In architecture, it's very hard to find any reason to go beyond the standard solution. And the standard solution becomes one because it's such a good solution to what you're trying to do. But the problem with it is that it's often looking at a single criterion. And a typical standard solution in architecture is a very Bob Moses New York public housing. You know they need X amount of units, they need east/west exposure, they need a minimum distance between them, there's a certain height that's good for the elevator runs and the number of fire stairs. […] But it says nothing about the diversity of household types, the programmatic diversity to create a lively neighborhood, the life between the buildings, or the prevailing winds. There are so many other factors you can take into consideration. And I think the secret recipe we have developed [at BIG] that allows us to go beyond the standard solution is that we don't try to just provide X amount of real estate within a certain density, we actually try to pile on more demands. We also need to create a nice social space at the heart of the city block, we also need to ensure sunlight exposure, outdoor spaces, all kinds of things. And as you pile on these demands, suddenly the standard solution doesn't work any longer and you force the architecture into something different. […] By piling on more demands, by making the architectural problem more difficult to solve we escape the straightjacket of the standard solution and we come up with something that answers a more difficult problem.

Cities for Tomorrow 2015 - Social Infrastructure with Bjarke Ingels

Design Process

KLW Yes, because one thing is giving, another thing is having the will to give. You know, to give meaning and form to something. What you just said relates to method, you produce a lot of variation in your work. Maybe there are some elements reproduced, but still the basic urge to drive diversity.

BI I think the whole notion of style is a question of a certain uniformity. And, of course, I don’t think that we can 100% renounce that we have certain idiosyncrasies and certain preferences, certain things that fascinate us more than others. The whole process of form-giving is a vehicle to deliver certain things that we want to see in the world. However, I’m striving towards the other side of styleless-ness, which is to be free in every moment. To choose whatever means, whatever forms, whatever materials that most serve our purpose in each particular situation. Style is a prison, it’s a straightjacket, it’s a form of inhibition. It’s a self-imposed inhibition, to have to do certain things and not be allowed to do other things and I want us to be able to allow ourselves to do exactly the one thing that will make the greatest difference in each specific situation. One person who is vocal and eloquent about creativity is the illustrator Christoph Niemann. You can follow his thought process in the documentary Abstract on Netflix. The episode about him and his work has almost become an absurd comedy; like a Woody Allen film. I loved following him because he’s actually doing, what I thought I was going to do. I thought I was going to be an illustrator or a cartoonist myself before I ended up as an architect. He has a beautiful quote in the series, quoting the painter Chuck Close who said “inspiration is for amateurs, professionals go to work.” And that’s exactly how we work! Once in a while, I will be blessed with a priori idea, but most of the time I start with a completely empty mind and then we start working. But the other thing he says is that he strives to “be a much more ruthless editor and a more careless artist”. That is also exactly how we try to work in BIG and that’s why BIG is actually scalable and maybe that’s an important point. It’s important when you create, that you drop all your inhibitions and all your preconceptions and you allow yourself to say stupid things and make ugly things. But then in the moment of choice — when you decide what you do, you have to be rigorous and ruthless, without mercy. It doesn’t matter where it comes from — or who it comes from — what matters is why you choose to do it. It’s the basic Darwinian recipe for evolution — nature’s own form-giving process — that life forms evolve through excessive variation and selection. The variation is based on random mutation, the selection is based on performance (in the form of survival or not).

[…] But what made sense was – again – that it doesn’t matter who does or why they did it. What matters is why you choose to pursue it. It doesn’t matter where the form comes from, but if it actually does the job and you can re-conceptualize it, then it doesn’t matter if the form inspired the concept or the concept inspired the form. Who cares? As long as, once you pursue it, you know exactly why!

Bjarke Ingels in conversation with Kristoffer L. Weiss, "Adventures in Conceptualism"

The State of Design

A renewed Copernican turn is needed everywhere, including in the philosophy of design. There it begins with the unsettling implications of our century’s circumstances, technologies, and deadlines. In practice, it shifts the balance from experiences to outcomes, from users to systems, from aesthetics to access, from intuition to abstraction, from expedience to ideals. The direct implications for design are fundamental, but habits are hard to change. From the Vitruvian Man to Facebook profiles, centuries of “human-centered design” (HCD) have brought more usable tools, but in many important domains design is far too psychologizing, individuating, and anthropocentric without being nearly humane enough. When raised to a universal principle, HCD also brought landfills of consumer goods, social media sophistry, and an inability to articulate futures beyond narrow clichés. In the name of amplifying the individual’s fertile desires, we’ve made a desert. Maximizing usability came at the expense of a deeper reason. The Copernican shift in the philosophy of design includes a rotation away from human-centered design and toward a fuller understanding of designing the human and the world. I don’t mean this in some transhumanist sort of way, but rather that the design of physical media is more than composing augmentations of a given subject, agent, and form. In Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley’s concise archaeology of design’s history, the practice is always ultimately about designing the human itself through designing its various exoskeletons, afterimages and anaesthetics.

Benjamin H. Bratton, “The Terraforming”