The year 2011 is so far a BIG one for Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), with no less than four competition wins in as many months and their first project in the United States. Four of these new projects are discussed here; click the image thumbnails at bottom for side-by-side comparisons of the projects. The Mosque and Museum of Religious Harmony in Tirana, Albania is part of a "complete reconceptualization of Skanderberg Square." BIG won the competition for this cultural complex in early May. It is designed around the city's grid and the need to orient the Mosque towards Mecca. These important lines are downplayed in the way the three buildings torque themselves and cantilever over the plaza, creating an outdoor room that is inviting to those outside of Islam.
In early February BIG revealed their design for the Greenland National Gallery of Art, in a competition they won with TNT Nuuk + Ramboll Nuuk + Arkitekti. A number of strands run through BIG's oeuvre, one being the mountain-like forms they use for many large projects, and another being the loop, realized in the Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo last year. Here the museum is a circle that is dropped onto the site, deforming itself to follow the sloping site between the town of Nuuk and the coastline. Glass walls focus the gallery spaces into the courtyard, and the slope allows views over the building towards the water. The architects assert that the design will aid in "developing the Greenlandic national identity through art and culture."
It is through improvisation and adaptation to unanticipated obstacles that we make our biggest breakthroughs. The friction of reality is our insurance against architectural inbreeding. -Bjarke Ingels, from "Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution"Near the end of March BIG + Grontmij + Spacescape were announced as the winning team for the Stockholmsporten master plan competition for "an inviting new entrance portal into Stockholm at the intersection of a newly planned super-juntion." It is easily one of the strangest projects in recent years: above the junction is "a reflective, hovering sphere mirroring Stockholm as it is, new and old." There's certainly more to the master plan than this orb (a crater-like valley is created in the effort to mitigate the surrounding neighborhoods from traffic noise), but the PVC- and photovoltaic-covered object is also envisioned as a source of wind power and solar energy, not just reflected views. Super-sized M.C. Escher.
Lastly, in early February BIG's first US project, for Durst Fetner Residential, was unveiled. W57 is a project with more than 600 residential units on West 57th Street near the Hudson River. It is a hybrid of courtyard and tower typologies, a ziggurat-like form that captures the sun's rays from the southwest over Hudson River Park. The project gave a jolt of excitement at a time when multi-family residential projects are on the wane and when many are uninspiring. Similar praise could be levied at the other projects, especially the master plan competition outside Stockholm. Each project illustrates a strong combination of imagination, context, and program. More projects should follow in the BIG pipeline this year, but I'm curious to see these four move towards construction and completion.