Lessons from the BIG man himself Bjarke Ingels

“We’ve lost so many more competitions than those we’ve won. We want to montage all those failed projects that we spent hours on and call it BIG loss” Bjarke

When we heard that Bjarke Ingels would be coming to give a talk at our school, of course we were thrilled. We could hardly believe it. Students and architects came from all over South Africa to come see him.

I’ve been a BIG fan of Bjarkes’ work since maybe my first year of architecture school. So I knew all his talks by heart, I was excited to meet him but I thought there was nothing he could say that I haven’t already heard from all of his online talks. Boy was I wrong, and pleasantly so! It was like I was hearing about his projects for the first time, new insights I’d never heard before and even the presentation slide was a bit different from the ones I have seen online.

I was so excited and inspired by the talk that I went home and wrote down all the insightful things I could remember…

1. Find your own voice

Don’t try to say things the way you think people want to hear them. It’s better to lose jobs because people don’t get you than to win jobs trying to be like somebody else. Projects in this industry take a long time, imagine spending five years of your life working on a job you hate. Work on refining your own voice, keep working at and one day people will hear you.

2. Share your stuff

We spent the first 5 years of our practice with no jobs. But we kept on working on our stuff and posting it on our site regularly like we were the coolest firm ever. We gave a physical presence to our work through our website even though we had no built projects.

What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?

3. Trust in the process

Today, because of technology we can quickly realise the shit out of projects and give you an image of exactly what it can look like, but because of that, we’ve lost the organic and dynamic part of the design which is the process.

The best urban developments that we study today did not just happen at one time and it was perfect. Most successful spaces happened over time, through decades of change, modifications, and adaptations. So how can you expect to come up with the perfect design off the bat? The process will give you a richer and a more dynamic result.

Don’t build models only at the end of a project to represent the final design, what’s the point? All the new information you will learn during that process of building and modeling will be useless. Instead, Build models throughout the design process and you will find new ways of doing things and gain a different perspective. So trust the process.

How involved are you in the in the jobs with how big the company has gotten?

4. We empower everyone with knowledge

We start by learning as much as we can from experts. Then we empower everyone with the knowledge. Everyone from an executive member to a junior staff, so that everyone working on the project is empowered and fully understands the project. In that way, everyone is empowered to come up with solutions.

I come in from time to time to make sure the people are still on the right path because the people who have to deal with the day to day detailing of a project can sometimes lose sight of the main objective. That’s when I pop in and because I still have a clearer understanding of our mission, I can remind them, “hey remember this, remember why we are doing this?”

I don’t run a democracy, we don’t vote. I don’t run a dictatorship either, it’s not my word goes, I run a Meritocracy.  We pick and use the idea that has the most merit, even if that idea came from an intern or even a random person whose visiting the office. This way we make sure that the work that we produce is always the work with the best merit and the best solution. There is no compromise.