Bjarke Ingels Group is a superstar architecture company with more than 21 projects on its slate around the world.
But for Ingels, it’s not enough. In the Masterplanet project, BIG seeks to redesign the earth itself–slicing greenhouse emissions, protecting resources and adapting to climate change. Ingels hopes that world leaders will adopt and adapt Masterplanet.
Some doubt and question his plans. But he says that his massive plan is indeed manageable and doable.
And needed, considering the fact that the building and operation of buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018, says a U.N. report. Leading architects in the U.S. and the U.K. have signed a pledge declaring the existence of a climate emergency. Activist groups such as the European Architects Climate Action Network, launched in 2019, are encouraging architecture schools to make sustainability and resilience the focus of their courses. In September, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made the declaration of a “new European Bauhaus”—an idea harkening back to the 1920s design school—where architects and others will cultivate design solutions for climate issues—achieving a design style in the process.
Ingels is known for big, elaborate projects. His CopenHill is a 279-ft.-tall power plant in the Danish capital, where trash is burned to process low-carbon energy. The building opened to the public in October 2019 to much applause.
CopenHill personified Ingels’ idea of “hedonistic sustainability,” specified in a 2011 TED talk, which ascertains that lessoning environmental impact should enhance our quality of life, and that it’s the role of the designer to make this work. BIG has won many sustainable projects, including the Dryline, a park cum flood defense; a utopia for clean transport technology in Japan’s Mount Fuji, planned in partnership with Toyota. Building begins in 2021. And the state government in Penang, Malaysia, declared BIG as the winner of a competition to design a master plan in the transformation of Penang Island’s south shore into a group of resilient artificial islands.
Ingels believes that ecoconscious building must go far beyond solar panels on a single home to a whole city block or a neighborhood, embodied in acts like capturing rainwater across a large area; designing to balance out differences in energy use between residential buildings, which expend energy on heating, and commercial buildings, which expend energy on cooling mid-day.
Masterplanet divides the globe’s environmental issues into 10 sections. Five concern greenhouse-gas-emitting sectors—transport, energy, food, industry and waste management—and five concern other things people to live sustainably on earth—biodiversity, water, pollution, health, and architecture and urbanism. The plan will start with the formulation of traditional master-plan documents that include budgets, area tables, system layouts and phasing strategies. It will encompass ongoing projects, such as a plastic-recycling plant in the U.S., and the creation of floating cities to house communities influenced by elevating sea levels, or unifying global electrical grids to resolve the issues of “intermittency”—unreliable energy production by renewable sources, a barrier to their broader adoption. BIG is talking to industry experts in energy, waste management, transport and other fields, before a first draft is presented in 2021.
By linking up projects in a single overarching strategy, BIG asserts, it will serve as proof that sustainability is achievable with existing technologies. Masterplanet will treat 10 billion people to the highest attainable living standards. Ingels says he wishes to motivate businesses and governments to shift the manner in which the public regards climate action, making all efforts to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions or sequester carbon because of the complexity.
Ingels says architects—whose whole role is devising designs and putting their plans into action—have something special, and essential, to bring to this table.