CLOG : BIG Launch
Interrogation of Bjarke Ingels
Storefront for Art and Architecture
October 7, 2011
New York, NY
Eva Franch i Gilabert I just want to welcome you and welcome the editors of CLOG - this new magazine - and as everyone says this is the newest, coolest, hottest magazine in New York. So here we are.
Kyle May Thank you, and thank you everyone for coming tonight. My name is Kyle May and I'm the Editor-in-Chief of CLOG. This is Julia van den Hout, the other founder of CLOG, and then from left to right we have the other editors, Jacob Reidel and PlayLab. They're actually two people named PlayLab, Jeff Franklin and Archie Lee Coates IV. Human Wu, our other editor is in Basel and couldn't make it.
We started CLOG several months ago. The goal of CLOG is to develop a platform that could address a specific topic from multiple points of view. With the advent of social media, blogs, social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc., a lot of good has come of that. A lot of young architects have been able to get their work exposed - there are a lot of projects that wouldn't have been picked up by major magazines that are now picked up. But we felt that something was missing. And what was missing was a place to discuss issues that are really relevant to architecture right now - holistically and from multiple points of view. And that's what we're doing here. When we decided on our first topic, it was a unanimous decision to choose Bjarke Ingels Group. They are one of the only firms right now that can actually keep the pace with online media. In the last ten years they've published over 130 projects. I want to thank Bjarke Ingels for really engaging this effort and allowing forty contributors to look at his work, and all of you tonight to ask him whatever questions you want. So without further ado, here is Eva to start the questioning.
Eva Franch i Gilabert So this step here is for anyone to come up and be really high and to ask Bjarke whatever question needs to be asked. But it's really awkward, so I'm actually going to step down. So if Venturi said "Isn't main street almost alright," My question is actually very simple and very easy to start with and I know Bjarke is already able to guess what the question I am going to ask is, right.
Bjarke Ingels No...not at all...
Eva Franch i Gilabert Well with the philosophy of Yes is More, the philosophy of BIG, if everything is to be engaged, wouldn't you say, "Isn't wall street almost alright?"
Bjarke Ingels Interesting, I'm unprepared for that question. This has nothing to do with our work whatsoever but my only relationship with banks so far as some of you may know, we did a design for the National Bank of Iceland. I was just in Iceland a month ago, and the site which is in the middle of the city next to the concert hall, the site is still there they haven't built anything else. I have an Icelandic poet friend who described the situation like this: Iceland now is like if you have a normal size American size 9 shoe and a size 12 person puts on the shoe'it's never going to fit you again and this is how Iceland feels right now. The collapse there was so massive. But I think like everybody else, I watched the movie Inside Job, about that consistent deregulation of banking since the 70s or 80s and I think the perfect model, like one of our principals in life, like our next book is going to be called Bigamy: You can have both, and I think the perfect model is a capitalistic society with state-owned banks. In that sense when all of the banks were about to go bankrupt the right thing to do is not to bail them out by giving the money but by letting them go bankrupt, but taking them over with the same money so that we would all own Wall Street right now. Then that would've been almost alright.
Eva Franch i Gilabert Okay, that was definitely a good answer, wasn't it?
Kyle May I'm next. I'm going to stand up. Bjarke, you've designed headphones with KiBiSi as well as entire mountains and vast urban schemes. Do you think there is an upper or lower limit in scale to your design process and do you foresee a project that is too large for one architecture office to handle or a project that is too small for your design process to handle?
Bjarke Ingels Definitely the reason we started KiBiSi was because I think what makes good design and what makes good architecture is very different. That's maybe why Steve Jobs was an amazing product designer and maybe a less amazing architect. That's why Arne Jacobson, the great modern Danish architect was an amazing product designer and a boring architect. And Jørn Utzon, the great Danish architect in my mind who designed the Sydney Opera House, was an amazing architect but he actually did some designs, but you don't know them because they failed miserably. He's a really crappy designer. And we were just in a situation where we were constantly being approached by people or companies that liked our work and wanted us to design objects and since I am really an architect and I'm not a designer I always gave the jobs to my friend Lars who had Kilo Design and then we would just sort of brainstorm about it and you would honor the fact that it was too different sort of sensibilities. And I would get really stressed if BIG was supposed to be involved in a design so that would have to be a big design. Then we would have to wedge all sorts of complicated stories into it and a pair of headphones can't handle that amount of ideas. They just have to be awesome headphones. So by distilling KiBiSi into its own entity, it's sort of a friendly spinoff that we can do things with but it doesn't require the same outfit complexity. On the other hand, when it comes too big, I actually don't think there's any scale of intervention that cannot benefit from architectural thinking. I'm not saying that architectural thinking equals that you sort of style everything in the same style or the same material or even the same sensibility, but I think you could apply architectural ideas. Like the Loop City we're doing now in Copenhagen and southern Sweden. We are trying to tie together southern Sweden with the metropolitan region of Copenhagen into this single bi-national region. That is the sort of holistic thinking that can really contribute but it doesn't lock southern Sweden and into some kind of architectural straitjacket, but it is simply applying a certain set of ideas at a scale that goes way beyond individual project and it is going to be populated by tons of different architectures and tons of different expressions. But still to say that there's a scale where human intervention or thinking cannot contribute is a mistake. This is a very one-way dialogue.
