What has the internationally awarded Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to do with Friederich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin? Quite a lot, according to founder Bjarke Ingels, who has created a powerful mixture of Nietzsche and Darwin as the philosophical foundation of BIG’s architecture.
Read Anders Møller's fascinating article on BIG's unusual philosophy, after the break...
When the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels presents the architecture of BIG, he is known for being quite a presenter. With concepts like Hedonistic Sustainability, Vertical Suburbia and Utopian Pragmatism, the architectural pieces are related to contradictions and paradoxes, presented in fascinating stories.
To Bjarke Ingels, conflicts of society are the main ingredients in the analytical work of creating architecture. Instead of looking at the conflicts of a given project as limitations, Ingels presents the architect’s task as finding “a way to incorporate and integrate differences, not through compromise or by choosing sides, but by tying conflicting interests into a Gordian knot of new ideas.”
This is what BIG understands with Utopian Pragmatism. The pragmatic problems of society are the conflict which the utopian thoughts of the architect try to solve.
The architect is, however, together with rather than against society. It is not the traditional image of the angry young man rebelling against the establishment but rather a pleaser of the establishment, done to a such degree that it becomes a radical agenda.
Pleasing is normally not synonymous with being radical. Telling people what they want to hear or showing them what they want to see does not seem very radical or innovative at all. The fact that BIG succeeds in doing this has a lot to do with their mix of thoughts from naturalist Charles Darwin and philosopher Friederich Nietzsche presented in the manifesto Yes Is More – a theory of evolution.
Darwin is paraphrased for saying that it is the species most adaptable to change that survives. It's a thought Ingels uses to describe their architecture. As the species try to fit the demands of life, their different architectural ideas try to fit the demands of society; some of them succeed while others become “monstrosities” tucked away on a shelf, but always ready to be revived for a new try.
By putting society in the same role that nature played for Darwin, the Gordian knot of conflicting interests becomes a serious matter. The new ideas of architecture are not just beautiful buildings but a key driver in the evolutionary process of society.
Now you might wonder what makes this a radical agenda? The answer is to be found in the inspiration from Nietzsche. Among other things, he is known for his dictum that one should say yes to oneself instead of no to something else. As well as Darwin, Nietzsche is taken from his own philosophical frame and into another. To Ingels, it is not about the individual saying yes to himself, but rather yes to society. Ingels critique of the rebellious young architect mentioned before is exactly this: By simply saying “No!” to the established, he also says no to society.
The same goes for the debate of environmentalism. By defining a clear conflict between ecology and economy, you tend to say no to society and focus on the limitations. Instead Ingels says it is about finding new ways of ecological and economical development, using instead of reducing and maximizing rather than minimizing.
Hedonistic Sustainability is Ingels' concept for this approach, making a combination of playfulness and responsibility met with applause from both sides of the political spectrum.
With the combination of the evolutionary thoughts from Darwin and the creative power from Nietzsche, Bjarke Ingels has managed to create a powerful architectural mixture that has sent him to the sky of architects with record speed.
However, Ingels is definitely not the first trying to combine the thoughts of Darwin and Nietzsche. The basic wish of changing society can be seen as the combination of the evolution of society and the will of creation. It's a combination that is said to have inspired quite a few dictators, but one could argue that it inspires all social change-makers as such.
Ingels describes the role of architecture in changing society as making it fit our wishes: “When something doesn’t fit anymore, we architects have the ability – and responsibility – to make sure that our cities do not force us to adapt to outdated leftovers from the past, but actually fit to the way we want to live”.
It is quite a task to make the world fit to the way we want to live, especially if we do not know how we want to live. To most people it would be something about a loving partner, a good job and maybe children, but do we know how we really want to live?
This question goes back to the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, where his answer was that you, basically, want your parent of the opposite sex. But how can he know that? He definitely made his patients believe in it. They saw him as a midwife of understanding themselves, while he could just as well seduce them to believe so.
Bjarke Ingels uses the metaphor of architects as midwives to explain their role in society; you could just as well ask how architects can be able to find out what we really want?
Regardless of whether BIG and especially Bjarke Ingels have the characteristics of a midwife, seducer or something in between, the international fascination is inevitable. They are internationally acknowledged; Ingels features in interviews and portraits in great media outlets and he has even got his own Don Juan like super hero. BIG are definitely able to break through the wall of media. They show a way of doing things people have not thought about before. This applies for their buildings, but just as well for their concepts like Hedonistic Sustainability and Utopian Pragmatism. They tie conflicting parts together and hereby create something radically new.
Anders Møller is the co-founder of GRASP Magazine, where this article was originally published. It was written on the basis of his bachelor's thesis in Philosophy and Business Administration “BIG Philosophy – en filosofisk undersøgelse af Bjarke Ingels Groups grundlag og samfundsrelevans” (Danish), written with Johan Ellersgaard Christensen.