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Why does everybody hate Bjarke Ingels? If 10 years ago a student of mine wrote a term paper titled “How Bjarke Ingels Will Save the World [of Architecture],” these days I would be hard-pressed to find anybody who has anything nice to say about him or his work. The latest dust-up involves a photograph of the architect with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. Never mind that Bolsonaro, as despicable as his policies and statements may be (and as fascist his tendencies), is the elected head of a democracy, and that Ingels was in Brazil not to work with him, but with local officials of a different party and persuasion on an eco-resort. The resulting photograph has made Ingels even more of pariah among the chattering class than he was before. Other architects can apparently get away with working for dictators and truly repressive regimes from Saudi Arabia to China to Russia to Kazakhstan. As for Ingels, he has now been exposed as the power-hungry lackey to evil some suspected he always was.

Not that this should bother the Danish architect that much, given the success of his office, but I still think it is strange. On the face of it, Ingels’ firm has produced many good and a few extraordinary buildings since its founding in 2005. Moreover, the architect forcefully advocates the importance of incorporating true and integrated sustainability, accessible public space, and forms that are open enough to interpretation and fluid enough in form to delight all of us, and he has done so since well before many other architects did.

I am concerned that Ingels continues to argue for the construction of large new buildings as the solution to social and environmental problems, but then again, so has just about the entire profession. And it’s also concerning that because his firm has become so large and has so many ongoing projects, the quality of the work seems to vary more by commission. He also seems to be repeating himself: How many twisting and torquing apartment buildings do we really need?

None of that fully explains why his reputation has undergone a twist more radical than even his Twist Museum in Jevnaker, Norway. Certainly a large part of the problem is his personality. Ingels has always styled himself as the hipster Howard Roark, a genius designer who is smarter, cooler, and better than everyone else in the room. Quite often he can be, but his success in landing large commissions with this schtick seems to have led him to develop a blind eye towards the need for a different sort of pose within the world of critical evaluation. There, a little bit of humble pie, an aw-shucks attitude, a pose as a troubled and pensive thinker, or a display of restless experimentation and shape-shifting goes much further.

The Twist Museum in Norway

The preferred model these days is that of the collaborator and guest artist, as in the hip-hop world, or the diva who runs away from adulation. Perhaps Ingels should spend some time with Keanu Reaves. My students are drawn not to just to younger and edgier designers who do not work for developers or governments—as students almost always are—but also to designers who work in teams and who sometimes do not make buildings at all.

Ingels, in other words, has a PR problem. Rem Koolhaas , Hon. FAIA, suffered from a similar one when he first became successful, but he has now largely overcome it by promoting other designers at his firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture—a longstanding effort I have always admired. I am sure that there are other things you can do to improve your image, whether by working on social projects or simply acting more humbly in public, and perhaps Ingels will hire a consultant to help him with that. I also think that he could pursue his theoretical agenda more fully by adapting new avenues of design that would not involve pouring endless concrete and slinging steel around to achieve that expressive shake, rattle, and roll of which he is so fond. He already has made moves in this direction, exploring collaborations with Thomas Heatherwick that depend on less conditioned spaces and tensile structures, and working on various eco-resorts beyond the ones in Brazil.

I still think Ingels is one of the best architects producing large buildings today. His work is elegant and expressive, often sensitive to its immediate context and generous in its open spaces. It breaks down scale and intertwines landscape and artificial environments. It is exhilarating and sensitive at the same time. He is also thoughtful in his approach to architecture in general. He does not deserve to be the lightning rod for problems that are systemic to the way in which most professionals currently pursue architecture just because he tests its limits and tries to open up its formal agenda. Go after those who collaborate with the truly evil as opposed to the wannabe evil ones, and those whose mindless, unsustainable, and ugly structures close us off from the possibilities of the discipline.

Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.