Julia van den Hout The next question is my question. And I'd like talk a little bit about architecture criticism and what you see as the role of the critic in architecture, and when in the lifespan of a project should the critic become involved. Is it during the design process, when the design is first published, when the building is first opened, or not until the project has had a chance to live?
Bjarke Ingels I think design criticism is also something we do by ourselves a lot. I think self-criticism is probably what architects do the most. Whenever you meet with the team or the collaborators or with clients, it's sort of this process of everybody bringing to the table their input or their take or everybody coming with a special knowledge or a special obsession and bringing that to the table. So I think every time you bounce any idea against informed input, it will inform the design and take the design even further. That's why I think the more iterations and reiterations a project goes through, the richer it will get, and the more refinement, and the more things will be tested. That's why in our design process we make so many failed attempts so many prototypes or models that end up not paying the final model and it's not because of indecisiveness it's simply because the simple law of nature that the more crap you produce in the design process, the less crap you end up building in the real world. So in that since, I think, in some cases our friends or colleagues that are outside the office will come in as outside critics, and I do think that reflection throughout the process and also afterwards to see what went wrong and what went right. That's why architectural history is still so relevant, because we become better architects by studying other architecture and seeing what went well with modernism - what triggered it, what enabled it, and what went wrong with it, and how can we use or incorporate this feedback into the future. So in that sense that's why I embrace this sort of BIG-bashing publication because I do think having a constructive dialogue with press so that press isn't just an advertisement or slander that it is actually a dialogue between the architecture critics, our colleagues, and ourselves in this sort of mutual discourse to try to become smarter and more disciplined about what we do.
Jacob Reidel Hello, first of all we sincerely do hope that you don't think this is just a BIG bashing publication. Obviously, we have to let some critical contributors contribute or this would be just passed off as promotion, but that can get to a whole conversation we have later on tonight and we can talk about what the mission of CLOG is and what our role is as a publication, but for right now, I'm going to stick with program and ask my question.
This is a straightforward one. BIG has been in New York City for almost a year now. So what in your opinion is the best thing and the worst thing about practicing architecture in the United States particularly relative to some of the other places in which you've worked in the world.
Bjarke Ingels I think the worst thing was a Friday in July when it was 106° and everybody had told me to get out of New York City in the summer and I thought 'Ah fuck it, I'm Danish.' For us warm weather is exciting. But that was not exciting.
I think all cities have specific issues. But in general, having worked almost everywhere, it's the same pretty much everywhere. The American developers are just as concerned with cutting costs and increasing profitability as anywhere else and the whole public participation process like a community board and department of city planning and blah blah blah, it's also pretty much the same. The one thing that is different is that each city has its own climate and its own vernacular, its own context, that makes it a lot easier to do a skyscraper in New York than it is in Copenhagen. We have tried for 10 years and failed miserably in Copenhagen and now in November we'll be breaking ground on a building here. So I actually I hardly see... It's almost like you have different ingredients in different locations. I had dinner with the chef from NOMA, this Danish restaurant that the New York Times and other media has announced has announced as the best restaurant in the world, and there were a lot of similarities in what we do and what they did. What they try to do is merge the idea of luxury and this sort of avant-garde with the mainstream. So a lot of what they do is they take really, really basic dishes from the Nordic cuisine that have never been explored in fine cooking with very, very cheap ingredients, and then they subject them to gastronomical thinking and finesse that turns the everyday into something special. And I think that the project of BIG almost from the beginning has been to eliminate the discrepancy that is very prevalent in America that you have either the extreme avant-garde - the Frank Gehry's or the Morphosis kind of style - difficult and expensive and expressional and irrational and maybe unpractical and then on the other side you have the corporate consultant company and you have almost no overlapping in-between. And what NOMA has managed to bridge and what we're trying to do is to take affordable housing and these everyday things - like a developer project on the Upper West Side, right next to the Trump development that sort of dominates all of the 10 blocks north of our site, and turn that into something that sets a news agenda even though it's conceived with the within the same parameters. So I think we have exactly the same opportunities in New York that you have in Copenhagen or any other place it's just the result is going to look different.
Human Wu From your perspective what led to your success? Talent? Hard work? Personality and attitude? Good clients and opportunities? Media? If you were to break down these into percentage what would be your formula?
