The National Building Museum (NBM) and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) celebrated the opening of a new exhibition of the firm’s work, entitled HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation, over the weekend. The exhibition displays 60 projects the Danish firm has undertaken since its last exhibition and monograph, Yes Is More, and is accompanied by a catalog designed by Stefan Sagmeister for Taschen.
HOT TO COLD refers to the exhibition’s metaphorical journey from the hottest climate in which BIG has worked (Qatar, average temperature 81° F) to the coldest (Lapland, average temperature 30° F), a journey that follows the circumnavigation of the NBM’s Great Hall. In each of the archways along the second-floor arcade hangs a model suspended from the upper gallery. Bjarke Ingels, founding partner of BIG, said that he’d been inspired by the possibilities offered by the enclosed vastness of the Building Museum’s atrium, which he likened to an indoor urban room. “I came here to give a talk in this space, and I was mesmerized by the magnitude of this space,” Ingels said at the opening. “We got the idea to turn the architecture of the National Building Museum into the architecture of the exhibition. Each arch of the atrium would be like a vitrine … just like in historic cloisters. By suspending the models in the atrium, they would be naturally lit from above; the handrail of the arcade would become the display.”
Visitors to the NBM first encounter a brightly-colored LEGO model of the LEGO House, a museum currently under construction in Billund, Denmark that was designed by BIG for the brand. At the second floor, a large globe in hues representing climatic conditions starts the path around the exhibition, which showcases ongoing and conceptual works. Each of the projects on display is color-coded to correspond to its site. “Architecture is never happening in a laboratory,” Ingels explains. “One of the primary conditions that you can never escape is the climate you are in.”
Integrated handrail displays indicate where along the gradient of hot to cold a project lies based on average daily temperatures at its geographic location; the accompanying 722-page exhibition catalog, covering these 60 works—of which 20 make their debut at this show—features the same coloring along its page edges.
An additional gallery off of the atrium features video installations of five completed projects along with replicas of the furnishings used in each for more comfortable viewing; the video for Superkilen, an infill park in Copenhagen, is actually 48 distinct short films displayed on monitors that are arranged in a large media wall. If viewing the suspended models and video walls isn’t enough visual stimulation, visitors can also experience BIG’s previous installation at the NBM, the BIG Maze, in 3D splendor via Oculus Rift goggles situated at what was the Maze’s center point last summer.
The projects displayed in the exhibition represent the culmination of four and a half years since the firm landed in the U.S. to establish a local presence during the design and construction of West 57th (in New York, average temperature 56° F), and to explore what Ingels refers to as hybrid typologies. Models of West 57th —a one-million-square-foot multifamily project that topped out last week, also known in BIG parlance as the Courtscraper—inhabit a corner of the arcade, which emphasizes the building’s triangular form as it rises from courtyard to tower. In typical BIG fashion, the model is accompanied by a series of diagrams illustrating the seemingly inevitable progression from concept to proposal to built work; West 57th is just one of the projects moving from fiction to fact—another mantra prevalent in both the exhibition and its catalog—as BIG garners a growing number of worldwide commissions, including local work in the form of a master plan for the Smithsonian Institution's south campus in Washington, D.C.
The sheer breadth of the exhibition means that it warrants multiple visits to take it all in. While one could perambulate the 800-foot “odyssey” and call it a day, the amount of information displayed with each project deserves the type of prolonged attention that is best applied sporadically; perhaps the video gallery and its seating installations would make a better intermission than endpoint, especially for architectural novices who might otherwise rush through the latter half of the circuit due to information overload. Yet the best part of the exhibition might be how accessible it is: By installing at the National Building Museum, as opposed to an all-white New York gallery, BIG extends welcome to the general public and removes several layers of mystique that confound laypeople about the profession.
HOT TO COLD runs through Aug. 30, which will allow visitors plenty of time to view the collection as Washington undergoes the seasonal transition from cold to hot.
For more work by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), please visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.
This post has been updated. The exhibition features more than 60 projects, of which 20 premiere at HOT TO COLD.