ArchiBooks: BIG Hot To Cold
19th May 2015I adore buying architecture books. I try to buy one per month if the past thirty days haven’t been too economically heavy, and I borrow many more from the library. Currently there are thirteen books sat under my desk in the studio, and twelve more on my bookshelf in my bedroom. To me the whole process of buying a book then reading it is exciting. The initial decision making stage when choosing which to order, then waiting for it to arrive in the post. When I first open the packaging it’s interesting to feel how heavy or thick it is, whether the footprint is large or small, and whether the pages have a glossy feel or smell of freshly opened plastic. When flicking through the pages for the first time some images jump out at me and I stop to have a read, but then stop myself as I like to read from the start. The author’s and illustrator’s style is always different, and of course some I find boring and dry whereas others enthuse and inspire me. There are thousands of architecture books, and I already have thirteen on my to buy and read list which I started only about three months ago.
Hot To Cold has a striking cover. Photo by Barney SheppardMy most recent purchase is BIG’s (Bjarke Ingels Group) latest project catalogue. The works follow an order that starts in hot environments and becomes progressively colder as the books goes on. As well as showing me the average temperatures of some places I’m considering calling home in the future, this order teaches what does and doesn’t work in certain climates.
The book has a comic book style. Photo by Barney Sheppard White lined technical drawings. Photo by Barney SheppardHot To Cold is aesthetically similar to a comic book with up to approximately six large framed images filling each page and small text boxes on top of them. The pictures are the stars of the book, they are bright and engaging eye-candy that would perhaps persuade most people to let BIG design them a building, hence the book is doing a decent job of selling the company. The text provides useful detailed insight for points that can’t be demonstrated with pictures, and there are also white lined technical drawings which pop on brightly coloured backgrounds.
BIG's presentation of their design process is very successful in my opinion. Photo by Barney SheppardHow BIG market their approach to projects appeals to me, and as such I try to emulate their process in my own work. For each brief, they are able summarise and display their process logically and clearly on one page in the form of small diagrams. These diagrams are simple manipulations, such as a pull/push or rotation to maximise daylight or views for example. In my opinion if architecture is done right it will be pure, functional, beautiful and fun. Through addressing function and designing a scheme that works perfectly for the user, beauty will arise through the simplicity and seamless nature of the spaces and forms that emerge. When that point of the design stage is reached, the fun can begin. Since architecture has become somewhat boring and predictable these days, adding interesting and novel elements to buildings makes them stand out. For example, at the Amager Resource Centre, a power plant powered by waste in Copenhagen, BIG’s design uses the roof as a ski slope and puffs steam smoke rings into the air. These design elements aren’t useless, the ski slope disguises the power plant, replacing the standard dreary and ugly connotations of power plants with ideas of joy and playfulness. The steam rings are a unique idea that has caught the attention of the world media, increasing interest in Copenhagen and sustainable energy production.
Of course, some cynics say BIG are a fantastic marketing and graphics brand that only get commissions through their flashy renders, in the same way some believe that Apple only sell billions of iPhones through their aesthetic. Whilst it is true that BIG produce amazing visuals and books, and their ideas are wacky and sometimes idealistic, all of the decisions that they make are considered and useful. They’re striving to change the world for the better through their architecture by adding joy, functional clarity and sustainable solutions. I think that is an ethos we should all get behind, and one that forms the basis of my own architecture.