Bjarke Ingels (Bjarke draws a pie graph) So I would say about this much (5%) luck. I would say this much (5%) awesome clients. And the rest would be awesome talented, hard-working BIGsters. I think one thing that I've been fortunate with, and I really don't say this to be politically correct. I now have seven partners and half of them were my students at some point a long time ago. Practically all of my project leaders - actually that's not totally true - at least eight of the current superheroes within the office that win competitions and crank out awesome stuff, have all been interns or students of mine at some point. And the fact that over the last 11 years we have maintained relationships with people. Like some of my partners I have been work working with for 11 years. That means that we don't have to start over all the time, we don't have to hire people off the streets that are complete psychos trained in ultra-competitive environments and impossible to work with and really hard asses. You've probably worked in competitive office environments and you know the environments can be pretty psycho out there. In that sense the accumulated effort has made it sort of into a snowball so that I have more than 100 colleagues but most of them I know him intimately. I can have telephone conversations or text them instant messages and we will know what each other are talking about so it means that more than the amount of projects or the amount of buildings that we've been able to build its the fact that we have been able to accumulate a culture of collaboration. Also when you look at the techniques and talents and procedures and sensibilities that float within the organism is sort of a presence, an embodied potential of knowledge that is carried within the organization and is spreading around. So like after two months in the office it turns people into people that are incredibly good - they learn these skills that have nothing to do with me - it's simply just stuff that's there. And the leave with afterwards. So we've been fortunate in the sense that that 80% of the competitions they were doing right now have been interns that have left, graduated, and come back, so we don't have to take the chance of hiring somebody that has a great portfolio but turns out to be insane once they are inside the office. But we actually know people that start the first day and we have already worked with them. So I think more than anything it's this accumulation of culture within the office that ensures even though we're all getting more busy and traveling more and more, I still think that the work we do as an office gets better and better every time and that is simply because we're not just making projects and building buildings, we're really building an architecture office.
Kyle May So what about media?
Bjarke Ingels Actually I think that if you have something to show people will show it. But you don't have to have a PR company if you have stories that are actually worth telling. You don't have to come hire communications person to rewrite everything or create an identity for the project because the projects already have that. Speaking of media, I've heard all of the stories about my father. That he was some kind of private developer and even that he has his own newspaper, but in fact he actually just manufactures fiber optic cables. So it's a highly specialized field of engineering. He wouldn't be able to say anything in three sentences that wouldn't involve relativity theory or something like that. So I do think that media comes to those who actually have something to say so if so if more importantly your projects are made out of some kind of general observation. Like, when I started studying, a new professor started teaching at my school. And I switched to his department. And he made these statements like that he didn't care if we were going to learn anything in the curriculum, he didn't care if we had any skills whatsoever when we left school. The only thing we had to promise him, and this we had to promise him, was that when we left school, we would have something at heart. Because if you do something without heart, you don't know what you're doing it for, but if you actually know what you want to do and where you want to go with it, then your skill sets can actually be applied to something. And then people will actually look at it.
PlayLab With two BIG offices on either side of the ocean, KiBiSi, a separate product company entirely, and countless interviews, appointments, and appearances (this being one of them), your hands-on time with individual projects must be more limited than it used to be. How has your design process changed and are you happy with it?
Bjarke Ingels I think a previous question actually answers that. My work life has been changing all the time. It's a bit like, when you're a kid, you learn to draw with a crayon, but when you start architecture school, in 1993 in my case, you had to learn to draw with a hard line. And at first there was a loss from the crayon, because you could do stuff with the crayon that you couldn't do with a hardline, but when you learn the tool of the hardline, and then you work with computers, you realize it's not the same as ink on the paper. And then you add on to the list Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign and blah blah blah, and each time you learn a new tool, you lose something from before, but you acquire other tools. And then when you get your own office, and you are a project leader, you start acquiring a knowledge of how to work - not with tools, but with people. And you start acquiring how to access a certain sensibility. You start to recognize a talent for certain things and an interest for certain other things. So you know how to build teams. And then you learn how to respond when a team comes up with things. So you don't try to make a girl who always makes boxes do something curvy... actually that's a bit fucked up. It's more like instruments. You don't want to try to make a tuba sound like a violin because it will sound horrible. It is tuba in English right? I'm getting blank faces. But you try to make it sound like the most awesome sounding tuba. You constantly are acquiring skills that make you access the work in a different way. So in that sense, you can actually do more with less, because you've accumulated this knowledge in your office.
Audience Is the concept of Yes is More fueling a race to the bottom in architecture fees. For example, shouldn't architects in countries that aren't wealthy social democracies that subsidize work with high social benefits be unionizing and saying No to clients with irresponsibly low ideas about architectural fees rather than yes, especially in this economy.
