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BjarKE Ingels' BIG View of Architecture

Aired January 22, 2012 - 14:00   ET


BJARKE INGELS, ARCHITECT: If we could do anything, what would we really do? What are the things that we lack in our city? Whyat are the things that we would like to do, but we can't -- and then make them happen. That's exactly what architecture should be all about.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN: That's just a small window into the mind of the man we are about to meet. He's a young Danish architect named Bjarke Ingels. His bold, innovative ideas are puching the boundaries of design around the globe, including the Manhattan skyline.

But he's not just dreaming up pie-in-the-sky projects, he's actually getting them built. You see, to Ingels, architecture is not aobut building monuments, but about creating possiblities for human life.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to THE NEXT LIST.

INGELS: In the big picture, architecture is the art and science of making sure that our cities and buildings fit with the way we want to live our lives.

The West 57 project is a really beautiful site. It's overlooking the Hudson River, has a view like we have here. It's perfectly oriented towards the south and the west.

But it's, you know, right where the West Side Highway takes off, and it's in Hell's Kitchen -- as you can imagine from the name, it's like a -- it's a pretty sort of industrial neighborhood. So we thought that maybe it could be interesting to really create a sense of place.

Having spent 10 years of our career in Copenhagen, trying to escape the tyranny of the typology of the courtyard building (ph), it could actually be an interesting thing to rediscover in Manhattan, if you like, the - European courtyard is that the architectural scale what Central Park is at the urban scale, like an urban oasis at the heart of that city.

This is the West 57th Street project. As you can see, it's this mixture between a skyscraper and a - and a courtyard building, and it just sort of open up the courtyard for the views. It sort of tilts from being horizontal to being almost vertical, opening up the entire courtyard for the sun from the south and the west, so you would be able to see the sun set over the Hudson River.

And the bottom, like the southwest corner, is 42 inches, so it's really the height of a handrail. And here you're up like 430 feet, so you have this sort of incredible sort of from the - from the human scale to the - to the city scale in one single building.

ROBERT A.M. STERN, DEAN, YALE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE: It's a big idea that caught everybody's attention. It's just the kind of idea that when you see it, you say how come nobody's thought of it before?

DOUGLAS DURST, DEVELOPER, WEST 57th PROJECT: I describe him as a genius. He doesn't fit the - what you think of as an architect. He's fresh, he's - he's very young, but he is, I think, a true genius in the sense of being able to see designs in his mind and put them down on paper better than anybody I've met.

INGELS: Today a lot of people have this feeling that, you know, they ask why are all modern buildings so boring? And essentially, you say, like modern buildings have degenerated into these big boring boxes where the architecture is very passive and all the quality that makes the space inhabitable is this like onslaught of machinery that pumps air and light into the building.

So what we're interested in is what you could call engineering without engines, that essentially we use contemporary technology, our capacity to simulate and calculate the performance of a building, to put the attribute into the actual design of the building, the way it's structured, the way the windows are proportioned, the way it's oriented to try to capture the sun or create shape. So, in a way, find new ways of - in forming the architecture, the design of the buildings. So, essentially, what we're interested in is buildings that look different, because they perform differently.

STERN: Bjarke has had a capacity to read deeply into the situation, the zoning, the economics of a project, the constructability of a project in the way that most architects tend to say, oh, the zoning is constraining. He sees the zoning - I won't say is liberating, but as something if you master it, you can move on to a higher level.

INGELS: I think all projects always start with some kind of anxiety that this time we simply never are going to get there. Like you have this feeling maybe it's simply not going to come out, like no matter how hard you squeeze, it's simply not - it's not getting there.

So, for each project, we might have like even like hundreds of models that are each like early attempts to capture an idea in a - in its most blatant form. So no idea is allowed to exist only inside the head of one of the collaborators. It has to come out in a diagram, in a drawing, in a physical model. You might walk around with a brilliant idea inside your head because you - if you don't bring it out there, I'll never be able to respond to it.

Nobody will be inspired and nobody will be able to inspire.




INGELS: In St. Petersburg we're doing a competition for a public pier. You know, St. Petersburg is a - is a wonderful city. You have wonderful parks, you have birds sitting in the trees, you have manatees in the water, you have pelicans. So it's like it's this little paradise on earth.

So there's not a big problem to solve, but still there's this almost like rooted in the DNA of the city, is this idea that the pier is where the whole city comes together to meet. So, in this case, rather than solving a problem we had to sort of try to create a potential for something new.

Instead of dumping some arbitrary building at the end of the pier, we thought what if the pier itself could simply come out of the water and become its own pavilion, the pavilion where all the citizens can gather? And, of course, in some way it also creates this sort of a magical draw.

