When we look at the world that surrounds us most of us are engaged by the beautiful sky, the colorful images of nature that embrace us and the tranquility one can obtain when taking it all in. Like many though, myself included, how often do we appreciate the structures that surround us? Especially living in New York where its inhabitants feel like ants in a maze, what must it take to pause for a moment and acknowledge the beauty of these buildings? Of course we have structures like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the World Trade Center to only name a few; these buildings are enamored more so due to the accomplishments achieved for that time and in the case of the WTC for its historical significance.
When I first heard the term “starchitect” I did not understand the term other than it referring to a prominent architect from Denmark named Bjarke Ingels; considered by Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2016. There is no doubt in my mind after viewing the documentary Big Time why Bjarke is known as the starchitect. The mindset that Bjarke takes when approaching projects is what I believe sets him apart from other architects as his belief lies in creating a new world that has never existed. His approach is that of many innovators that have come before him: he can imagine something that is not there, that no one else could even envision and regardless of obstacles in the way he comes out on top to wow all the naysayers.
The film Big Time is an appropriate title as it truly describes the rise of Bjarke and everything that encompasses. Shot by documentarian Kaspar Astrup Schrödera the film follows Bjarke through seven years of his journey. What I enjoyed about the film was Bjarke’s enthusiasm when approaching new projects/ideas such as when he is brought two projects but specifically told only one can be chosen because they would heavily overlap … his first reaction without missing a beat is “let’s do both”. It is that enthusiasm and willingness to overcome that I admired so much about Bjarke which comes out in volumes throughout the film. There is also an instance where as the viewer we can watch in wonderment as he is trying to propose the idea of the power plant design in Copenhagen.
His proposal is to place the power plant structure and all its machinery inside while the exterior serves something else completely different. A power plant that recycles waste into electricity and heating would now be the epi-center of Copenhagen. Known for its snowy winters and lack of mountains the roof would serve as a ski slope while the exterior could be used a climbing wall during the warmer climates. Adding to this child like wonder Bjarke also insisted that the steam that exits the plant be made into smoke rings; to emulate the chimney of his childhood home which also adds to this fantastical storybook element.
The film lays out a number of different projects Bjarke will undertake and it is there that the image of this never back down, ingenious starchitect begins to fall into the realm of reality. As a viewer we can all appreciate a good story with a strong character but the character is only as strong as the struggles he is faced with. It is those struggles as a human being that have us relate to the person we see on the screen. With Bjarke’s fame rising so fast and being pulled in so many directions it is easy to see how this can take its toll. Add in pressures of projects not getting chosen, difficulties of maintaining offices both in Denmark and New York and Bjarke is no longer the “starchitect”, he is merely a man trying to make his mark on the world.
“You only get 20 to 40 buildings in your lifetime” is a line stated by Bjarke at the end of the film. Along with stories of previous architects who died of various causes without finishing their works I felt Bjarke is trying to accomplish something much more. He expresses ideas of creating these new worlds for people to experience and also states that architecture is the one art form that no one can escape. New visions brings new life as I believe structures like Bjarke’s can inspire a new outlook on the world and offer people the ability to think outside the box; his buildings are not just blocks on a sidewalk but an experience.
I look forward especially to one of his upcoming projects as it is for World Trade Center 2. Expected to be completed in 2020 it has 7 cubes stacked on each other which offer different views depending where you stand. What is only a testament to what I have already said it was the brother of a deceased firefighter from 9/11 who said this design was so beautiful that it reminded him of a stairway to heaven, This was not intended by Bjarke which he has stated but it is the ability of putting your art out for people to see and they are allowed to interpret it as they wish.
As I mentioned the director filmed Bjarke over seven years and Bjarke has stated “he could have made 100 different films with all the footage”. If I have any drawback it would be in that with as much as was offered early on and even midway through the film I felt there was no conclusion. Many of the projects that were mentioned we get no follow up on, tensions that seemed to be rising between himself and his partners in Denmark faded away and the late inclusion of brain trauma along with the threat of brain surgery were rushed through only to add a drama element. In the end, the film is about Bjarke Ingels the “starchitect” and in that we truly get a sense of who this innovator is and what kind of world he is trying to extract from his limitless mind then gift onto us so we may to experience a new world too.
Via 57 West was completed in 2016 & is located on W 57th St along the West Side Highway offering a striking outline amidst the New York City Skyline. Imagined as a micro NYC with Central Park in its center. The building offers residents a fantastical secret garden within its futuristic utopian walls. If you are lucky enough you can experience this site for yourself while also screening the film Big Time at the street level luxury movie theater.
2.5 out of 5