Bjarke Ingels This has nothing to do with working for free. Yes is More is a manifesto for inclusivism within architecture to allow architecture to be enriched by the world around us rather than ignoring it. Quite often you have this idea that if you actually listen to or incorporate feedback from your surroundings and the mediocrity of everyday life - from the client, the building department, whatever - it sort of drives down the ideas to the lowest common denominator. What we're trying to say and demonstrate with Yes is More is that by saying Yes to all these different influences, we can actually inform our work to make it richer and more surprising and more refined. Simply by allowing more information to influence our work we can make more interesting and more informed work. I think one of the reasons architecture is such a tormented business is that we are essentially artists that make things that are incredibly expensive. There is a project that is a half a billion dollars, which is more expensive than Avatar - the most expensive movie Hollywood has ever produced. And that just means that we are artists that are dying to try to ever get a chance to build any of that which we've spent our entire life training for. So we're willing to do it for free. And I don't know how to get beyond that. I think for us, we now have options, so we don't need to take all of the jobs. Recently we had our first moral or ethical no to a job a few weeks ago. We had designed an affordable laboratory building in Korea, and the client really loved it. So they gave us another job which was also for a laboratory building in Korea for the same program. So the client wanted us to build exactly the same building. But they said that they were going to do this, and the clients gave my colleagues a tour, and the facility, and they were building heat seeking missiles and personnel landmines. It was essentially an arms factory. And I can't say that in principal I'm against war, but the problem that is if you get involved in manufacturing arms, you can't know who the arms are going to be used against. So we thought as a failsafe, we weren't going to do the project. Simply because we were told it was going to be for one thing and not weapons. So in that sense Yes is More is a question of promiscuity. It's a question of trying to influence your work with people that have knowledge outside of architecture. And to just close the story about fees, to quote the Joker from Batman: The Dark Knight, "If you're good at something, don't do it for free."
Kyle May We have a bunch of other submitted questions, but we're going to mix it up a bit here and we're going to allow a member of the audience to ask a question. So does anyone from the audience want to come up here and ask Bjarke a question right now?
Audience (Yells from the back) What's your favorite color?!
Bjarke Ingels It's pink.
Audience I think the approach that you take to tackling problems ultimately always ends up with an incredible reduced diagram of simplicity. Do you think you're ever going to confront a problem so complex that it can't be answered by something that is simple?
Bjarke Ingels My favorite definition of complexity is in computer programming. I've said this a few times. In computer programming, the definition of complexity is to transmit the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of data. So in a way, the more input, the maximum outcome with the least amount of effort. So complexity is the art of simplicity. I really do think that is the only thing we can aspire to. It's not to reduce a problem, so it's not a question of limiting factors or anything. In a building like the 8House, we've done this 600,000sf mixed use development where you can bicycle all the way to the top and then come back down. It actually got so complex in the end, and that building has no money shots. It's not a good building to photograph. It is this awkward urban component. And you move around in it and it has a lot of romance and experiences and niches where social life can insert itself. It's a great experience to walk around in it, but in terms of publishing it, like publishing a gorgeous object, it's simply not there. And I think in that case, it's simply that the complexity of it has expanded to a level that there is no gorgeous shot anymore. So we were struggling because we had to make films about it, stop motion, to communicate it, but we had to make those films because it just doesn't look good on the cover of a magazine. Or maybe it just isn't a good building.
Audience We are aware of your many collaborations with landscape designers in your projects (topotek, balmori, etc.) Yet large urban master plan projects that you are leading indicate that your role is blurring the lines between landscape architecture, urbanism, and architecture itself. What do you expect the role of landscape designers will be in these large projects or competitions? Do you think the idea that architects with an urban vision can alone lead these projects is a trend happening worldwide?
Bjarke Ingels I think I answered it before. I think there is no scale where architecture thinking cannot influence it in one way or another.
Eva Franch i Gilabert Do you believe in the architect as a humanist?
Bjarke Ingels What would that entail?
Eva Franch i Gilabert Is architecture humanistic?
Bjarke Ingels I do think that architecture is not the goal. Architecture is the means, and the goal is human life and creating the physical framework to allow the maximum amount of human enjoyment, and the maximum amount of human life. I just answered the question shorter than the question.
Greg Broerman If blogging and social networking existed in the grand masters' heyday, who do you think would have exploited this the most (besides Philip Johnson as it would be too easy - after all, he said he was a whore)? Also, who do you think it would have helped in regards to getting their name out there and resulting in more masterpieces? Rudolph Schindler comes to mind.
Bjarke Ingels Excellent. Have you read the book The Difference Engine? It's Bruce Sterling and William Gibson who teamed together to write the novel. It's about a guy who in the age of steam power invented the computer. Unfortunately the guys were too sloppy, so they couldn't get it to work. But later, someone found the blueprints, and they were able to get it to work, and the difference machine actually did work. So then we had a relationship with technology in the 19th century. And that's what the book assumes. So then like Karl Marx, starts the first Socialist revolution in Manhattan and Manhattan becomes the first socialist state in the world. So you had all of these computer startups and stuff, but everything was still powered by coal and steam. So who knows what would have happened if blogging was available back then. I actually think to my knowledge, one of the first guys, one of the most interesting American architects was Eero Saarinen, who unfortunately died. He really embraced technology and was really loved by the media. And he was embracing new technologies, but still he was working in such a completely different context. There were possibilities then that we don't have now. He had been working for a year on the design for the TWA terminal at JFK. And he submitted it and sent it to the clients and they loved it and everything was great. And at this point he hadn't realized that he was on the verge of discovering something incredible. So he thought about it and after the weekend he called up his client and said, 'I know I can make this much better, but I need one more year." And he got a year! And he made the TWA terminal the way it is now. So I think back then there were opportunities that we could only dream of.
