his team in BIG’s success

Kéré’s design is inspired by a tree in his hometown of Gando, Burkina Faso
Kéré told CLAD that the value of great public spaces ‘cannot be measured by money’
"Well designed public spaces are the foundation of a healthy society"

How he designed this year's Serpentine Pavilion

cladkit product news
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
cladkit product news
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
cladkit product news
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
The event will allow buyers and suppliers to meet
Magali Robathan
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo ...