Our cities and buildings are not givens, they are the results of the evolution and adaptation of architecture. Through processes of adjusting, evolving, and adapting architecture to address site-specific requirements, the quality of human life improves. Most buildings are conventional and reflect their function through regular forms and materials of their typologies. However, some architects such as Bjarke Ingels, architect and founder of BIG, and Morphosis’ principal architect, Thom Mayne, defy these traditional conventions. Both firms are known for creating innovative structures that question architecture’s traditional approaches. BIG’s 8 House and Morphosis’ Graduate House at University of Toronto balance between functional and playful aspects of architecture by combining sociological concepts with practical solutions for programmatic requirements. 8 House in Ørestad is a “Big House” that blurs the boundary between city planning and building by mixing offices with residential units to create a place where suburban life meets urban energy. Graduate House’s structural expression was unique for a housing project in Toronto; however, its scale and dark façade make it seem encroaching in its human-scaled context. While both architects, Ingels and Mayne, design programmatically and aesthetically innovative structures, they approach their design processes differently. 8 House is based on BIG’s philosophies of pragmatic utopianism, architectural alchemy, and hedonistic sustainability that are discussed in Bjarke’s book, Yes is More: An Archicomic on architectural Evolution. Through the book, Bjarke aims to explain the thoughts and motives behind BIG’s designs through simplified diagrams illustrated in a comic book format. By taking traditional typology of courtyards and developing it through twisting, addition and subtraction of masses, BIG succeeds in creating a city within a building.
8 House’s design was influenced by various factors, such as BIG’s design philosophies, as well as their previous projects and the critical response to their work. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), an architectural firm based in Copenhagen, New York, and London, was established by Bjarke Ingles in 2005. BIG’s architecture is driven by the concept of pragmatic utopia, which is staying clear of the idea that structures can either be rational and boring or creative and inefficient. Thus, by merging pragmatic and utopia, BIG aims to create architecture that enhances human life by being practical, innovative, and sustainable. In a short period of time, Bjarke became one of the world’s most famous architects with projects in over 30 countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. When Ingels was amongst Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2016, Rem Koolhaas said that Bjarke is not “the reincarnation of this or that architect from the past… On the contrary, he is the embodiment of a fully fledged new typology, which responds perfectly to the current zeitgeist” . Ingels has won numerous international competitions such as Shenzhen Energy mansion, World’s Village Competition’s Sports, and Tallinn Town Hall. Moreover, he won many awards, including AIA National Award/Best Housing for 8 House. BIG works on different types of projects, including mixed-use, residential, commercial, and pavilions. 8 House is its third housing project preceded by VM Houses, completed in 2005, and Mountain Dwellings, completed in 2008, also in Ørestad. After the completion of VM Houses and Mountain Dwellings, BIG was criticized for using images to solve design issues. In Yes is More: An Archicomic on architectural Evolution, Bjarke states that the two entrances of VM Houses made of concrete and aluminum needed to be more colorful; thus, “cheap, ordinary yellow bathroom tiles” illustrating mosaic portraits of the two clients was BIG’s solution to cover the walls. Mountain Dwellings was also criticized for solving a problem with visual arts. BIG used perforated metal façade to support the natural ventilation of the parking structure below the dwelling units; however, the pattern was restricted by the manufacturer’s equipment’s standards. As a result, BIG chose to employ a picture of the Himalayas as the perforated pattern for the most dominant façades during the last stages of construction.