Kyle May Ok, we're going to take another question from the audience.
Audience My question is very simple. What is your advice for an architecture student today?
Bjarke Ingels My advice would be that it's worse to be lazy than stupid. When I was in school myself, I had a very funny Spanish guy visit the school, and said two things that are very indicative of the Spanish sensibilities and are also very true. He said don't talk, work. And don't sketch, make. And those are two things that I've tried to do since.
Audience BIG has developed an iconographic architectural style, along with a 'BIG monumentality" scale. Would you say that during your current design endeavors, this status has become a generator or inspiration for the designs, or is it still being generated, secondarily, out of the design process? Simply put, considering the design process as the egg and 'the BIG aura" as the chicken, which one is first now?
Bjarke Ingels The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said 'Life is lived forward but is understood backwards." And that is the truth of our diagram. It is a communication towards. Our design process is like an evolutionary tree. Each time you have different choices, you test the result of each choice and the design process bifurcates into endless possibilities. And simply, every time you arrive at the final outcome, you backtrack and that becomes the diagram. So the diagram doesn't show all of the abortions, all of the possibilities that we didn't choose, so therefore it is a simplified version of the truth but is still exactly the truth. That's still how it is. Of course one of the great things in architecture by getting older and more established is that you get more established. So you get more opportunities. You will never be invited to design a hospital until you've designed a hospital, so therefore there is always the chicken and the egg paradox in trying to build a practice. So we are now finding ourselves in situations where ten years ago we'd have to fool the client into letting us do something, so that he could get something for cheap because we were a young office and we could probably do it in half the time and half the fee as some old established office. But now, we are in the fortunate position that clients approach us because they want our design thinking. So things get easier. So that's the message. So as you become old, things become good.
Kai-Uwe Bergmann (yells from the back) Bullshit!
Bjarke Ingels Sit down Kai!
Kyle May Next up is Ethan.
Ethan Pomerance Hi my name is Ethan Pomerance, and I'm very upset that Bjarke didn't respond to my article in CLOG, so I'm going to punish him with a metaphysical question about the romantic function of green architecture. Just kidding. My question is would you draw a distinction between architect as superstar and architect as superhero?
Bjarke Ingels I actually think... that's a good question. What I like about being an architect and what I think is cool about the role of the architect is that we are generalists. We are not experts. We don't disappear into the depth of a single subject. We have to try to aspire to acquire literacy within a lot of different fields. So we can instantly know who to ask and what to ask for so we can find ways of informing the work we do with the relevant knowledge at the relevant time within a project. So in that sense we are a bit like a generalist, but we have to know what to ask and when to ask for it and how to turn the answers into consequences. As architects we are involved in incredibly important things. We are designers that create the world we will live in in the future. We are making the framework for life and that is an incredible power. But architects in the process we don't have the financial power to realize our goals and we don't have the political power to facilitate them. So the only power that we have, which is potentially a superpower, is the power of our ideas. In management theory, when you study leadership, what makes some people leaders and what makes other people not leaders, or miserable leaders that create miserable environments. And the answer is that the natural leader within any kind of group is the one person who manages to formulate the shared vision. The one vision, that more than anybody else, materializes and economizes the desires that everyone in the group is motivated by. So in that sense, that is our true potential to become superheroes. If we have the ears and the eyes to listen and identify and accommodate what and where a society wants to develop towards. And I think more than anything else, to return to the question about advice to students in architecture, is to try to spend your time acquiring literacy in fields outside of architecture. Try to find out what other professions, what other sciences, what other fields of knowledge right now that seem to be battling with some of the questions that we are concerned with right now. And try to acquire even a superficial interest in these fields because you may find yourself in a situation to do something relevant and you will know who to call, and what to ask, and how to inform your decisions. And I think that is what could distinguish a superstar from a superhero. And I think we should all aspire to become superheroes.
Michael Abrahamson Do the narrative diagrams that figure so prominently in your firm's presentations function as a design tool? If so, how? Are they instead a retroactive means to make sense of the subjective and rational?
Bjarke Ingels I think I answered that question. The diagrams are true, but they are backwards looking at the process. By eliminating all of things you couldn't do, you can simplify into something understandable.
Audience When did it become apparent to you that you needed other people more involved in business development (Kai-Uwe Bergmann and Sheela Maini Sogaard) as an important part of the firm's operation? How many employees did you have at that point?
