Architecture + Home Décor

Why Danes Celebrate Bjarke Ingels: The ‘Starchitect’ Transforming the World, One Building at a Time


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By Helen Russell

One of the biggest exports to come out of Denmark in recent years is a bestubbled 40-year-old with razor-sharp cheekbones and a creative brain that just won’t quit. Bjarke Ingels is a “starchitect” with a proclivity for Instagram selfies and a passionate commitment to the environment. Famous for his imaginative, eco-friendly and fabulously photogenic projects, he’s been making waves in the world of architecture and design for the past decade. His 2009 TED talk has been viewed almost two million times and has been translated into 28 languages. He is, to put it plainly, kind of a big deal.

“Historically, the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes,” Ingels has said: “on one side an avant-garde full of crazy ideas…on the other side there are well-organized corporate consultants. We believe that there is a third way.” To explore this third way, he set up the Bjarke Ingels Group – aptly dubbed BIG – in 2006 and the firm now operates out of New York and his native Copenhagen. BIG has blazed a trail for blue-sky-thinkers everywhere, developing a reputation for innovative, ground-breaking projects including Google's new futuristic greenhouse HQ in California and Copenhagen’s Amager Resource Centre, a waste-to-energy incinerator that will double up as a year-round ski slope. Denmark is justly proud of BIG’s architectural revolution and Ingels is a source of inspiration to creative Danes.

Here, four of the best tell us why BIG and Ingels are so hot right now.

1 Charlotte Ravnholt, co-editor in chief of Denmark’s biggest design magazine, Bo Bedre [] says:“Bjarke Ingels is a rock star. A rebel. The captain of the new generation of architects and contemporary architecture. Curious, playful, spectacular and artistic. The Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør an underground, boat-shaped structure looped around an old dry dock is absolutely magnificent. I love the way he’s created a building so modern, light and transparent to house something so historic and heavy - beautifully integrated in its surroundings.”

2 Lars Dithmer, senior project manager at LEGO of the BIG-designed LEGO House: “Bjarke has been an eye-opener for Danish architects who, although successful, were beginning to be satisfied with an image of a cool, uniform Scandinavian style and functionality without too much experimentation and personality. Bjarke plays with architectural forms, functions and adaptability, creating inspiring and edgy landmarks as well as challenging and provocative structures. BIG’s projects aren’t easy to build - nor do they please everybody - but that goes with creating progressive architecture. The BIG team did a very strong, impressive and playful entry in the architectural competition for LEGO House a structure of interlocking and overlapping blocks reminiscent of the clean plastic bricks the toymaker is famous for]. The design supports and embraces the LEGO idea without compromising functional requests. I am excited about the challenge of turning this beautiful model of LEGO bricks into a real size building made of steel and tiles”.

3 Fiorella Lee Groves, creative director at Danish clothing brand Hummel International says: "Bjarke Ingels’ plan for Zooptopia - the cage-free zoo in Southern Denmark where animals will roam free and visitors will be in ‘capitivity’ - is one of those architectural projects that throws open the doors of your imagination and makes you feel like an excited five year old all over again. Quintessentially Danish, it is this playfully uncompromising focus on user experience and ability to see the potential for harmony that I find most inspiring about BIG’s work."

4 Nikolina Olsen-Rule, head of communications at the Danish Museum of Art and Design says: “For me, it’s that Ingels dares to be different. His buildings and projects are often dramatic and quirky in the way he combines different functionalities. I’m excited about BIG's Blåvand Bunker Museum – a former German WWII bunker that will be transformed into a new museum carved out of sand dunes in Varde in Denmark.”

You can see these and more of Bjarke Ingels’ projects at BIG online.

Helen Russell is a journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly, Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country published by Icon Books.