"The future is already here, it's not just very evenly distributed". Starting off with this William Gibson quote, BIG’s latest publication Formgiving looks at the past and present in order to determine the future. Talking of predictions that aren’t so far down the road, but rather than could occur in 5, 10, or 50 years, the book seeks to “give form to the future”, or to what has not taken shape yet.
ArchDaily had to chance to interview Kai-Uwe Bergmann, Partner at BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, and discuss not only the firm’s latest manuscript but the trilogy of publications: Yes is More, an “Archicomic on Architectural Evolution”, Hot to Cold an “Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation”, and Formgiving, an “Architectural Future History”.
Read on to discover BIG’s notions of the past, present, and future, as well as the evolution of the creative approach.
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ArchDaily (Christele Harrouk): Formgiving tackles the past, present, and future, drawing a timeline of forms and objects. Why do you think it is important to go back to history in order to predict the future?
BIG (Kai-Uwe Bergmann): The tagline for Formgiving is ‘An Architectural Future History.’ This idea of a ‘future history’ is one of the reasons that we start the book with the Big Bang, and go on to look at the evolution and development of all kinds of discoveries.
To understand the future, and determine how we will give form to the future world we want to inhabit, it’s important to look at both the past and the present. We must ask questions like, what are the advancements that are happening today that will have these very large impacts on future society? How will people live? Will they be living in cities, or will they be freed from the grids of energy, and consumption, with the ability to move out of this sort of centralized order?
So, we begin to look at the development of artificial intelligence, sustainability, and interplanetary migration, among other concepts, in the context of architecture and design. By looking through six trajectories — making, sensing, sustaining, thinking, healing, and moving – we examine how these advancements have had profound impacts on the way that we think. Spatially, that sets us up for mapping out the present. This is where we then examine our own work over the past 15 to 20 years; we are looking at the ways that we have been influenced by these very advancements, such as 3-D printing – a technology that did not exist in the building sector 20 years ago but is having a profound impact on the future of building.
So, that is how we look into the past to see the present, which informs our future.
AD: Let's talk about the "present" in your book. How do you think your projects, integrated within our times, contribute to shaping human kinds' history and future?
BIG: Before readers begin the first chapter, they will first read the William Gibson quote about how the future is all around us—that it is already here: "The future is already here, it's not just very evenly distributed". In regards to the current built environment, we view every single project in little steps. We uncover and look at the project, the program, the site, the climate - all these different attributes that comprise a project. By working on projects in so many countries—over 100+ projects across more than 40 countries– we are able to assess, both globally and regionally, where we think the future is heading. At BIG, we are working towards a fundamental need to think more holistically. By integrating landscape, engineering, architecture–both interior and exterior–and all the way down to products and planning into our practice, we can holistically map out the future.
AD: You talk about “Giving Form to the Future”, or to what has not taken shape yet. How does the future look like, from BIG’s perspective? Where are the architect’s roles and duties in all of this?
The role of the architect is very much about contextualizing the challenges that are before us.
BIG: Of course, some of that is just providing housing and shelter for each one of us. But it is also about how the migration to cities can be maintained and prepared for. As I mentioned, new transportation infrastructure, such as the Hyperloop, offers new ways of designing and building cities and thinking about what is close and what is far away. So, we are continuously thinking about, analyzing, and researching how these new technologies such as transportation systems or construction systems will have an impact on the way that we shape our lives.
AD: Focusing on the current worldwide situation, how do you think the ongoing pandemic will shape future design solutions?
I do think that every global shock to the system, whether it is climate change, or a war, or in this case, a pandemic, has influenced and impacted our collective way of thinking.
BIG: Certainly, the pandemic that happened over 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu, also shaped the way that we started thinking about how we live together. It is yet to be seen how the long-term social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will manifest itself, but it is already evident that the way in which we navigate the public realm, including our much-needed access to the outdoors, has proven to be important over the last year and a half. I think this newfound prioritization of the public realm will be a lasting remnant of this pandemic.
AD: Your first book, Yes is More was an “Archicomic on Architectural Evolution”, focusing mainly on the bigger picture. Your second publication Hot to Cold was an “Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation”, where you rounded up adaptive architecture in extreme environments around the world. With Formgiving, you are looking at time and space, drawing an architectural future history. How do you explain this evolution of approach in each one of your literary ventures? How is each book different from the others? And how are they all connected?
BIG: I think that the underlying connection between the three books is a continuous interest in all types of projects. Yes is More was the book that we did right when we started out, and therefore it encompasses 35 projects –only a few of which were actually built at the time of printing. Many of them were still just ideas and visions. Hot to Cold was a look at 60 or so projects, half of them having been built and the other half still in process, but sort of proving a little bit more the promise and the potential of Yes Is More. Both books embody an unbounded optimism about how the field of architecture and the challenges that stand before us can be addressed. With Formgiving, which includes 100 or so projects, we are trying to demonstrate how we now can use this research and ability to work in many different countries in many different climates with many different programs. We are prioritizing constructability, the use of resources, and how to rehabilitate and recycle and upcycle through projects like Urban Rigger. We are thinking about the resiliency of our cities through projects like The Big U. There is a common thread through the three books, but each book has gradually become more and more tangible, with the projects more and more doable.