Bjarke Ingels Actually when we got into the position of needing more people, the first person I looked for was a CEO, because I didn't want to be the CEO myself. And finding the right people is a bit like dating. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess, depending on your orientation. Sheela was the one date that worked out. She came to the office about 3.5 years ago. And right before she came, she came in August 2008, that's when I had the meeting with her and we decided to hire her. And that was right when we got the phone call that we won the project to design the National Bank of Iceland. So there was a month of celebration and then it was all downhill. At that point, I had spent 6 months, almost abandoning design, or at least skewing my activities way towards cutting costs and looking at excel spreadsheets. Like my sister is an economist, and just to have some kind of person that I knew that I could trust. So I pulled her in. Because at that time, my CEO simply didn't have control of the company. So I spent ridiculous amounts of energy eliminating lunches and trying to find cheaper coffee and things like that. Crazy things. Just to save the company. This was before the financial crisis. So back then you could borrow money just by putting on a white shirt and a tie. So I managed to borrow a million dollars to save the company. And we succeeded - we made a turnaround and everything worked out. Sheela came and since then everything has been a bit ... Actually a little before that, right before I hired the first CEO who turned out not to be a perfect match, I met Kai Uwe Bergmann, who has been sabotaging the event by screams from the back row. And he had actually organized a lecture tour in Seattle and Vancouver. And when he came to brief me about the tour, he also told me that he wanted a job. And then we went on this tour together that he organized and spent four or five days together. He had laid out this machine of an itinerary where he had tons of events, and I was monster jetlagged throughout the entire trip, and he kept putting me in front of people that I had to meet. And afterwards, I thought, it could work for our office if he could do business like what he did for me and drag me around those four days on the west coast. So that was a perfect match. What he brought... (motorcycles outside)... I was looking for someone to take Sheela's job, but I wasn't looking for someone for Kai Uwe's job, but I hired him for one thing, to be like a normal architect, and gradually he kept on bringing up things that he thought were relevant that I hadn't thought of. And gradually he created his own department within the office. I think the lesson is sometimes you need someone where you know this is someone you want to spend time with and you know they have things to contribute, but you don't really know what to make them do. But sometimes they know what to do, and they will create their own universe within the organization and they will eventually transform and contribute to this ongoing project. Leadership is not only about telling people what to do, but is almost more about finding potential and creating the framework that allows people to grow into what they can become. And Kai-Uwe is really an example of a guy who really took charge and moved things - and sometimes the only thing you have to do - and maybe that's Sheela's job - is to resist so that Kai Uwe doesn't just make his department larger and take over the rest of it.
Kyle May Another question from the audience?
Audience Since you brought up frogs and princes and princesses, do you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend right now, and if no, can I give you my phone number? (audience laughter)
Bjarke Ingels That's the question? Ok... I don't have a girlfriend or a boyfriend at the moment, and I will be happy to take your phone number. (audience laughter)
Kyle May Ok, we're going to move on. (audience laughter)
Audience Who is your most influential philosopher, if any, and how does that inform your work?
Bjarke Ingels No doubt Nietzsche. When I was 22 I moved to Barcelona. I started studying with one professor, and I didn't get it, and it wasn't what I was expecting. So I moved into a shared flat with a French girl and a Chilean guy who were battling all the time, so it was like this war zone. So after four months, I changed studios and I changed apartments, I even changed girlfriends. So I started from scratch. And I moved into this apartment where there was this Spanish architecture student who knew everything about the German philosophers. And he could, in Spanish, explain to me Nietzsche. And Nietzshe's basic project, which is relevant in all aspects of life, but especially architecture, is what he calls philosophizing with a hammer. His basic project is to question the way through which we assign values to our values. How do we evaluate what is good and what is bad? How do we evaluate what is right and what is wrong? We have an underlying set of values. And if you keep digging, you will eventually, that is what most of his writing is about - that he is trying to find out is there a foundation behind the systems of thought. The criteria, the dogmas that govern our life our law and our behavior. Or is there nothing underneath. And this is especially relevant in architecture because literally there is this general tendency that we all have one idea, one concept, and they have these ideas that petrify into dogmas. And I literally believe petrify - they turn into stone. If you look at the Greek temple, what organizes all of the classic Doric temples, which is built in stone, is that it came from good construction. So a lot of the aesthetics of the Greek temple are derived from the fact that the original Greek temples were built from wood. So you have a certain logic that has to do with a material properties and the tectonics of wood construction, but then it petrifies and turns into an aesthetic regime. Where what you do has nothing to do with how it works. Where the concept or the form is dissociated from the idea. The idea is disassociated from the thought or the material. And in all aspects we constantly have to question why are things the way they are? Why do we build the way we build? It's not just a matter of functionality it's also aesthetics. Because as soon as procedures petrify into an aesthetic or an ethic or a functional, or any kind of dogmatic regime, you lose the connection to the founding thought and the sort of original observation of people's response to the physical environment. And it turns into something else that is disassociated. And that's why I think for architects, more than anyone else, Nietzsche is the ultimate philosopher. It's that you always look behind the form, look behind the dogma, look behind the procedure and see is it actually the way we thought it was or do things need to be changed?
Audience My question is whether you've ever aspired to become your own client.
