And 'Formgiving' Makes Three

John Hill
27. January 2021
Photo courtesy of BIG

In which we take a look inside Formgiving, the new monograph on BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, in the context of the three monographs the firm has produced with Taschen over the last twelve years.

Bjarke Ingels and his firm, BIG, need no introduction. Since it was founded in Copenhagen in 2005, BIG has grown to around 450 employees in four offices: Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, and New York. A small part of BIG's consistent and widespread exposure can be attributed to the publications they produce. The latest is Formgiving: An Architecture Future History, published last month, one year after a major exhibition of the same name. Formgiving isn't a standalone production, so we're looking at it relative to two predecessors: Yes Is More from 2009 and Hot to Cold from 2015. All three were authored by Bjarke Ingels and published by Taschen.

Exhibitions

Yes Is More at the Danish Architecture Center in 2009 (Photo: Bujdosó Attila/Wikimedia Commons)

All three monographs accompanied exhibitions as well. Yes Is More was on display from February 20 to May 31, 2009, at the Danish Architecture Center, when the DAC was located at Strandgade 278 in Copenhagen. Thirty-four projects were displayed on backlit acrylic plates that snaked around the perimeter of the gallery for 118 meters (387 feet), wrapping columns to create a number of smaller spaces, where 30 models sat on 30 podiums. Although one review shortly after its opening asserted "the comic book graphics are a bit much," it's easy to see the wall presentation taking the leap directly into book form.

Hot to Cold at the National Building Museum in 2015 (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Six years later, the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, hosted Hot to Cold, from January 24 to August 30, 2015. The previous year BIG had created The BIG Maze for the annual summer installation in the museum's large atrium. BIG's exhibition once again took advantage of that impressive space, breaking out of the gallery they were given and suspending models within the atrium. Further information was presented on backlit displays between the columns. When in the works, the exhibition was titled amBIGuity, but the final name, Hot to Cold, expresses the use of climate as an organizing principle for the 60 projects on display.

Formgiving at the DAC in 2019 (Photo: Rasmus Hjortshøj, courtesy DAC)

In 2018, the DAC moved to BLOX, the mixed-use building designed by OMA – Office for Metropolitan Architecture with offices, apartments, dining, and other facilities on a waterfront site in Copenhagen. Formgiving opened at DAC's new home on June 12, 2019, and ran until January 12, 2020. Taking its name from formgivning — the Danish word for design — the exhibition presented more than 70 projects in ten color-coded areas aligned with "the 10 gifts" that BIG's buildings give to the world.

Format

Spread from Yes Is More, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

Just as each monograph accompanied an exhibition, the layout of each book paralleled the formats of the exhibitions. The most direct translation came with Yes Is More, in which the comic pages presented on the gallery walls were shrunk down to the printed page. Or was it vice versa? Whatever the case, the comic book format did a couple important things: it put Ingels's front and center, with his face appearing on nearly every page; and it pulled readers along through easy-to-follow explanations that went hand in hand with the firm's step-by-step diagrams. Born from Ingels's earlier ambitions to become a cartoonist, the book importantly expresses his firm's optimism and refusal to accept "no" as an answer.

Spread from Yes Is More, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)
Outside of Hot to Cold, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

In the half-dozen years between Yes Is More and Hot to Cold, Ingels gained tremendous amounts of buzz through TED Talks and other media outside of architectural monographs. In that period he coined the term "hedonistic sustainability," a soundbite that contends addressing climate change does not mean leading an austere life. A preoccupation with climate change is clearly evident in the name of the exhibition/book and the red-to-blue gradient of the edge of the hefty 712-page book. Projects are arranged by their climatic contexts, from hot to cold; their fairly even distribution across the color spectrum hints at how global BIG had become in the decade since it was established in 2005. Sustainability is found in BIG's attempts to design in response to climatic conditions, while the hedonism is implied by the globetrotting nature of the firm's founder as he designs high-profile buildings on four continents.

Spread from Hot to Cold, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)
Spread from Formgiving, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

Yes Is More and Hot to Cold have easy-to-discern formats, but one could argue that their comics and colorful pages, respectively, are potentially distracting, running the risk of overriding the content — the projects. Formgiving, perhaps as a corrective, goes in the other direction: simplicity. The projects, organized into "The 10 Gifts," are presented with minimal text by Ingels, lots of large photos and renderings, and numerous drawings. Margins around each page ensure clean edges to the book, minus the black rectangles that step down the pages like a dictionary. Standing out from the projects are the all-black pages at the front and back of the book, resulting in a past/present/future structure. The past defines six "evolutionary threads" from the formation of the universe ~14 billion years ago to today; the present consists of the roughly 65 projects gathered into the ten gifts; and the future presents BIG's latest infatuation: projects at the planetary scale. In regards to the last, it appears hedonistic sustainability has segued to brazenly redesigning the whole Earth, or ditching the Earth for Mars, or — best case — applying the lessons learned when designing for a planet with no atmosphere to designing for one whose atmosphere is increasingly periled.

Spread from Formgiving, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

Icons and Legos

Spread from Yes Is More, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

So, if BIG's monographs have changed in format from 2009 to 2020 — serving as a trilogy but also standing alone on their own — and their projects have evolved over that same period as well, what, if anything, has remained the same? Anyone who has visited BIG's website in the last ten years is no doubt familiar with the columns of colorful icons that greet you after the "loading" screen. Each project — built or unbuilt, it doesn't matter — is signaled by a small diagram of its form or some other distinguishing feature. These icons appeared in Yes Is More, were used to aid in the legibility of Hot to Cold's climatic gradient, and are once again found in Formgiving, this time pared down to white-on-black shapes. I can't think of another architecture firm that has stuck with visual branding like this as long as BIG, especially given how the icons don't always help distinguishing one project from another.

Spread from Hot to Cold, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

Another consistent presence in the three monographs are Legos. It's fitting that the plastic bricks developed by a Danish company have been embraced by a Danish architect. Lego models of BIG's projects are found sporadically in Yes Is More, though two years earlier they stuffed a few of those models into the narrow Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. By the time of Hot to Cold, BIG was designing LEGO House, which was displayed as a Lego model at the National Building Museum. The project was built and photographed by the time of Formgiving, but the monograph also includes twenty of BIG's projects in Lego form. The models of BIG's projects were built by Lego master builders and displayed in the exhibition at DAC, when visitors were also invited to make their own creations — to be their own formgivers and craft their own futures.

Spread from Formgiving, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Taschen)

Formgiving. An Architectural Future History

Formgiving. An Architectural Future History
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

16.3 x 25 cm (6.4 x 9.8 in.)
736 Pages
Paperback
ISBN 9783836577045
Taschen
Purchase this book

Hot to Cold. An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation

Hot to Cold. An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

16.3 x 25 cm (6.4 x 9.8 in.)
712 Pages
Paperback
ISBN 9783836557399
Taschen
Purchase this book

Yes is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution

Yes is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

16.3 x 25 cm (6.4 x 9.8 in.)
400 Pages
Paperback
ISBN 9783836520102
Taschen
Purchase this book

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