Situated in Ørestad, alongside a canal and a large meadow, 8 House aims to create a city within the isolated site where the serenity of suburban life merges with the dynamism of an urban city. The 62″,000 square meters mixed-use building’s program includes 540 offices, retail, and housing units of different typologies: townhouses, penthouses, and apartments. To accommodate diverse lifestyles, “With 475 units in varying sizes and layouts, the building meets the needs of people in all of life’s stages: young and old; families and individuals; growing and shrinking families”. Rather than dividing the building’s different programs into traditional blocks, BIG stacks different activities on top of each other to support the functional requirements of each program. The commercial programs are placed at the base of the building to interact with people on the street level, while the housing units are placed above the public spaces to benefit from the sunlight and views. To achieve social interaction within the site, a continuous pathway wrapping around the building connects the streets to all the floors to enable social life to reach the privatized dwellings on the upper floors. The bow-shaped building enhances connection with the surrounding site by creating a 9 meters-wide public path beneath the knot where the building intersects itself to connect the channel in the East and large meadow spaces in the West. The desire to create a community is evident in 8 House’s design and program. BIG created townhouses with their own private gardens to get “the social interaction that happens when people have a little piece of their private life happening in the semi-open, like the porch in an American suburban setting”. Thus, by raising the housing and social typologies found in blocks of traditional housing up to the upper floors, BIG succeeded in creating an environment that encourages social interaction between neighbors. However, to avoid forcing the concept of socialization on the residents, people in townhouses can either face the courtyard side for social interaction or spend time at the side facing the channel when they want more private time. To maximize natural lighting within the site, BIG lifts up the Northeast corner to capture sunlight from the Southeast corner which is pulled down to the ground to allow sunlight to reach the Northeast corner. Moreover, the balconies step back, instead of being stacked on each other so that all residents can enjoy the same view and same amount of sunlight. 8 House won 2012 Scandinavian Green Roof Awards for its two sloping green roofs that focus on reducing the urban heat island effect and connecting the building in the Southeast corner with the original natural site of green farmlands. The building’s courtyards, green roofs, and townhouses’ small gardens reduce urban heat island effect and maximize natural lighting and ventilation for all units. Furthermore, there is a rainwater harvesting system on site that collects rainwater and resuses it. However, due to budgetary restrictions, BIG’s partner, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, says “Our design called for the entire roof area, but the flat areas were cut due to the financial crisis” . The limited budget causes 8 House to be a project of unrefined details and materials. The aluminum wall cladding is underdeveloped; moreover, there are gaps between the rainscreen panels and inconvenient joints connection that seem accidental rather than carefully designed openings that reveal the interior. Another issue arose from Denmark’s economic crisis during the time of 8 House’s construction which led to the delay of the construction of the surrounding site. Due to the affected market conditions that are different from the market conditions which were booming during the time the project was perceived, “a little over half of the apartments have sold since the building’s completion in December” according to an article written in August 2011. Since the project was designed for a context of high urban density, the absence of social activity within the site might compromise the project’s main intent of creating a community.
8 house’s design is inspired by “architectural alchemy”, “pragmatic utopia”, “hedonistic sustainability”, and Darwin; some of BIG’s design philosophies illustrated in BIG’s Yes is More: An Archicomic on architectural Evolution. BIG uses cartoon format to explain through simple diagrams the design processes and architectural intents of his projects in a way that would capture movement, development, and evolution of designs. The book discusses the importance of the concept of pragmatic utopianism for their design process, such that architecture field used to be divided into either “an avant-garde of wild ideas, often so detached from reality that they fail to become something other than eccentric curiosities. On the other side there are well-organized corporate consultants that build predictable and boring boxes”. Bjarke chooses to combine both ideas to create a “pragmatic utopian architecture” where innovative ideas referred to as utopian are merged with practical solutions of pragmatic thinking. To balance between the practical and the ideal in 8 House, where stereotypical architecture is challenged to encourage social interaction, BIG employs what Bjarke refers to as “programmatic alchemy”. The building mixes different programs that have various parameters; instead of placing different programs in different buildings like traditional architecture, each program is placed where it would benefit most from the site. Thus, commercial activities are where the customers are, offices face the North to get natural lighting without glare, and dwellings face the views and sunlight. As a result, through integration of different programs in relation to site-specific conditions, BIG manages to break the uniformity of conventional architecture. Influenced by Darwin’s description of creation-species most adaptable to change survives-, BIG’s design ideas try to respond to the demands of site and society, “surviving ideas evolve through mutation and crossbreeding into an entirely new species of architecture”. Evident in the diagrams BIG used in the book to explain the design process of 8 House, evolution by natural selection guided the design development of the project. 8 House’s design was developed by adaptations to the environment, site, and functional needs of the users. For instance, the book shows that 8 House used to be a rectangular plaza, but to respond to the requirements of creating communal spaces for the users and connecting opposite ends of the site with each other, BIG created a knot where the project intersects itself to house all communal activities of the project and create a wide path to connect the meadows with the lakes. Another example is the way the architects changed the depths of various floors instead of extruding the bow shape for 10 floors, to create green spaces, and maximize natural lighting. As well as to respond to social needs of the project by using the difference in depths to create a pathway that connects the street with the privatized parts of the project. “Hedonistic sustainability” which is using sustainability to increase the quality of life, is another concept that underlies BIG’s projects including 8 House, proving that sustainability is not a problem, but can improve a design. The project’s sloping green roofs, courtyards, trees, and small private gardens decrease the urban heat island effect and enables natural ventilation and sunlight to reach most units which saves energy. As well as, the site is equipped with rain harvesting systems which enables the building to repurpose the water to satisfy its needs.
