Bjarke To The Future: Meet NYC’s New Green Architect Crush

Rem Koolhaas protege Bjarke Ingels has already been hailed as a prodigy. His prodigiously interesting NYC debut suggests there’s something to the hype.

BIG West Side LEED Gold gbnyc

Architecture is hardly immune to the allure of trendoid groupthink, but given the hyperspeed buzz-to-backlash cycle that currently obtains in, say, rock and roll — where a band can be totally “over” a month before their record comes out — it’s notable that so many of our famous architects are also among the best. There’s room for disagreement on this, of course, and there’s no guarantee that what looked epochal a few generations ago will still be interesting generations later. But to a great degree, the architects who get anointed deserve that anointing. This brings us to Bjarke Ingels, a 36-year-old Danish architect who has been the recipient of some deafening recent buzz after apprenticing at Rem Koolhaas’s Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture. There’s a reason for this: Ingels recently opened an office in New York, and will soon make his stateside debut with a LEED Gold-hopeful condominium for Durst Fetner Residential that is slated to rise on a desolate-ish patch of property on 57th Street between 11th Avenue and the West Side Highway. It’s pictured above and… yeah, this would appear to be an other example of justifiable anointing

Ingels is best known for 8 House, a sprawling 650,000-square-foot mixed-use development in Copenhagen that is the single biggest private development in Denmark’s history — and which also happens to have been built to exacting sustainability standards. That Ingels happens to be a handsome dude surely hasn’t hurt with the buzz-generation, but he also manages to explain himself without the grandiosity we’ve become accustomed to from our star-architects. Here’s Ingels in interview with Sally McGrane of The New York Times. Check out the 8 House — or look above — and then try to match the monumental scope and stylistic aggression of his buildings with the earnest, understated manner in which he talks about them.

So these buildings just happen to look like mountains.

They’re buildings that look different because they perform differently. They harvest resources — daylight, views — in different ways. What we try to do is maximize possibilities. Before, you could choose a life in the city, and that would give you certain advantages, but it would be at the expense of parks and green spaces, fresh air and bicycle rides, or a private garden. And I think now in New York, and with projects like the Mountain and 8 House we did in Copenhagen, we’re trying to offer some of the suburban advantages, like a house with a garden where your kids can go outside and hang around, and combine that with the services of a dense urban space.

Does New York need a mountain?

I can vaguely say that what we’re trying to do in New York is to follow up the general trajectory the city has taken, integrating parks and recreation spaces, rejuvenating the waterfront, planting trees and creating bicycle paths. We’re trying to see if you can create a hybrid typology. What happens if you crossbreed the Copenhagen courtyard with the New York high-rise?

Kind of impressive, right? Not that there’s anything wrong with “Vision Machine” quasi-pretense — we’re on record with that particular metaphor — but there’s something kind of refreshing about the fact that Ingels expresses himself clearly and fairly humbly in speech, and grandly and ambitiously in his work. Some of that might just be a Scandinavian cultural predisposition against grandiosity, but the impression — at least for the more cockiness-averse among us –  is that this is one big-time architect that it’s easy to pull for.

And the building that will be BIG and Ingels’s American debut is doubly easy to get behind. Though still nascent enough that there’s not much to report about its planned green building aspects — although the LEED Gold bit certainly promises good things, there — the design itself is plenty to get excited about. In a nice profile of Ingels in New York Magazine, Justin Davidson limns how the as-yet-untitled 57th Street building fits into — and advances — Ingels’s aesthetic.

Durst’s West 57th Street site is a large, unpromising oblong plot pointing toward the liftoff point of the West Side Highway and flanked by an active but largely empty steam plant and a new garbage-truck garage. Ingels’s design capitalizes on the city’s steady march to the ever-more-verdant riverfront, where industry meets leisure. He and his architects had multiple tasks: turn the building toward the water, leave neighbors’ views as intact as possible, and negotiate a transition from the low-slung silhouette of Hell’s Kitchen to the long-necked towers of Riverside South. At the same time, Ingels wanted to make a ‘blatant’ connection with Hudson River Park, and pull its greenery into the heart of the architecture in the form of a spacious court. To open up views, the building dips down at its southwestern corner. To mitigate traffic noise, it pulls back from the highway and the sanitation garage, rising along a steep, continuous slope to a sharp 450-foot summit. These methodical steps yield a sierralike outline familiar from as far back as Copenhagen’s Harbour Bath, and while that shape may one day devolve into a stylistic tic, for now it feels natural and fresh.

The whole piece is worth reading, especially for aficionados of real estate insider talk. We at gbNYC are not those aficionados, but we are just about ready to get on board with Ingels. We’ve written in the past that extraordinary building — ambitious and intentional and willing to both acknowledge context and flout convention — is just about as important to us as LEED points when it comes to buildings. Ingels certainly seems poised to deliver all the good stuff between the em-dashes in that last sentence. That he’s also interested in doing so as responsibly and sustainably as possible is all the more reason for excitement.

UPDATE: Notably slipshod accuracy in this post, at least on the first draft. That’s fixed, with a hat tip to loud paper’s Mimi Zeiger for the line edit, as well as for this video of people doing Parkour in BIG buildings. Crowdsourcing! Apologies!

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