As he prepared his lecture, a glimpse of his computer revealed the emblazoned logotype of ‘Yes Is More,’ the mantra from his archi-comic monograph and a silent premonition of the evening’s refrain. He traced the etymology of this phrase through Mies, Venturi, Philip Johnson, and Barack Obama, recognizing them while slyly situating himself in their company. This playful, yet absolute confidence in his work swayed the talk imperceptibly from cynicism to sincerity, leaving the audience to question when, if ever, the shift had occurred.
In a suit and tennis shoes, he explained ideas of pragmatic utopianism, architectural alchemy, and hedonistic sustainability. Ideas of contradiction and resolution, they involve the interface of opposites and drive his firm’s stated existence ‘at the fertile overlap of the pragmatic and avant-garde.’ By reconciling the ‘boring boxes of high standard’ with experimental promiscuity and creativity, he spoke of arriving at a sustainability without puritanism, and ultimately an architecture that doesn’t exist as a contradiction to its past. ‘We’re not interested in revolution,’ he said, ‘but evolution’.
With reference to a number of his recent projects, he concretized these ideas with his firm’s characteristically impeccable diagrams, renderings, and animations. He talked about an angled mirror on the ceiling of a town hall, forming a ‘democratic periscope,’ and uniting the politicians with their constituents. He mentioned a library in Kazakhstan that resolved its program into a mobius strip, an apartment building that creates its own mountain views, and a recycling plant whose roof doubles as a ski resort. In such simple, yet grand gestures, his architecture rationally composes the program and responds to its requirements, while simultaneously invoking a spark of something ingenious and playful.
The iconic nature of his designs, to some degree an artifact of his design process, and in some cases a political statement, betray an optimistic ambition in the face of economic and creative pessimism. This optimism was a rare, and welcome, mood for the Georgia Tech audience.
[photos courtesy Patrick Di Rito]
[ architecture, atlanta, big, bjarke ingels, lecture ]