Bjarke Ingels Me and two of my partners and a group of Danish musicians bought a school building. And we bought in 2006 when real estate prices were the highest. Then it took a year before we took it over. And then we started to turn this old school into apartments. Because we were going to live there ourselves. We were making the most amazing apartments. We'd have to sell half of them and then live in half of them. So we designed the most amazing apartments and in a year where construction prices were the highest and then finally we moved in and put them on the market in the spring of 2009 when everything had collapsed and the real estate market was at its lowest. Which turned it into one of the worst investment projects in the history of real estate investments. And I think that I'm not going to do it ever again. And I simply think that you become good at what you love. If you love money, you're going to spend all your energy trying to squeeze profit out of a project because you get a kick out of seeing black numbers on the bottom line. And Sheela our CEO, she's a wonderful woman, she's a MacKenzie consultant, and she gets aroused by turning a profit. That's why she will really put that argument into a room when we have to make decisions. While all of my other partners are architects and we get a kick out of doing awesome shit. And that makes us great architects, well, in our own humble opinion, but it makes us really crappy developers. Because we don't care about the bottom line. We care about the building project - about squeezing as much architecture out of the project, but we would much rather find ways of increasing the project than increasing the profit. Who really cares about the profit? And I'm suffering the consequences. Right now I have a total of 2.5 million dollars in real estate loans paying for my development. So I think we've been really good at making money for our developers, but we've been historically bad at doing it for ourselves. So that's why I think architecture necessarily is a collaborative effort and that is why it is important for us architects to not to try to make all the choices ourselves, but to listen to and incorporate all of the other feedback we get from the other interest groups, including the people that are trying to make a solid business out of it.
Kyle May Another question from the audience.
Audience My question is... I went to a lecture with Eisenman and Wigley, and the discussion was regarding project versus practice, and your name was brought up, and I was wondering if you consider yourself a project or a practice?
Bjarke Ingels Actually I spoke at Syracuse this Tuesday and the Friday before, Eisenman had been there, and he had brought BIG up as an example, not a good one, of a practice and not a project. So I think Eisenman doesn't know anything about our work. I've never met him personally. But I doubt that he read Yes is More and I doubt that he's seen a lecture. One person said that what Eisenman didn't get, according to this guy, was that our project is an architecture of inclusivity. We aren't trying to squeeze reality into some kind of mold that is our personal preconceived idea of how the world should be. Rather, I do consider architecture to be the role of a midwife. That we try to assist society in continuing to give birth to itself. So therefore, our project is to be the architects that don't force reality into our preconception of reality, but we really try to observe where is life going, how life is evolving, what forms does it want to take, how does it want to unfold, and we try to accommodate this evolution by being the framework that will allow this to happen. And in return, allowing life to unfold further. Because in our minds, architecture literally is not the goal, it is the means to another goal which is life. One of my criticisms of some of the criticisms in CLOG is that there is this negative definition that confuses work with online media. If you can say things clearly and simply so that people can get it, it has to be simplified and therefore not complex. But in my mind complexity and simplicity are the same thing. One of my great teachers in my public school was my Danish teacher and she said, 'If you don't speak and write clearly, it's because you don't think clearly." And in architecture that is really often the case. In so much architectural discourse, the reason it fails to capture the interest of the rest of the world, and even in our profession, is that it's not thought clearly. It's unclear. And it doesn't make sense. It's trying to retain control by being misunderstood. You don't give anything away by explaining how often your decisions are based on really simple things. And how often limitations such as economy or logistics or thermal exposure or all of these practical elements of architecture - you don't reduce the complexity of your work by saying honestly what affected your decisions about your choices. On the other hand you empower, not only everyone within the team and consultants, but also the public. The decision makers. Eventually if you give away the recipe - how we do what we do, why we make the decisions we do, we actually open up the whole process of contributing - not only to the team within the office. Like at BIG, people don't have to wait for me to come up with an idea, because everybody knows what the project is all about. We've all sort of arrived at what the big idea is in the project, and what are the priorities. These are the problems, these are the potentials. So everyone can actually work with these ideas and everyone can propose something and then we have to agree or disagree. And this actually expands beyond the office. And this is what is a true challenge for architects - one that's we're really concerned about and that's why we try to make things so clearly- that if we actually empower not only ourselves, but everyone around us, we will have more informed clients and we will have more informed decision makers and more informed practitioners. And eventually we can do much greater things, rather than trying to monopolize the understanding of architecture to people who say very difficult things.
Audience If you have a superhero outfit, what is it and could you please draw it. And if you had a superpower what would it be?
Bjarke Ingels I didn't prepare for that question. Actually I'm wearing a superhero outfit in Yes is More and it's a black t-shirt, and no cape. Because as our superheroes have taught us, a cape always gets caught in a propeller. I don't know what it would be. I don't know what a superpower for an architect would be. Let me think about it. Any suggestions?
Kyle May Next question.
Audience What advice would you give to a young architect to develop their own studio? And what advice would you give to a young startup office?
