Last week in New York City, the “supercharged amalgam of talent, charm, and overpowering ego” (ha! -NY Mag) that is the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels of BIG, gave a presentation with the title ‘Unsolicited Architecture’.
Now, this is a topic that’s preoccupied my thinking for a while, and I’d even situated an early project of Ingels’ (when he was still called PLOT) under the unsolicited theme, so naturally I was pretty keen to hear what he had to say*. How would somebody like Ingels ”” surely architecture’s premiere showman ”” wrap up and re-present an idea like unsolicited?
Here’s a video of the presentation, (thanks to Stephanie for sending through the link.)
With beer in hand and casual swagger in full-effect, Bjarke only spoke briefly on the topic of unsolicited before jumping into the projects. And the rhetoric was very much in line with how its been discussed elsewhere, as stated in his intro: “we architects often sit around waiting for the phone to ring, or for somebody to announce a competition. Essentially we always leave it to those with power – the politicians – or those with money – the investors – to stake claims on the future of our cities.” This quote seems to capture all the core points; personal opportunism tempered by urban responsibility, and the unique role of the architect in being able to think beyond the time span of political office, or of the developers margin.
To this, Bjarke added a great anecdote as to architects’ passive role in the determining of what a project can be, by only ever being invited after the brief is written “we are like chefs who are doomed to only cook with ingredients that somebody else has bought us.” Good stuff.
He then went on to describe a number of BIG’s projects, including the Superharbour for the Baltic sea, a number of proposals for Copenhagen including a rooftop park for a department store, a bridge / apartment building, the Klovermarken project (discussed here) and a relatively new design for an energy centre / ski slope.
I’m not going to describe the projects here, you can watch the video, but one thing that did stick out was the incredible resourcefulness (or perhaps desperation) to find clients for these unsolicited proposals. The Superharbour is initially pitched at the CEO of container company Maersk Sealand – who’s logo conveniently matched the six-pointed star-shaped plan – but upon rejection, the project is redesigned with five points for a Chinese client to match the flag of the People’s Republic. Cheesey, yes, but you’ve got to applaud the guy’s determination. Similarly, the sweeping roofscape of the Klovermarken park is re-worked as a rollercoaster to rejuvenate a flagging amusement park in Abu Dhabi. Again, nice try.
Without a doubt, BIG’s work sits at the opportunistic extreme in the scope of the projects I see encompassing unsolicited architecture, and that’s also why I like it. All of the projects are designed with the numbers in mind, they solve a problem, and they claim to make money. The lesson seems to be, when proposing unsolicited projects to unsuspecting developers or governments, you need to play their game, the money game.
* This interest shouldn’t be confused with any claim to the topic on my part ”” I don’t believe unsolicited architecture should belong to anybody (and if it did, it would belong to Volume who coined the term with their issue back in 2008).
Bjarke Ingels gave this lecture as part of Moonlighter Presents, a lecture series coordinated by Stephanie DeGooyer and Justin Martin.
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