‘Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution’ by Bjarke Ingels

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‘Yes is More’, the catalogue accompanying BIG’s (BJARKE INGELS GROUP) first solo exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen.

By staging the exhibition, ‘Yes is More‘, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC) zooms in on one of Danish architecture’s most successful and innovative architectural companies.

This exhibition forms part of a pilot project called ‘Close up’, which through exhibitions, debates, seminars and teaching sessions takes a long, hard look at new tendencies, theories and challenges within Danish architecture. Starting out from a vision aiming to free architecture from tired clichés, choosing instead to see modern life as an inspiring challenge, BIG has made a major contribution to the renewal of the Danish architectural tradition.

The catalogue presents the evolution of 30 projects from the Danish practice in a comic book format.

‘The ambition of the catalogue is to capture the experience of the personal visit to the studio, the construction site or the building – and to transmit the energy of a face to face encounter,’ says Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG.

Some more information from BIG:

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

With a play on Mies van der Rohe’s famous quote, ‘Less is More,’ BIG lays out a positive approach urging optimism even in a time of crisis. The exhibition is conceived as a three dimensional comic book about architecture.

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Told in a linear way, frame by frame, bubble by bubble, chapter by chapter the exhibition unfolds through a 130 meter cartoon strip titled ‘Yes is More’. The accompanying catalogue is likewise a manga-inspired archicomic that reveals through candor and humor the evolutionary storyline of 35 projects in BIG City.

Within this cartoon universe, the public is invited to embark on a journey of discovery of BIG’s creative process, following their ideas from the drawing board to the finished building. Models of Danish and international projects form a complimentary part to the exhibition, lit up like a major city at night.

‘I am a cartoonist at heart that discovered that you can also create powerful visuals and tell interesting (funny) stories outside the image frame or the speech bubble. I like individual freedom combined with collective effort. And I love to express myself as well as creating the conditions for others to express themselves.’ – Bjarke Ingels

By staging the exhibition, ‘Yes is More’, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC) zooms in on one of Danish architecture’s most successful and innovative architectural companies, BIG – BJARKE INGELS GROUP.

In the long, curving story board of slide-screens BIG tells the story of its courageous battle to shake the foundations of traditional architecture and a conservative building industry.

Through pop culture, with a distinctly Scandinavian green and human touch, and a lot of charming attitude, BIG hopes to transcend traditional architectural mores and appeal to a broadened public which includes everyone who interacts with buildings.

The exhibition runs from 21 February – 31 May 2009. Open seven days a week 10am – 5pm, Wednesday until 9pm (admission free 5pm – 9pm).

ABOUT THE PUBLICATION

The ‘YES IS MORE’ catalogue illustrates for the first time BIG’s budding architectural oeuvre currently being exhibited at the Danish Architecture Center. As opposed to the classical architectural monograph, the catalogue is a manifesto of pop-culture proportions. The publication details an approach that ensures that all methods, processes, and tools to develop an architectural concept are just as wild, no holds barred and results oriented as the environment they are designed for and which BIG embraces with a boundless YES.

Already in its 2nd edition the catalogue covers 35 projects through 400 pages accompanied by an afterword by Harvard educator and Volume editor Jeffrey Inaba.

The monograph has become a fairly predictable format for architecture books, varying, it seems, only in terms of how much content is presented and what the page looks like. Collecting photographs of finished buildings, renderings of unbuilt or soon-to-be-built projects, conventional architectural drawings, descriptive text, essays by admirers, and sometimes more, the clear goal of monographs is product, not process. Certain exceptions to this unwritten rule exist, most notably OMA/Rem Koolhaas’s influential ‘S,M,L,XL’ and later ‘Content’, but the effort and potential risks associated with undertaking such preclude more in their ilk, meaning the tried-and-true prevails.

Many monographs do attempt different ways of arranging the content and/or expanding it to include process as well as product, but for a full understanding of why a particular design looks the way it does one is left yearning for more. Perhaps architects do not want to reveal too much, or they’ve moved beyond the buildings collected into a monograph. Whatever the reason, this ‘archicomic on architectural evolution’ stands apart from other monographs to provide abundant insight into the working process of Denmark’s Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).

Arising from an exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center, the book calls itself ‘a popular cultural manifesto’ instead of a monograph. It structures the 35 projects more or less like your run-of-the-mill monograph — each project is presented distinctly — yet in comic book format.

Bjarke Ingels is the constant presence, literally, from one project to the next, his visage pops up in unexpected places to describe some tidbit via comic speech balloons. One traditional format (monograph) is traded for another (comic) and the results make each project read like a narrative. The words, images and diagrams combine with the usual photos, drawings, models and renderings to explain each design from inception to occupation, or however far the project was taken.

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One sees consistency in the various projects, but more than a formal consistency. One sees the questioning of status quo responses, not out of ‘being different’ but in an effort to improve upon the shortcomings of traditional typologies. The Mountain Dwelling project in Copenhagen is a good example of BIG’s strategy of using given conditions (site, program) to generate designs beyond expectations. In this case all residential units are south-facing with a large outdoor space, suburbia transplanted to the city yet retaining the latter’s density.

So is the ‘archicomic’ something that will catch on with other architects? Surely there will be others like this, but one must acknowledge that it is the combination of words and images here that makes it work. It’s not just a matter of adopting the comic format and the deal is done; the choice of words and images is important. BIG’s evolutionary diagrams work extremely well with the comic format, in many cases telling enough of one portion of the story on their own. As well, the words floating in the speech bubbles and other boxes are more lighthearted than most writing on architecture, but nevertheless informative and intelligent. If other architects want to learn something from this book, they should be inspired by how BIG found something appropriate to the firm and their output. As Bjarke Ingels explains early in the book, they ‘tried to convey the energy and life of the office and its projects, to make it personal and to tell the stories behind the designs’. They succeeded and the reader is better off for it.

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