Last Thursday, I traveled to 20 countries in under two hours — the most possible without spending the afternoon in Queens. Or turning on the television.
Packing light, I started my trip on the Arabian Peninsula in Qatar (or maybe it was Malaysia?) and, some time later, eventually found myself smack-dab in the middle of the Finnish tundra. Pit stops along the way included Miami, Mexico City, Montpelier, Manhattan and a lengthy layover on the Danish island of Zealand. It was all very enlightening and slightly disorienting, and like with most travels, the photos in the brochure were better then the ones I snapped along the way.
Since the end of January, visitors to the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., have embarked on a similar continent-hopping journey as part of an exhibition titled “HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation” that basically functions as a greatest hits collection of the world’s foremost/only practitioner of sustainable hedonism, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.
Bjarke Ingels: So hot right now. (Photo: Matt Carbone/National Building Museum)
A model of West 57, BIG's first North American project. (Photo: Kevin Allen/National Building Museum)
Arranged along the 800-foot perimeter of the second floor balcony that encircles the museum’s stunning Great Hall, the core of the exhibition is made up of 60 3-D architectural models and mock-ups suspended by cables from the atrium ceiling. Each of the models depicts a different work — some completed, some under-construction, some still in the conceptual stage — of Ingels' eponymous firm, Bjarke Ingels Group or BIG. Text-heavy placards accompany each not-so-precariously dangling model. And, of course, BIG’s signature eye-popping architectural renderings are on full display.
It’s a dramatic and somewhat challenging method of displaying the work of a world-dominating, Darwin-influenced visionary — one part well-coiffed pop star one part super-kooky creator of “pragmatic utopian” buildings — who once described architecture as “the art and science of making sure that our cities and buildings actually fit with the way we want to live our lives: the process of manifesting our society into our physical world.”
And for the most part, it works.
The exhibition is named “HOT TO COLD” for good reason. Instead of being arranged chronologically, alphabetically, geographically or programmatically, the 60 architectural models ringing the Great Hall’s second floor arcade — an “urban room of epic proportions” as BIG puts it — are presented climatically. As museumgoers enter the exhibition, they start off in the hottest climate in which BIG has been commissioned to design a building. Moving counterclockwise around the arcade, visitors learn about the innovative climate specificity of BIG’s eccentric, eco-friendly oeuvre — “the one thing we can’t escape; the one condition we always have to respond to.”
A model of Telus Sky Tower, a mixed-use high-rise under construction in downtown Calgary. (Photo: Kevin Allen/National Building Museum)
One of 60 architectural models suspended from the atrium of the National Building Museum. (Photo: Kevin Allen/National Building Museum)
As noted by BIG, during a leisurely loop around the arcade, museumgoers “learn about the harsh demands of climatic extremes, where architecture becomes more about shading from the heat and sheltering from the cold. The milder or more temperate environments often leave more room for other factors such as culture, program, politics and legislation to shape the buildings.”
Some of BIG’s work such as the Dryline, a protective ribbon of parkland proposed for flood-prone Lower Manhattan formerly known as BIG U, respond directly to a changing climate.
HOT TO COLD isn’t just an early-career retrospective of a nervy 40-year-old architect from Denmark. The exhibition follows another flashy BIG exhibition that made a brief but memorable showing at the National Building Museum last summer: BIG Maze, a 6-week teaser that took the form of a 3,600-square-foot plywood labyrinth erected in the Great Hall. Together, the maze and HOT TO COLD serve as both a greeting and an introduction of sorts — a hello, we’ll soon be getting to know each other quite well —from Ingels to Washington. After all, it’s BIG that will be treating the Smithsonian Institution’s South Mall campus to a hugely ambitious $2 billion dollar makeover that aims to “find freedom within the boundaries of strict regulation and historical preservation.” You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Smithsonian revampings aside, admirers of Ingels — Ingelites? BIGHeads? — will be pleased to know that all of the wunderkind’s boldest, brashest and most bonkers work is on view at “HOT TO COLD:”
Upsalla Power Plant, Sweden. (Rendering: BIG)
Sydhavns Recycling Center, Copenhagen. (Rendering: BIG)
There’s West 57, the pyramidal apartment tower reaching completion on the west side of Manhattan; Zootopia, the wild, literally, re-imagining of Denmark’s Givskud Zoo; the bonkers waste-to-energy power plant-cum-urban ski resort on the outskirts of Copenhagen; the alpine-inspired retirement community (BIG’s most mountainous project yet?) planned for Hualien, Taiwan; the 58-story “lady among cowboys” currently going up in downtown Calgary; The Pin, an audacious 21st century take on the Space Needle planned for Phoenix; and, of course, there’s the LEGO House “experience center” in Billund, Denmark.
