Unpacking my library: Bjarke Ingels

Unsurprisingly, the books that inspire founder of BIG are as unorthodox as his own career, spanning the gap between science fiction, comics and Nietzsche.

Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect who works in Copenhagen and New York and is on the way to becoming the next icon of contemporary architecture, illustrates the stages in his life as an avid reader. He has not chosen seven books, but seven small batches of titles, almost all headed by a standard-bearer. His eclectic literary interests sweeps from science fiction to contemporary philosophy, in a constant search for metaphors, ideas and concepts that may boost his progress. He prefers evolution to revolution, and the skillful use of set genres to the tabula rasa of tragic and radical formal changes. His experience as a creator of spaces and volumes is precisely reflected in this approach: cinema and the visual imaginary of comic strips play a key role in a parade of names and titles which, like his architecture, might be defined as adaptable and muscular. —GR

1. Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
2. William Gibson, Neuromancer
3. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History
4. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality
5. David Lynch, Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town
6. Charlie Kaufmann, Adaptation. The Shooting Script
7. Charles Darwin, From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin
8. Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum
9. Douglas Coupland, Generation X

I have been reading comics since I was eight or nine years old, and I have always been a fan of the great European comics draughtsmen of the '70s and '80s: Paolo Serpieri, Tanino Liberatore, and of course Manara. But also Moebius, and lots of others. I have always devoured books of this kind. But the epochal change for me was this masterpiece by Frank Miller, which, strangely, has never been translated into a movie, though it clearly inspired Christopher Nolan's second Batman. Graphically, it has the crudeness of a Hugo Pratt, with stark contrasts in black and white, and a certain overall roughness. In terms of narrative structure, on the other hand, it has something in common with The Watchmen: a non-linear narration, in which diverse threads are pursued simultaneously; and highly stratified, in which different points of view and different realities are interpolated. A multitude of information is offered to the reader, and the story is very rich and profound. I believe Miller is one of the most sophisticated authors, one who continually experiments with new ways of mixing images and words.
Left: Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, <i>Batman®: The Dark Knight® Returns,</i> DC Comics, New York 1997. Right: William Gibson, <i>Neuromancer,</i> HarperCollins Publishers, London 1995.
Left: Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, Batman®: The Dark Knight® Returns, DC Comics, New York 1997. Right: William Gibson, Neuromancer, HarperCollins Publishers, London 1995.
I was into my first year at high school, in 1990, when I came across William Gibson. I had already owned a computer, a Commodore 64, for a few years. The most exciting thing for me was that it really was a universe familiar to me, very ordinary and full of all the things that I was doing in my everyday life, and at the same time completely abstract, launched into the future. It was an authentic projection of the present into the future. "If things proceed in this way, they will go as in the book". Rereading it today, in 2011, I find that it has proved truly prophetic. And to think that when he wrote it there was no Internet, and that he didn't even write it on a computer, but on a typewriter. I already owned a Commodore 64 when he wrote—on a mechanical machine—the book that was to prefigure today's digital life. And what sends me completely out of my mind in the book, even now, is the accent placed on the almost divine quality of artificial intelligence, the idea that information can be everywhere and encompass everything. The surprising side is that our everyday reality has become exactly like that, information capable of arriving everywhere and into everything.

It's like saying Gibson invented Matrix and invented virtual reality. Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks were also very important to me, and to this day I often read science fiction; right now I'm reading one centred on environmental concerns, in which human beings colonise another planet—the problems of environmental conservation and ecology ring completely differently when you're talking about an imaginary planet. The basis of every work of science fiction is a structure in which the plot is accelerated by a political, social or technological idea, and the whole story becomes a fictional exploration of that idea: the simple transformation of one parameter changes everything else. To my mind the whole process of invention and architectural fulfillment is connected with these kinds of accelerated hypotheses.
Manuel De Landa, <i>A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History,</i> Zone Books, New York 1997.
Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Zone Books, New York 1997.
I went to work at OMA in 1998, after university, just when the Bordeaux villa was almost finished, and there was an exhibition, Living Reading, in which Bruce Mau was deeply involved. I instantly loved his books, and Mau had just designed the cover of De Landa's new publication. It's the story of a thousand years of ideas, but it too uses geological metaphors: stratification, sedimentation, segmentation and crystallisation. It illustrates the development of human history through the use of minerals and stones and the way they are used. It is an extraordinary reading experience that touches almost all the aspects of social coexistence: how language creates space, for example, or how the "liquid" of language produces a crystallised space—hence yet another metaphor. I was literally uplifted by this point of view, which mixed the idealistic and the material in a complex and very exciting way.