So, something that was a vision in Yes Is More, can now be seen in a more tangible way in Formgiving.
AD: In addition, how is the evolution of the approach related to BIG’s growth and reach?
BIG: I would say that with Yes Is More, Bjarke had very early on already voiced a true kind of desire to be able to work globally, because many of those projects were already in different remote regions as well as in his backyard of Denmark. So, there was already a planetary approach to how we were thinking, even though most of the work that had been completed was all within the city limits of Copenhagen, or just outside of. So, I think that the ability to present a global approach also had the added result of attracting a lot of people to move to Copenhagen or to New York and join BIG, because Yes Is More presented a very compelling manifesto of where we wanted to go. I think that the books have helped to have people understand Bjarke’s vision, and this has provided a very good guide that was only more communicated and more detailed with Hot to Cold and Formgiving.
What is important to note in all three books is that all the work is the product of a lot of people including collaborators and clients. It is important in the crediting of all the projects, not only the ones that made the cut, but also in the bibliography of the projects that are shown that we've worked on, that all of the team members are mentioned, and that everyone is able to see just how many people it takes to actually do a lot of this work. So, it is very important to always view each book as the kind of creation of all the BIGsters in each case.
AD: Although each publication takes on a different concept, all of them present your projects. Focusing specifically on your featured architectural interventions, have you included most of your projects in these books? What hasn’t made the cut? Always centered on the design process, what can you tell us about the evolution of the projects’ presentation, from the first book till now?
BIG: By design, it is very straightforward to see which projects made the cut and did not make the cut in the books, because in both Yes is More and Hot to Cold, there is a bibliography that lists all the projects that we were working on. In choosing which projects are featured in a more detailed way, and which projects are prioritized in the layout, the projects are providing those glimpses of the future, indicative of what is of interest to both Bjarke and the Partners of BIG. Showing a wide scope of projects, both built and unbuilt also exemplifies the tremendous effort that goes into the profession of architecture – starting with a lot of different concepts and taking part in a lot of competitions, many of which never make it. Almost through an evolutionary process, the books exemplify how the strongest ideas make it through not only a competition but then also through to the publication within these three books.
AD: Moreover, have the type of projects realized in certain time frames dictated the books’ general feel? For example, in the past years, we have seen you attentive to outer space and the possibilities of colonizing other planets, and a big part of Formgiving tackles these ideas.
BIG: I think from the very first days of PLOT, and now in the current iteration of BIG, our firm has always been looking at some of the biggest challenges – challenges that transcend physical borders or regional issues. One of PLOT’s early projects Superharbor is a great example of this – transcontinental trading routes that made a bold prediction about how to be both more efficient, but also more conscious about architectural and urban planning decisions. So, it was a very geopolitical project. Fast forward today, for example, and there are huge advancements being made in rocket technology. As there are more and more opportunities for going to Mars or going to the Moon, there also should be – within the architectural field – conversations and discussions about what that means spatially. When you inhabit another planet, you do need to start somewhere. I think the ideas here have come out of seeing what is happening around us, coming back to William Gibson’s quote that the future is already here. It is just in little steps all around us that we see these larger strides being taken in other fields and are thus making certain predictions and in certain visions for our own future.
AD: You produce these books every couple of years. Is it some sort of an overview of your work, a thoroughly explained portfolio, or are you revisiting what you have achieved so far in terms of ideas?
BIG: Each book is a catalog of an exhibition that was held. In each case, the exhibition was an invited exhibition. The first exhibition (and subsequent book) was a result of the Danish Architecture Center inviting us in 2009 to present the first five or so years of work at BIG, and the five years of PLOT. We did that, and then the National Building Museum invited us for an exhibition that opened in 2014 that then became Hot to Cold. Finally, the Danish Architecture Center moved into their new home in BLOX, and asked us to be one of their opening exhibitions as they entered the new space in 2019. So, that was the beginning of Formgiving. This has now happened on a five-to-six-year basis, but in terms of future books, I don’t see us being dictated by time; rather, we are dictated by opportunities to reflect upon our work. I think those moments of reflection are very important – to take certain points of looking back, and then formulating what it is that we actually want to be spending time on in the future.
AD: For the studio, on a more personal level, what is achieved through the production of these books? And from a global perspective, what do you wish to achieve through these books? In other words, what are you hoping to communicate to the big audience?
BIG: There are only so many people that can visit Denmark or Washington, D.C. to see the exhibitions, especially since the exhibition is only up for three or six months. What the books – the exhibition catalogs – offer is to make the exhibition more accessible, and more visible. People can see the images, the technical drawings, the essays, and start to see how all these things are interrelated. People can see that a project’s story is more than just what is included in the press release, or in the milestones that are announced throughout the construction timeline, but really that there is a kind of collective consciousness about the work that we create, and a guide to that. So, I think that the books have been important in helping break down the nitty-gritty of each project to a much larger and broader audience. TASCHEN, our publisher, also helps, both in terms of pricing the books to be affordable and thereby accessible, and by printing them in a really beautiful way. In a sort of lasting way, the three books combined are really celebrating 20 years of Bjarke’s & BIG’s thinking and making, and that is exceptional.