January 1, 2010
The founding principal of BIG talks about refurbishing the surface of the planet, the big question, and the runner’s high.
Architect/wannabe comic-book artist
Getting a thousand city bikes, a million liters of Danish harbor water, and the one and only Little Mermaid to China for the Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo.
In addition, we are completing the 8house, a 500-unit community that blends town houses, apartments, offices, and shops into a hybrid between a mountain village and an urban block, allowing people to walk or bicycle from the ground floor to the penthouse. The public realm traditionally stops at the street—here spontaneous social encounters can occur all the way to the roof. Apart from that, we are building the Kazakhstan National Library; the new Tamayo Museum, in Mexico; the Shenzhen Energy headquarters in a 656-foot-tall sustainable skyscraper; the new Tallinn Town Hall; the World Village of Women’s Sports, in Malmö, Sweden; and a zero-carbon island in Azerbaijan.
Why do you do what you do?
Architecture is the art and science of continually refurbishing the surface of our planet so it actually fits the way we want to live. And as life evolves, our cities and buildings need to evolve with it. As Darwin has taught us, life always evolves, so we architects have to tag along.
First step on a project
Look for the critical issues. Once you formulate the big question, all you need to do is answer it.
Last step on a project
Cut the ribbon. Pop the champagne.
How do you break a creative block?
Double the demands, increase the requirements, turn up the ambition. It can be very hard to solve a problem if there is no problem. And there is always a problem—you
just need to find it.
Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Barcelona School of Architecture
I’ve got many heroes, as I believe architecture and ideas evolve gradually:
Mies van der Rohe—Less is more.
Robert Venturi—Less is a bore.
Philip Johnson—I’m a whore.
Rem Koolhaas—More and more, more is more.
Barack Obama—Yes, we can.
BIG—Yes is more.
Engineering without engines. We should use contemporary technology and computation capacity to make our buildings independent of machinery. Building services today are essentially mechanical compensations for the fact that buildings are bad for what they are designed for—human life. Therefore we pump air around, illuminate dark spaces with electric lights, and heat and cool the spaces in order to make them livable. The result is boring boxes with big energy bills. If we moved the qualities out of the machine room and back into architecture’s inherent attributes, we’d make more interesting buildings and more sustainable cities.
First act as “design czar”
Put architecture on the public-school curriculum. Somehow kids are taught music, art, literature, and sciences, but nobody thought of giving them a basic understanding of how our cities have evolved. Understanding precedes action. If we don’t understand, how can we ever intervene?
Charlie Kaufman for developing the idea, Barack Obama for getting the permits, Olafur Eliasson for getting it materialized, and Rene Redzepi (of Noma) for catering
The Expo Chair by KiBiSi (Kilo Design + BIG + Skibsted Ideation), our new, joint design firm: www.kibisi.com
Office sound track
Anything from the Knife
My green Biomega racing bike
Most useful tool
Review-and-comment toolbar in Adobe Acrobat
Failblog.org and Ted.com
Best place to think
In dialogue. Some people, myself included, think better when they’re forced to communicate an idea to others or when they have to react to what someone else just said.
The book behind The Wire (the TV series), and the latest Wired
The secret library in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Name of the Rose
Home. I spend way too little time there compared to how much I enjoy it.
The runner’s high! I just ran the Berlin Marathon, and I did indeed experience the wall after 30 kilometers, but I totally missed out on the runner’s high.
Learned the hard way
My personal assistant, Kristine, is on maternity leave—now I really know how fantastic a person and colleague she is! Her kid has to learn to take care of himself soon, ’cause I’m sure I need her more than he does. 😉
Right before the financial crisis, we won the competition to design the National Bank of Iceland!
Take the job I have and add political power and a truckload of resources, cut the working hours in half; it would be a sweet deal.