Designing Buildings For Hot Climates, Cold Ones and Everything in Between

A decade’s worth of sustainable projects by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm, BIG, are now on display at the National Building Museum

Greenland National Gallery of Art, Nuuk, Greenland. In progress. "It is a perfect circle, but, as you can see, it follows the topography," says Ingels, "like a melted ring." Image by BIG & Glessner
Shenzhen International Energy Headquarters, Shenzhen, China. Under construction. The facade of this building is made almost like a pleated dress. With this geometry, BIG was able to reduce its air conditioning needs by 30 percent. "In the end, what makes the building look elegant and different is also what makes it perform environmentally," says Ingels. "If buildings are informed by the climate they are in, not only will they reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, [but] they will also become more interesting buildings." Image by BIG
Hualien Resort and Residences, Hualien, Taiwan. In progress. "To make it blend into the beautiful nature, we tried to make it as green as possible," says Ingels. "As a way to justify having green roofs, not just aesthetically, we actually calculated with thermal modeling that because of the evaporative cooling from the landscape, the average temperature on the balconies would be 5 degrees Celsius lower than if we had a hard material roof." Image by BIG
Majlis, Doha, Qatar. Idea. An Arabian princess asked BIG to design a "majlis" for her prince. "A majlis is essentially a man cave," says Ingels. "It is the place where the man of the house can retreat." The lifted corner of the structure provides an entrance to shaded gardens. Image by BIG
Tallinn Town Hall, Tallinn, Estonia. Idea. Ingels calls the Talinn Town Hall a "democratic periscope." The building has a cleverly placed mirror in it. "When the politicians look up, they get an overview of the city that they are making decisions for. But also, when the constituents come and demonstrate, they can actually look at the politicians and see if they are text messaging or sleeping on the job," says Ingels. Image by BIG
Zootopia, Givskud, Denmark. In progress. Image by BIG
West 57th, New York, New York. Under construction. "The Courtscraper has now reached its apex in the West side of Manhattan," says Ingels. The building has a Scandinavian-style communal courtyard. "It has the same proportions as Central Park, only it is 13,000 times smaller," he adds. Image by BIG
The Mountain, Copenhagen, Denmark. Completed 2008. Image by Ulrik Jantzen
Smithsonian Institution Campus Masterplan, Washington, D.C. In progress. "One of the main ideas was to try to get daylight to the underground museums," says Ingels. "We are creating a moat for daylight." The plan also incorporates seismic reinforcement for the Smithsonian Castle. Image by BIG
Honeycomb Albany Marina Residences, Nassau, Bahamas. Under construction. For this resort being developed by Tiger Woods, BIG designed swimming pools on each of the balconies. Image by BIG
Amager Resource Center, Copenhagen, Denmark. Under construction. This power plant, which turns household waste into electricity, is the cleanest in the world. "Normally, you want to be as far away from the power plant as possible because of the toxins, but in this case you literally have fresh mountain air on the roof of the building. Since we have snow in Denmark, but we don't have hills, we made the roof into a big ski slope," Ingels explains. The chimney puffs a giant steam ring each time a ton of carbon dioxide is emitted. Image by BIG & MIR
The LEGO Brand House, Billund, Denmark. Under construction. The structure is conceived as a "cloud of interconnected galleries," Ingels explains, and the roof is a playscape with multiple public playgrounds for the children of Billund. "It is going to be made out of ceramic tiles," says the architect. "We followed the proportions of LEGO. So, there is nothing in this building that you couldn't build with your LEGO set." Image by BIG
The Grove at Grand Bay, Miami, Florida. Under construction. Image by BIG
Danish Pavilion at EXPO 2010, Shanghai, China. Completed 2010. Image by Iwan Baan
Danish Pavilion at EXPO 2010, Shanghai, China. Completed 2010. Image by Iwan Baan
Copenhagen Harbor Bath, Copenhagen, Denmark. Completed 2003. Image by Julien De Smedt
The Dry Line (Manhattan Resilience Design), New York, New York. In progress. "We have worked with the local communities along the waterfront of Manhattan to try to find ways of organizing flood protection measures in ways that would actually be increasing the enjoyment and the public access to the waterfront," says Ingels. Image by BIG
Phoenix Observation Tower (BIG Pin), Phoenix, Arizona. In progress. Image by BIG
8 House, Copenhagen, Denmark. Completed 2010. Image by Iwan Baan

There is a reason the hillsides of Santorini and other Greek islands are speckled with Cubist whitewashed homes. The white color reflects heat, and the flat roofs make for cool, breezy retreats in the evening, Bjarke Ingels explains to the gathered press. The Danish architect is sharply dressed in a fitted suit, his hair a meticulous mess. In the Arctic, the igloo is the dominant form of architecture, he adds, because its spherical shape, with relatively little surface area in respect to volume, minimizes heat loss. And in some villages in Yemen, buildings have peculiar chimneys that collect wind to create natural ventilation.

