Ambition 03

Reshape the surface
of our planet

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Bjarke Ingels Group

New York

A non-conformist group of architects is moulding our planet around people.

The Danish word for design translates as Formgiving – giving form to that which does not yet exist. And it’s the perfect word to describe Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG, that regularly give form to ideas that are far too wild for the average imagination.

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See how BIG is helping improve the sustainability of cities

We all inherit our way of life from previous generations.

Kai-Uwe Bergmann
Partner, BIG

Kai-Uwe Bergmann, a partner at BIG, gives us some insight. “We usually describe ourselves as a kind of thinker. Architects, certainly, but also designers and engineers. You simply can’t think you know the entire solution from a singular perspective. You need many different vantage points, or people, to think about a problem to be able to truly solve it,” he says.

Logistics are akin to veins that move nutrients and energy around, making them accessible.

Kai-Uwe Bergmann
Partner, BIG

BIG’s commitment to pushing boundaries is unrivalled. Taking an unshackled approach to the past and putting human experience at the centre of every creation, BIG’s view is that future cities are going to be a lot more about how we live and work together.

“We all inherit our way of life from previous generations,” says Kai who points out that many of the houses and apartments we live in represent the way people lived 50 to 100 years ago. BIG believes in designing for the future by being sustainable and creating flexible spaces that are malleable enough to adapt to the needs of future generations, as well as the current ones.

One question BIG often asks itself is how to create environments that are equitable and at the same time generous for people. “We can all see that more and more people are moving towards cities,” explains Kai. “A few years ago, it was 50% of the world’s population, by 2050 it will be around 70%.”

This kind of generosity is evident in one of BIG’s current projects, the Dryline (also known as the BIG U) in New York. An increased number of weather events means the design of waterfront areas is regularly being put to the test. BIG was tasked to come up with a solution that would provide flood protection for Manhattan’s waterfront areas, without segregating the city from the surrounding sea.

Inspired by the High Line in New York, BIG designed a protective sea structure that would enhance the liveability for residents. Co-designed with people in the local areas, the Dryline incorporates seating pavilions, art walls and cycle paths.

Dryline cycle path (credit: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group)

The key to successfully creating infrastructure is to consider how people will ultimately use it.

For BIG, the key to successfully creating infrastructure is to consider how people will ultimately use it. “I think it’s a lot about how you find balance between the needs – in terms of a city densifying itself – and that of actually creating a higher quality of life,” says Kai, “which we are always looking for.”

Kai points out that BIG often starts thinking about systems before they put pen to paper on architectural design. “Logistics centres are critical when considering the system that you need for a city to grow and to thrive,” he says, describing logistics as being akin to veins that move nutrients and energy around, making them accessible.

The Dryline project is one way to help safeguard our increasingly-urban population, but not surprisingly, it’s not the only solution BIG is working on. Currently, the team is fixated on amphibious architecture – a floating city.

Supported by the United Nations in response to future rising sea levels, floating cities is a self-sustaining idea would have the capability of housing up to 10,000 displaced people.

“We’re building a prototype to consider how we would live”, explains Kai, “because as soon as you live on a floating city you have to start thinking about food production and then you need full cycle, or circular, economies and ecosystems that deal with energy and waste.”

We asked Kai if BIG’s work has been described as ambitious in the past. “Yeah,” he says laughing. “Although it is a word that a lot of people would use, I think, at least my hope is, that we also have the follow through.”