Nietzsche has become my favourite philosopher, and this title is an almost obvious classic. I never studied Nietzsche at university. What makes On the Genealogy of Morality my favourite book of his is this idea that sometimes, in order to act better, you need to focus on the path that has brought you that far: what remains a habit and what changes. It is a way of reading and learning from accumulated experience. He sees the planet as a workshop of enormous complexity and scale, and this has profoundly influenced me. Nietzsche is no more of a nihilist than Marx was a capitalist: he identified nihilism as Marx identified capitalism. Nietzsche has passed on to me the excitement of the freedom to create new values, which is entirely different to not possessing values. The point is to create values as an active philosopher. Architects use philosophy to seek images, topoi. Take Deleuze and Guattari: many architects adore the rhizome because constructing rhizomatic buildings requires very little effort or imagination.
As his generation’s anti-dogmatic thinker and charismatic communicator par excellence, Bjarke Ingels, the boyish founder of BIG, proved that even in architecture age is immaterial to success.
Gilles Deleuze,
Félix Guattari, <i>A Thousand Plateaus.
Capitalism and Schizophrenia.</i>
Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
I am very fond of cinema. Making a film is the task most similar to that of erecting a building that exists today. Both are based on long and costly preventive research, and entail an equally complex execution, which brings diverse disciplines into play, and you never know if you really will succeed in completing the work, bringing it into the world. Furthermore, both a movie director and an architect must construct models of larger objects, in order to persuade investors of the viability of their projects. One of my favourite directors is David Lynch. In the early '90s I saw Twin Peaks, which simply knocked me sideways—and not only because Sherylin Fenn was the world's most beautiful actress! Two years earlier I had seen Wild at Heart on television, and later I saw all the other films again. What I love most about Lynch is his capacity to insert absolutely heterodox elements into set genres, such as the thriller, the mystery, the comedy, and even the TV serial. I am a firm believer, in architecture too, in the need for genres.

Altering genres, while abiding by their fundamental canons, is exactly what this brilliant scriptwriter and director has done, both in his directed and in his scripted full-length films. In Adaptation, when all's said and done, it is as if he really wanted only to make a film about flowers, even though the outcome for the spectator is much more complex and stratified. Respect for set forms is a value in design too. I am convinced that it is a grave error, for those in my profession, to think they can afford to toss amorphous objects into the world.
Matt Ridley, <i>The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.</i>
Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.
What I have learnt from reading Darwin is closely linked to the subject of forms: mutations that are too radical are often the beginning of the end, the cause of systems beginning to die. Revolutions are dramatic, and even if I am fully aware that sudden and tragic changes can in time relate to evolution, I am broadly speaking in favour of the evolution/revolution dichotomy. But, this said, I should add that Darwin is an extremely painstaking writer, besides being an excellent scientist. His books are unusually funny and riveting, and in that sense they share something with the closing pair of titles that I have chosen for our unpacking.

These are two wonderful, completely different books. Eco's novel is structured in a very interesting and subtle way; full of references that are not taken in immediately but only after a while, and naturally it has to do with conspiracies, secret societies and the obsession men have with knowledge. It is as if the need to know something were more urgent than the need to find out whether the known thing is true. And this makes the book a disquieting apologue about human nature. When I read Generation X I was 22, my literary myth was William Gibson, and I was very struck and influenced by my discovery that Gibson at the time was living in Vancouver, in the same city as Coupland. The book is a big eye focused on daily life, which manages to bring the reader's notice to tiny and otherwise invisible details. At that time, at university, I was reading only scholars and theorists of architecture, who loathed the present. That's why I got so enthusiastic about Coupland: he seemed to me so enchanted by the present.
Jared Diamond, <i>Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.</i>
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

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