Bjarke Ingels First of all, I wouldn't say that you should try to compete with us, established offices, by lowering prices, but I think what we did, which was a good thing, was we started early. So we didn't have wife and children to feed. We kept our living costs and operating costs at such a ridiculously low level. Me and Julien, when we were starting PLOT were sharing a 450sf apartment. Maybe I can draw you a plan (Bjarke draws) We got the apartment in Copenhagen because the girl whose dad owned the apartment, we got her an internship at OMA. So she had to move out so we moved in. This was in winter 2000. This room was a dining table and the rest was the kitchen. In here you had the smell of pasta with pesto, which was the main dish for 6 months. And both Julien and I were chain smoking at the time. I've only quit 5 years ago. This room was the office. Here was a nice where Julien was sleeping, and here was a niche where I was sleeping behind the closet. So that we could maintain some kind of idea about privacy. And then here was a table and here was a table where we did all of the work and also chain smoked. So the whole apartment (draws clouds on the plan). So it was an awesome time. But that meant that we could both live for 6 months happily eating pasta and pesto and smoking Marlboro Lights off of my salary from the Danish Architecture School. And having no expenses whatsoever, allowed us not to take all kinds of strange jobs - we didn't have to work for money because we could actually live off of a single part time teaching salary. And that meant that after 6 months, we had won 3 competitions, and we could slowly propel ourselves into a completely different game. And that's the next good thing that we did. One of my partners, Finn, who has been with us for 11 years now, he was working for another company that got the second prize in the competition we won, and he was very fascinated by our proposal. It was a circular swimming pool. And he called me up on my cell phone one evening and we had our first meeting with the client the next day. Back then I was 26 and Julien was 25. So we were quite young for an architecture office. And I was the only one speaking Danish. So I received this big folder of things I had to react to because I had never really run a project in that sense. And there were so many things I had to react to that I didn't know how to react to. And then this guy calls me up, and we were flying to this other city in the morning, and I can hear since he's ten years older than me, that he knows more about architecture or projects than I do, so I ask him if he could come over. It was like nine o'clock in the evening. So he comes over and he starts looking through the things, and it's full of traps. And he starts making all of these reactions, and the end I learn all of these new words I had never heard of before. Like schematic design, design development, and we end up going to this meeting - he asked if he could come since he had another job - so we go to this meeting and I know all these new words and I say them with confidence. And we made an excel spreadsheet - that was the first time I opened excel - and made a schedule. So we dodged a bullet. And we had to go back one week later. And just because we had a real project and a real big project, we could actually hire Finn, who eventually became one of my partners, to run the project for us. We didn't make the awful misunderstanding - I didn't feel that I had to become the main partner on the project since we had one the competition. So me and Julien were the designers and we hired Finn to become the project leader. So we were working for him. From the beginning I knew what I wanted to do and what I was good at. And I had put myself into a position that I honestly didn't want. There is a classic saying in management that people advance until their level of incompetence. As people get promoted, then they're good at what they do, and they get another promotion, and then another, and then they actually suck. And then they stay at that job for the rest of their lives - the job at which they suck. And that's why a lot of organizations are sick, because people get promoted until their level of incompetence. And I think you have to figure out where you want to go and then find the people that are good at what either you're not good at or what you don't want to do.
Audience Is there a specific relation between the song from Hess is More in the background of the 8House project video presentation?
Bjarke Ingels Well, they are Danish. And they are having a release party on October 11, Tuesday, in New York. It was just the song. It was before Yes is More, so there was no anticipation of anything. I think it was more the pace of the song that worked well with the guy. Even though if you watch the movie, the little guy is running very fast. But the camera is moving very slow. We always struggle a bit with the choice of music in our videos. In this case, they were Danish, so we could call them up and say, 'Can we buy your song for cheap" and he said 'yes." So come to the launch on Tuesday the 11th.
Eva Franch i Gilabert Or you can come to Critical Halloween - they are playing there as well actually
Audience In these times of crisis, especially in architecture, who are our idols? And if they exist and we can find them how do we kill them?
Bjarke Ingels Shit... I really don't know how to answer that question actually. The question was 'Who are our idols and how do we kill them? In a time of crisis." I really don't know. I was trying to think who is my idol right now. And that's how I completely stalled. I think right now - I'll dodge the question - what obsesses me the most right now, on Sunday is the last episode of Season Four of Breaking Bad.
That has become such an obsession to me. Because after The Wire, I was looking to find something to refill the big gap that The Wire left when it ended. And Breaking Bad has really filled that gap. And I really can't wait to see what happens. And I'm so happy because I read in the newspaper that because Mad Men, what I don't understand, was so successful and so expensive, that they had to cancel the fifth season of Breaking Bad. But then I read on WikiPedia that that's not true. So I think we all have hope! And if we should kill an idol, I would definitely kill Don Draper and all of the cast of Mad Men so we could leave more space for Breaking Bad!
Eva Franch i Gilabert I think that is a good point to end it. And I want to go to the last slide to talk about the death of someone who created. But Kyle should talk about this.
Kyle May Thank you all again for coming out to the launch of the first issue of CLOG. We would like you all to be involved in the second issue, which is CLOG : APPLE, where we will be discussing the architecture of Apple, which is maybe even more poignant in light of the recent circumstances. If you want more information, you can look at our website for submission requirements.
Eva Franch i Gilabert Thank you so much, goodnight.