We imagine the flow of people come together in what we call the wave walk. A whole series of activities that brings daily life in more direct contact with the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like it a lot. I like the lights and how it reflects on the water, and the circular movement of the whole thing. It's really pretty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's iconic. You look at it, it's distinctive from anything else that you'll see in Florida, let alone the Eastern seacoast of the United States. And I think it will put St. Petersburg, architecturally speaking, on the map.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an amazing architecture. If you can have that much structure with all the glass and everything in it, to me it's amazing that they can do that.

INGELS: The project we proposed is pretty - is pretty wild. The inverted pyramid that we're replacing is also pretty wild.

You - well, you do ask yourself if this is too crazy, and then - but then, when you go through all of the questions and answers, you see what kind of parameters are we responding to. Although unexpected and maybe unusual, it actually feels like the right thing to do, and I think this is one of these unique situations where something insane as the - as the whole world looping upside and down or inside and out, actually seems like it could be the right answer to this specific situation.

You can say like Planet Earth has an existing geology, and what we do as - as human being - human beings and as architects is that we try to sort of alter and modify and expand the geology. And, when you look at it this way, you realize that our cities and our buildings and architecture isn't the way it is because there's some kind of universal law that says that's how it has to be. They're the way they are because that's how far we got the last time we tried. And since it's an ongoing experiment, like human presence on Planet Earth is constantly evolving and so should architecture in our cities.

Architects have to become more than just designers of two-dimensional facades or three-dimensional architectural objects. We have to become designers of ecosystems, systems of both ecology and economy. The channel, not only the flow of people throughout things and buildings, but also the flow of resources, like heat, energy, waste and water.

Stop seeing our presence, like the human presence on Planet Earth, as sort of detrimental to our ecosystem, but actually try to sort of integrate and incorporate our consumption patterns and our leftovers into our natural environment.

Sustainability can't be like some kind of a moral sacrifice or a political dilemma or even like a philanthropical cause. It has to be a design challenge.

This is the Danish Pavilion in Shanghai. The Danish Pavilion was part of the - of the Shanghai World Expo that dealt with sustainable cities, and our idea was to try to capture all of the elements of Danish city life, where the fact that the city is sustainable increases its life quality.

Thirty-seven percent of Copenhageners commute by bicycle, means that they're never stuck in traffic, they never have to sit and try and - in a traffic jam. They can move freely to and from work. And, at the heart of it, the harbor bath, sort of a sample of clean water where people can actually paddle and - and swim, with the Little Mermaid, the national symbol of Denmark that we actually managed to kidnap for six months.

We decided to place the Little Mermaid of Denmark, not a copy of the mermaid. We actually moved her to China. We had to wrest her out of the hands of the Danish equivalent of the Tea Party, who was trying to pass a law specifically against moving the mermaid. We had to get her through Chinese customs, and there she is.




INGELS: I grew up in north of Copenhagen. My parents live in the house where I grew up. So they have like a tiny little house on a beautiful sloping side down to a lake and a forest. And every - every fall, there's some storms and normally like one tree from the forest like comes down. In this case it came down over the - the sort of wooden fence into the forest.

So suddenly we had a lot of lumber, and the idea came that we could build a fort for - I was a kid at the time. So, since I was already drawing a lot back then, I got the idea that I would - I would draw this fancy fort, sort of a hybrid between some Western thing and some - like the Roman forts.

And of course I designed some kind of massive castle, with like four towers and like a drawbridge that came down. There was a moat around it. So it was pretty - pretty full on enterprise. And then my first experience with (INAUDIBLE) engineering, my dad pretty much boiled it down to an (INAUDIBLE) box. But still, you know, I felt that I had been significantly involved in the design process and the construction process, although it was a much more optimized version than my original fantasy. I mean, I think it was my first experience with how it is, and I was - unless you really begin with the - with the parameters of reality, you'll end up sort of amputating your ambitions quite quickly.

I have two siblings, a big sister and then a much younger brother. So I think the first half of my childhood, I was definitely my big sister's little brother. And then I definitely became my little brother's big brother, which - which I think is almost the ultimate education in life you can get is to assume both roles.

I think among the three siblings, we sort of divided the talent between us. So my sister was singing and playing the piano. I had piano lessons for five years and I have practically no keyboard skills left to show for it.

My little brother is the sort of a numbers genius, and I was always good at drawing. Throughout my life I've always been in a way the best guy in the room at drawing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great work. I always loved your work.

INGELS: I had imagined that I would have become a cartoonist or a graphic novelist. Then of course I got fascinated by architecture and lost trace of my original scheme.

I had a very interesting professor, this sort of neo-hippie, definitely a flower child when he was a kid, and he was like - and his person and his approach has been an inspiration. When I was in school, on the first day of the - of the year, he gave this opening speech, and he basically said that he didn't care if we learned this or that or like follow the curriculum or whatever. All he wanted us to promise him, and this we had to promise, was that when we were - when we graduated, we would leave the school with something at heart.