"Across the planet, people have found ways to work with the locally available material and techniques to respond to the local landscape and climate in ways that optimize human living conditions," he says.

Yet, nearly a century ago, these distinct architectural styles started to give way. Architects became less concerned about daylight, the thicknesses of walls and a building's orientation when they could rely on advances in technology, such as electricity, air conditioning and mechanical ventilation. "In the end, architecture was just a big boring box," says Ingels, "a container of space with all the quality being pumped or tube-fed from a room, like a gas guzzling basement, full of machinery."

Ingels founded BIG Bjarke Ingels Group in 2005, and the design firm is working to reverse this trend. "The fact that we can actually model, calculate and simulate the environmental performance of a building allows us to bring a lot of the qualities that are now delivered mechanically back into the permanent attribute of the design," says the architect. The pleated façade of an energy headquarters that BIG is constructing in Shenzhen, China, for example, cuts air conditioning needs by 30 percent. The group's Hualien Resort and Residences look like manmade mountains with strips of green roof that keep the balconies 5 degrees Celsius cooler than they would be with conventional roofs. "We call it 'engineering without engines,'" he says.

Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG Bjarke Ingels Group, gives a tour of the exhibition. Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Kevin Allen Photography
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Kevin Allen Photography
Photo by Kevin Allen Photography
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone
Photo by Matt Carbone

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is hosting BIG's first retrospective since the firm established an office in New York City (expanding from Copenhagen) nearly five years ago. For the exhibition, "Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation," the architectural models of 60 of the firm's projects—some proposed, others under construction or completed—are hanging from arches along the museum's second floor balcony. From the ground floor, visitors can see that the bases of the models are color-coded from red to blue, like a heat map, starting with those buildings in the arid deserts of the Middle East and moving to the more temperate climates of New York and Copenhagen and finally to the Arctic regions.

"As you journey across the globe in this 800 foot walk, you'll see that in the extreme climates when it is very warm or very cold, the climate becomes the one condition that overshadows everything else. The architecture becomes all about responding to the climate. But when we reach the more temperate climates or the milder climates, other factors like culture, heritage, politics and economy take over and become the main driving forces," Ingels explains on a tour. "The whole exhibition is really trying to highlight the environmental and the social as the two crucial dimensions of architecture."

BIG, HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation

BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group presents HOT TO COLD, an odyssey of architectural adaptation. The book coincides with the HOT TO COLD show at the National Building Museum in Washington DC and presents 60 case studies in harsh climate conditions in order to examine where and how we live on our planet.

In his work, ranging from museums to housing developments to power plants, Ingels strives for what he calls “hedonistic sustainability,” meaning that his buildings are environmentally sound while still being enjoyable. It is the playful details of his projects, after all, that the architect points out in his walk-through of the exhibition. The condos he designed for a complex in the Bahamas that Tiger Woods is developing have pools cleverly sunk into their balconies and contained by aquarium glass. "If you are skinny dipping at night, you need to have a fitness regime," Ingels jokes. The Lego Brand House in Billund, Denmark, has several terraces with public playgrounds; the building is designed in a way that every element could feasibly be constructed with Lego pieces. And, the angled roof of the Amager Resource Center, a power plant in Copenhagen, doubles as a manmade ski slope. "It is twice the length of a typical Olympic halfpipe," he says. "You might have noticed that Denmark won zero medals in Sochi. We hope to redeem this."

"BIG has a very distinctive voice," says National Building Museum curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino, in a press release, "and the experience our visitors will have will be very direct, as if the architect is talking, telling stories directly to them."

The walls of BIG's architectural models do talk, in a way. After circling the exhibition, one clear story takes shape. That is, buildings that are sustainable and work within their natural landscapes make the most intriguing ones.

"Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation" is on display at the National Building Museum through August 30, 2015.

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