BIG’s 8 House and Morphosis’ Graduate House at University of Toronto are two examples of unconventional architecture that aim to challenge the boundaries of traditional architecture. Both buildings demonstrate elements of pragmatic utopia. Similar to BIG’s design approach for 8 House where the idea of creating a functional box was rejected, and the result was creating an innovative design that meets all the program’s functional requirements, Graduate House introduces a new take on Toronto’s housing typology. Like 8 House, it has a perimeter block design; however, it has a skip-stop plan to be able to provide the number of dorms required. To combine function and creativity, it “combines these planning concepts with materials, symbolic expression, and formal considerations, in a strong, compelling statement”. Through subtraction of mass to provide natural lighting for interior spaces, as well as covering the building with perforated corrugated steel screen and glass window walls, and creating a cantilevered pathway, the building succeeds in creating a balance between function and innovative form. While 8 House blurs the boundary between private and public through its public courtyards, commercial program, and continuous pathway that connects the building with the street, Graduate House is more private. Its program consists only of private residential dorms for students without commercial programs, which secludes the students from the public; moreover, the courtyard is smaller, more mundane and is only used by the students. Another difference is that unlike 8 House’s walkway/ bicycle path’s success in creating a community with the building, Graduate House’s protruding bridge fails to do that. The purpose of the “trajectory of this elevated, human-scaled cornice breaks through boundary of the public and private” to remove the boundary between city and institution; however, it fails in achieving this because it was not well-received by the public. The cornice which illustrates the university’s name etched on glass with a big suspended O was criticized because it crossed the property line and cantilevered over Harbord street, creating a tension within the street scale. A part of the success of 8 House in creating an innovative design that meets all functional requirements, making it a well-received project locally and internationally is its surrounding context. 8 House was one of the first few buildings aiming to push urban development into the outskirt neighborhood of open meadows; thus, the design did not have a given context to respect or built environment to fit in: “in a brand new city, erected in a bare field. Where nothing exists, everything is possible” says Bjarke. On the other hand, Graduate House is situated in a heavily dense urban area where it had to be set back to align with other buildings and had to decrease building height from South to North to respect the neighborhood. therefore, the building’s clad in black concrete and dark corrugated steel, as well as its small short horizontal windows is considered dark and huge to fit the human-scale street.
In conclusion, BIG’s 8 House and Morphosis’ Graduate House are creative and ambitious designs that resist traditional conventions. However, due to the difference in projects’ scales, site context, and attitudes towards design process, 8 House succeeded more than Graduate House. 8 House incorporates most of BIG’s design concepts explained in his book, Yes is More: An Archicomic on architectural Evolution, by being a sustainable project that balances between functional and innovative aspects of architecture. Thus, 8 House creates a city within the site where architecture, urbanism, and nature balance. Graduate House’s pragmatism is expressed by its functional program and the playfulness of its form to maximize natural lighting and ventilation; its idealism through its materiality and aesthetic considerations. Yet, the building was not well-received due to its dark concrete and perforated aluminum screen as well as its cantilevered bridge that passes the site boundaries, making it seem like it is intruding the site.