Tag Archives: BJARKE INGELS

EGO AND ARROGANCE

April 1, 2022

(photos left to right: Pyramid at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France, by Michael Fousert; Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, by Anthony Delanoix; Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, by Dennis; Burg Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by Nick Fewings; all from Unsplash)

(This essay comprises excerpts from my presentation, The Creative Process and The Ego, on February 18th at Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California.)

Architects design homes, schools, skyscrapers, entire cities. Who has given architects this role and influence in society, and what have we done with it? From the Pyramid at the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower , from the Guggenheim to the Burg Khalifa in Dubai—architect’s egos are stamped all over cities, all over the world. Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, even has drawings to literally redesign Earth.

Me presenting, The Creative Process and The Ego, Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California (photo by Elizabeth Staes)

Master builder, master designer, master creator—architects have been granted the responsibility to impact communities and cultural progress, through the flexing of creative muscles. The offering of world icons and or definitive works stems from both talent and skill, as well as confidence and ego. Consider Philip Johnson’s pithy quote.

But ego can lead to influence, influence to power, and power to arrogance. And arrogance can either drive a project into successful territory or regrettable disaster. For the latter, two projects come to mind.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, a hotly debated project known as Munger Hall has every architect, student, parent, and community member up in arms. For this proposed $1 billion, 1.7 million square foot, 11-story dormitory for 4,500 students, there has been a very little support. For the amateur architect and developer, Charlie Munger (billionaire and partner to Warren Buffet) and Southern California architect-of-record, VTBS (yes, B-S), the wrath bestowed on this project approved is universal. To sum it up, there has not been so much loathing in recent history. There are many reasons for the abhorrence, but the main objection is that 95% of the dorm rooms will have NO WINDOWS. No natural light. No fresh air. No view to the outside.

Munger Hall (drawings and rendering from VTBS), Charles Munger (photo by Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters)

The arrogance of Munger comes from believing that: 1) Fronting the construction cost gives him the unconditional ticket to design whatever he wants, and 2) he and VTBS are convinced that windowless dormitory rooms are not just acceptable, but a creative success, even a bragging right. And everything from science to history, and real life to design guidelines, have proven this idea to be horrific.

Consider the residential estate in Bel Air, California, simply called “The One.” The conceit within that title alone reeks of egotism. Here, this spec house, with an asking price of $500 million, includes 105,000-square-foot, 20 bedrooms with a 5000-square-foot master bedroom suite, 42 bathrooms, a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, 50-car garage, and four swimming pools—to name a few details.

“The One,” Bel Air, Los Angeles, California (photo by Michael Leonard, The Society Group)

Bel Air is a community of wealth, where some of the largest mansions have been built over the years. As seen above, the two circled homes are such mansions of prestige and wealth. And between them is the out-of-scale, gargantuan vanity of developer Nile Niami and architect Paul McClean. The cautionary tale? No one wants such a home. The property recently sold for only $141 million, which is a mere one-third of the asking price.

Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy (photo by Guy Dugas, Pixabay); Medici family (image from historyhit.com)

Historically, architects were given such power by an omnipotent clients such as the Medici’s, but in today’s culture of individualism and self-promotion, such projects as Munger Hall and The One are fueled by confidence and salesmanship, perhaps even narcissism.

Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices (photo from drtuesdaygjohnson.tumblr.com

Author Meryle Secrest wrote of Frank Lloyd Wright, “If he had intended to live out his life in the columns of newspapers, he could not have acted any more effectively. . . again and again, courting the press . . . Wright’s appetite for whatever might further his career was gargantuan.”

Accusations of megalomania have been projected onto Bjarke Ingels and his company, BIG, with 550 employees in offices in Copenhagen, New York, London, and Barcelona. Ingels himself counters the Miesian platitude, “Less is more,” and instead proclaims, “Yes is more.”

Bjarke Ingels (photo by Thomas Loff); Ingels sketching (photo from youtube.com); W57, New York, New York (photo from claudejobin.com)

Check yourself. When does confidence become righteousness, talent become ego, and prowess become arrogance? How does self-assurance and pride become condescension and smugness? Who shall “inherit the earth”?

GORGEOUS—BUT HOW THE HECK DID THAT GET BUILT?

July 23, 2021

King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by Zaha Hadid Architects (photo from architizer.com)

Every so often, I see a great design, a building of extraordinary exploration and creativity. Having appreciated the architectural marvel, my first question is this: How did the architect convince the client to build this incredible design? It’s not the bold design concepts with which I am impressed. We all have them, from our early student work to veteran sketches. The challenge is getting said ground-breaking ideas implemented.

Gallery House, Bansberia, Mithapukur More, India, by Abin Design Studio (photo from architizer.com)

Often, architects generate beautiful designs, even earth-shattering, potentially career-changing ideas. But without a courageous client, a true believer in the architect’s talents, such designs remain pencil lines on paper or digital files in the computer. But big ideas do get built, and I wonder how the successful architect persuades the board of directors. I can’t imagine it goes like this.

Cloudscape of Haikou, Hainan Province, China, by MAD (photo by AOG Vision)

Client, “Love the gorgeous roof design, but how much more will this cost?”

Unfazed Architect, “I would need to double your budget. . . so about $50 million more and an extra year of time.”

Upset Client, “A really creative design, but c’mon, are you insane?!”

Architect with a Grin: “You should really do it. It will be great”

Converted Client: “Uh, okay, I am convinced. Let’s do it!”

De Young Museum, San Francisco, California, by Herzog and de Meuron (photo by Steve Proehl)

This kind of thing doesn’t really happen, does it? But then, we see these incredible museum designs (here, here, and here), performing art centers, even residential estates—and we see them a lot. Take the example of the de Young Musuem in San Francisco by Swiss architects, Herzog and de Meuron. How the heck did they get their design endorsed by the museum board and stakeholders, as well as the typically conservative community focused more on historical preservation and Victorian dollhouses than groundbreaking Modernism?

De Young Museum, San Francisco, California, by Herzog and de Meuron (photo by Duccio Malagamba)

Yes no argument—the design is striking with its custom-perforated, dimpled-copper exterior panels. But how does the client embrace this? What devices of persuasion do the architects use when presenting their warping low-slung building, all covered in murky brown metal from top to bottom, holes and bubbles on the surface, and a twisted contorted observation tower—all set within the idyllic setting of Golden Gate Park? And at $135 million?

Musee Atelier Audemars Piguet, Jura-Nord Vaudois, Switzerland, by BIG (photo from architizer.com)

What about the Danish company named BIG? Its fearless leader, Bjarke Ingels, comes up with ideas literally from the pages of comic books. Keep in mind again: We all have exciting fantastical ideas. Yet, BIG gets them all built. These aggressive ambitious designs of Ingels—that usually sit in the back pages of another architect’s sketchbook—are for BIG, constructed in reality.

Grove at Grand Bay, Miami, Florida, by BIG (photo from architizer.com)

After these design and political hurdles, such a project must also: leap through the permitting agencies; make itself constructible in the real world of labor and materials; and all the other logistical nightmares that even the most modest of architectural projects must endure, i.e.: weather, costs, schedule. Maybe the influence over the client is done through sheer salesmanship and will power, mystique of the genius-artist, or Jedi-mind tricks. I don’t’ know. So if anyone knows the secret, please shine a light for the rest of us.

Anhui Science and Technology Musuem, Hefei, China, by Preston Scott Cohen, Inc. (photo from prestonscottcohen.com)
© Poon Design Inc.