He meant that we shouldn't just go out there and, you know, show the world what we can do. We should go out there with the intention of contributing somehow to life, to society, that it had to do about caring for how people are going to inhabit the spaces and live in the cities and move around. Just not looking at architecture as some kind of stylistic exercise or some kind of aesthetic practice, but really being about creating possibilities for human life.

GUPTA: Creating possibilities. It's the goal of every project Bjarke Ingels takes on, and coming up, he shares his passion for big ideas.




INGELS: I came here to Yale to teach studio, which is sort of a class where a group of students, 12 students, are given a real challenge.

So essentially what we would like to do for this - for this studio is to look at the idea of social infrastructure.

The specific idea is to make an inhabited bridge, to propose a bridge over the East River of New York, where what carries the bridge is not going to be just steel and concrete, but it's actually going to be inhabited structures for apartments, spaces for living and working, maybe a little piece of park, a bicycle path.

We're just going through the harbor to see what would bridges be like as buildings. So basically when you see them from the water, looking up at them, what would a bridge be like a building. So like when you see these bridges from below, you always feel like it would be amazing if you could crawl around in these girders and like go where you're not supposed to go.

The idea of the studio is to see what if you could actually go, what if people were really living inside the bridge.

JAMES SOBCZAK, YALE STUDENT: A huge scale. I mean, you look at some of these bridges, compare it to actual buildings and skyscrapers, then they're actually quite bigger than them and a larger span.

KARL SCHMECK, YALE STUDENT: Bjarke I think is doing things in architecture right now that nobody else is doing. He's doing the kind of projects the way they're explained, the partnerships that he's creating and also their idea of synergy, bringing together a lot of different disciplines. I think this is something really novel, and Bjarke is doing it better than anybody else right now.

INGELS: What we tried to do is to make a project where the potential for private profit can actually create some amazing public opportunities. But also the value that it generates to certainly have a lot of real estate in the middle of the water, with amazing views looking up and down the river, probably the best views in New York, that value can actually contribute to paying for the bridge.

STERN: It's a big idea that got lost in the shuffle of big ideas, and bringing it back in a new way, it'd be - it should be astounding, what he does.

INGELS: The big goal of the - of the studio is this sort of pragmatic Utopian approach, to give the students the tools and the skills to approach the sort of almost the unimaginable or like the wildly creative with a very practical and straightforward approach. The more wild ideas you want to realize, the more drive and rational and professional and rigorous you have to be in your approach.

Because if you're just going to do the standard solution, you can actually be quite lazy, because nobody's going to question anything, so you can just do it. Whereas if you want to go just even a little bit beyond sort of the conventional path, you really have to try hard to convince a whole - a whole series of authorities and also clients and investors and neighbors that this is actually feasible. SOBCZAK: I think it's kind of fun, especially in school, to make these kind of more Utopian, kind of out there projects and really kind of push the boundaries of what may be possible or what could be.

DURST: He's annoyingly young and annoyingly brilliant. When you first meet him you would want to dislike him for those reasons. But he's a charming person and so open that you just can't help but like him.

INGELS: And also in Copenhagen, this building called the 8House, which is almost like a hybrid between a mountain village and a Copenhagen courtyard building. People can actually walk and bicycle all the way to the penthouse in the middle of the city.

So here, this is the view from the - from the top path, where you look out over the flat landscape of Copenhagen. It's a big park. You know, the lake here delineates the city limits, so you really have cows grazing on the other side of the water, a sort of meeting between man and cow.

And essentially what it does is that it sort of amplifies the topography of Copenhagen, this like completely flat landscape suddenly gets a place where you can go for a walk hand in hand with your girlfriend, and check out the amazing view that you wouldn't have otherwise. So, in a way, the building also becomes part of the - of this manmade landscape itself.

As architects, we try to sort of observe life, see what are people doing, and then we try to see what is it that people want? What is it that they desire? Why do they - why do did they move into the suburbs in the '60s and '70s to get a private garden? Why are they moving back into the cities now? why can't you have both?

That's exactly what architecture should be all about, is to try to make the world a little bit more like our dreams. Essentially ask ourselves, what would be - if we could do anything, what would we really do? Like what are the things that we lack in our city? What are the things that we would like to do, but we can't, and then make them happen.

GUPTA: There's no question Bjarke Ingels sees the world a little differently, and it's easy to see the passion he brings to his work. He is challenging us to rethink what architecture can do for everyday people and re-imagine the world as it could be, and that makes him an agent of change and earns him a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

And for more on THE NEXT LIST, you can go to You can also go to my life stream at

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. See you back next Sunday.