Sunday, February 7, 2010

BIG ideas

I went to Bjarke Ingels's lecture on Friday. The main argument was pretty much the same as his
TED talk - I already wrote about that last October. But it was still nice to see him talk in person. Undeniably, he's a good salesman. I was deeply impressed by his energy and enthusiasm when I first saw him lecture at the GSD in 2006, although in the years that followed, I repeatedly found his projects a bit too naive and superficial. This time, I felt myself excited again - even starting to buy his hyper-optimism and hyper-straight-forwardness. It seemed like he actually knew what he was doing, judging from the following points he was trying to make at the lecture.

Say "Yes!"
Avant-garde seems to be always negative, pictured as this "angry young man" rebelling against the establishment. Most of the time avant-garde is defined as what it's up against rather than what it's for. As a result, the history of architecture appears to be a series of oedipal successions of generations that were always the opposite of their previous ones. Can we be positive about things and be radical at the same time? I think that's what Bjarke is trying to do. Be a "happy young man" and think "life is beautiful." Kazakhstan? Estonia? Azerbaijan? Hell yes! Let's do it!

Humor vs. architecture
BIG videos are always funny. A (Preiser-like) red peep running around the 8-house, for instance. And Kaspar's "My Playground" film featuring Team JiYo is utterly awe-inspiring.

To explain the use of humor in the presentation of architecture, Bjarke said, interesting design is like humor; "it's all about punch lines. They are surprising, but at the same time they make sense." Sometimes you say laughable things during meetings but after a while you realize they may not be that stupid. The key to nurturing interesting ideas is to have a relaxed atmosphere at brainstorming sessions so that everybody is encouraged to throw out "stupid" thoughts. Sadly, this kind of atmosphere is not a common practice these days...

Pragmatic utopia
Architects rarely have financial or political power to realize what they envision. So the work becomes a series of improvised reactions to incidents caused by the powerful. Bjarke described his strategy: identify the sphere of influence, and let the rest be context. At first it sounded like "the art of compromise." But in fact, judging from BIG's line of work, the sphere of influence turned out to be bigger than I thought. If you try hard enough, you may actually have considerable freedom within the framework.

"There is
a big difference between complexity and complication." In computer programming, complexity means to use the most efficient algorithm to process the maximum amount of data. You want a view in the other direction? I'll twist. You need infinite linearity for the stacks? I'll make you a circle. Simple and easy. All the other unnecessary noises will just blur the communication and eventually miss the point. Maybe the naive straight-forwardness is not a bad thing after all... At least it's easier to make projects into icons for the website. Alright, I'm sold.

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