Models of Ingels’ career-defining early commissions in the Danish Maritime Museum and, my favorite, 8 Tallet, a green-roofed, figure 8-shaped mixed-use development in Ørestad, Copenhagen, can also be found hanging from the National Building Museum's atrium.
And in a bit of well-planned timing, the BIG machine has been furiously churning out new, razzle-dazzle commissions seemingly every other week during the run of the exhibition: Copenhagen’s Sydhavns Recycling Center, a cleverly concealed community waste disposal facility that doubles as a neighborhood recreation center complete with a snowboard-able (!) roof; a jaw-dropping inverted skyscraper proposed for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; a biomass congeneration (combined heat and power) plant planned for the Swedish city of Uppsala that’s topped with a multi-hued geodesic dome; a snail-shaped Danish country home — you know, typical Ingels stuff.
All of these new projects make an appearance in “HOT TO COLD.”
Kuala Lumpur Signature Tower, Malaysia. (Rendering: BIG)
Villa Gug, Alborg, Denmark. (Rendering: BIG)
Absent, however, from the exhibition is what’s undoubtedly BIG’s most high-profile commission to date: the recently announced master plan for the new Google campus in the North Bayshore section of Mountain View, California, to replace the current humdrum Googleplex.
Spanning 3.4 million square feet, the search engine behemoth’s new HQ — a corporate campus that's “communitarian, flexible, robotic and dipped in nostalgia all at the same time” writes Christoper Hawthorne for the Los Angeles Times — was conceived by Ingels in collaboration with Thomas Heatherwick, a fellow 40-something maverick. Based in London, Heatherwick is best known for the controversial Garden Bridge and the 2012 Summer Olympics cauldron.
It’s hard to know even where to begin with the Google North Bayshore master plan. (A 10-minute video released by Google, embedded below, certainly helps). In what appears to be a nod to the late 2015 Pritzker laureate Frei Otto, the campus buildings will be topped with massive, tent-like canopies that blur the boundaries between the built and natural environment.
Daniel Radcliffe, Google's vice president of real estate, notes that these “lightweight and block-like” structures can be “moved around easily as we invest in new product areas.” This ephemerality combined with the blurring of interior and exterior spaces and an overall emphasis on both transparency and community — it's a "vibrant new neighborhood" and not a "insular corporate headquarter" explains BIG — is at the heart of the master plan.
Explains Ingels: “Everything has turned into parking lots. We are trying to reverse this process and recreate some of the natural qualities that have been there in the first place. To transform the sea of parking that you find today, into a natural landscape where you will find an abundance of green outside, but also inside.”
Google North Bayshore, Mountain View, California. (Rendering: BIG)
Adds Radcliffe: ‘This project is about much more than just office space; it’s about doing more with the local community as well. We’re adding lots of bike paths and retail opportunities, like restaurants for local businesses. We also hope to bring new life to the unique local environment, from enhancing burrowing owl habitats to widening creek beds.”
BIG and Heatherwick’s master plan, airy, open and accessible to all, is a marked departure from another sprawling tech campus that’s in-the-works in the East Bay: Sir Norman Foster’s $5 billion Apple campus, a foreboding, spaceship-esque edifice described as both “fortress of solitude” and an “absurd minimalist spectacle” by Co.Design’s Mark Wilson.
The LA Times drives the point home:
The Heatherwick-Ingels design is meant, above all, to send a restorative message. It aims, in no particular order, to: hide the scars inflicted by car culture; bring nature and (small-scale) agriculture back to the Silicon Valley landscape; sit lightly in a drought-stricken region on a warming planet; undo the mistakes and loosen the rigidity of modernist office-park architecture; and in very clear terms reject the privatized, exclusive posture of the new Apple headquarters now under construction in nearby Cupertino.
The “HOT TO COLD” exhibition, which in addition to the 3-D model-flanked second-floor arcade also includes a gallery displaying the “afterlife” of BIG-designed buildings, will be showing at the National Building Museum through Aug. 30.
On March 30, Taschen will release a Stefan Sagmeister-designed monograph featuring all the projects appearing in the exhibition along with previously unpublished essays by Ingels. The book, also titled “HOT TO COLD,” is already available for purchase at the National Building’s Museum’s bookstore.
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