The building known as VIA 57 West is nearing completion – a remarkable structure the likes of which New York City has never seen. Designed for the Durst Organization, it is the first project by the Danish architectural firm BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group in North America.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the New York office of BIG, and one thing is certain:
BIG is definitely BIG, and getting BIGGER!
I first heard of Bjarke Ingels in 2011 when I attended the Design Leadership Summit in Copenhagen where he was one of the featured speakers. Seeming to come out of nowhere, this unassuming 36 years old architect presented this project to a standing ovation from our group. It was a thrilling and utterly optimistic presentation.
At the time I remember thinking that once completed, VIA 57 West would forever change the landscape and skyline in New York City, significantly upping the ante for developers in creating exciting buildings for the 21st century.
Here is a brief of the building’s critique from Architect Magazine;
“Rising from a simple rectangular base, each of the 1.003-million-square-foot building’s four elevations appears entirely different from the next, the effect of carefully contrived cutaways that bring light and views (the Hudson River to the west, the skyline to south and east) to all of the 700 apartments within. This visual dynamism is complemented by a programmatic complexity unusual in a residential high-rise: Public-facing street-level storefronts, art displays, and an improved pedestrian streetscape bring a little action to what has long been a very dull enclave of West Midtown. A grand staircase connects these to a verdant central courtyard on the third floor that echoes the proportions of nearby Central Park, with some apartments opening directly onto the courtyard.”
The Architecture League‘s ‘First Friday‘ series offers a rare opportunity to visit leading architecture firms ‘after work on a Friday’. Many of these events are well attended, however the 160 slots for the visit to BIG were ‘sold out’ well in advance, and they cut off the waiting list for the event at 350 people. There is a LOT of interest in the work of this young exploding firm.
Many say that an architect does not hit his or her stride until they are in their mid 50’s. Not true in the case of Bjarke Ingels, who founded BIG in 2006, and which now has 12 partners and over 300 employees in two office, Copenhagen and New York City.
The host for this most exciting of First Fridays was BIG Partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann. Kai is of German descent but was raised in the deep American South, his accent at odds with his Germanic roots. If I met him outside this venue I might think he was a football coach, but he was most definitely in his element at BIG. He told me that he attributes his polite and affable demeanor to his southern upbringing.
Kai brings his expertise to proposals around the globe, including work in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Kai-Uwe heads up BIG’s business development which currently has the office working in over 20 different countries as well as overseeing BIG’s Communications.
In 2009, The Architectural Review said that Ingels and BIG “has abandoned 20th-century Danish modernism to explore the more fertile world of bigness and baroque eccentricity. Judging by the practice’s growing body of completed buildings, BIG’s ideas sit somewhere between Rem Koolhaas and Norwegian firm Snohetta. Like OMA, ugliness is turned into beauty by twists and folds and, like Snohetta, BIG draws on the Nordic sense of landscape, democracy and metaphor… BIG’s world is also an optimistic vision of the future where art, architecture, urbanism and nature magically find a new kind of balance. Yet while the rhetoric is loud, the underlying messages are serious ones about global warming, community life, post-petroleum-age architecture and the youth of the city.”
The gallery wall of framed awards, citations, and accolades for the firm’s work
View looking Northeast from the BIG studio at the Freedom Tower
Two World Trade Center was awarded to BIG last June and announced in the New York Times. The project as designed is 1,340 feet tall, with an innovative approach to high-rise interior and exterior spaces (the project is currently on hold pending a new primary tenant.) The current view from the BIG studio looking Northeast is a good place to view the location of the building to complete the World Financial Center.
As I mentioned earlier, BIG is BIG and getting bigger. With VIA 57 West the firm has altered the conversation on what buildings in NYC can and might look like, contributing to an altered landscape and waterscape (see the The Dryline). I find the BIG website thrilling and recommend that you too take a look to see what other remarkably innovative projects it is working on across the globe.
Me and Anne Rieselbach at BIG
Many thanks to the Architecture League’s Director of Programming Anne Rieselbach for an outstanding experience at BIG!
By the way, we were schoolmates from the 5th-12th grades in a suburb of Milwaukee – the world and life itself can be curious and wonderful!