Bjarke Ingels inspires the early-morning crowd squeezed into the massive Sauganash Ballroom at Chicago’s Holiday Inn Mart Plaza. We’re here for the keynote that kicks off NeoCon. The youthful Dane is the perfect choice to open the annual trade show for contract furnishings in this pivotal year. With considerable wit, irreverence, and optimism, he talks about ideas that also will energize the crowds ﬂocking to the showrooms at the Merchandise Mart on those three days in June. He shows us the results of his thriving ﬁrm: BIG’s investments in time and resources for research and technical expertise are mixed with a humanist outlook, which he deﬁnes as the architect’s “capacity to capture the soul of the subject.” He reminds us that the most important contributions architects can make to society and the environment are the “power of our ideas” and “practical visions.”
Listening to Ingels, I recall a recent visit to a mature architecture ﬁrm—and the word “malaise” pops into my head. The talk there was about what can’t be done, how clients “don’t get it,” and how the post-recession economy devalues design. Any suggestion of the necessity for research to expand the ﬁrm’s knowledge base meets with reasons why this is impossible to ﬁt into a practice pushed to the limit by fast-track projects. Any thought of fully engaging the new generation with their special tech skills and idealistic drives is considered naïve.