Bjarke Ingels presents to a packed audience at The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: School of Architecture

Bjarke Ingels' Lesson for Georgia Tech Students

Bjarke Ingels' Lesson for Georgia Tech Students

Feb 20, 2023 — Atlanta, GA

Nearly 700 Georgia Tech alumni, students, faculty and friends were breathlessly silent waiting for Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to start his presentation. Even the family of legendary Georgia Tech alumnus John Portman were there, including his grandson Miles Portman who is studying in the School of Architecture.

Ingels was in Atlanta to give the Portman Prize Lecture, part of the curriculum for the Portman Prize Studio. Students of the Studio filled four rows in Atlanta’s historic Reform synagogue, The Temple, where the lecture took place.

Ingels' lecture showcased the Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) most impressive work from the last 20 years. The work is astonishingly simple but addresses very big issues like climate, materials, habitation, and pollution. Images of BIG projects such as the LEGO house, a subterranean boat museum at a Danish UNESCO site, a tree-house hotel in Lapland that even accommodates birds and squirrels, a watch museum in Switzerland inspired by gears, even the proposal for Oakland A’s ballpark of the future passed quickly on sanctuary monitors as Ingels kept a fast pace.

Ingels was a frenetic blur of black and yellow as he paced the sanctuary of The Temple, making his presentation. “I tried to dress like a Yellowjacket,” he said.

It was as exhilarating to watch him speak as it was to see the slides. Considered one of the most innovative and influential leaders in the architecture industry, Ingels is known for creating some of the most imaginative buildings around the world. Google Headquarters, Toyota Woven Village, “The Dryline” in Manhattan, the  upcoming Timber Village at Johns Hopkins University.

But the Portman Prize Studio students weren’t waiting to watch Ingels present his portfolio. They were there to learn about integrating technical considerations into the design process. That’s because the School of Architecture Portman Prize Studio students are competing with each other for monetary prizes and an internship with John Portman & Associates.

After talking through his group’s creative projects, Ingels got to the technical part: architecture that is “hedonistic sustainability.” He called it the “Plan for the Planet”, also the name of his lecture, and it is architecture based on planet-level data.

In this plan, Ingels and his team of architects, designers, and builders draw on the lessons they’ve learned creating dynamic, sustainable buildings in urban settings. Ingels is one of the few architects to take on such a “big Idea” and propose alternative systems for living and working on technologically sustainable solutions to climate change.

“The Danish word for design is Formgivning,” Ingels said during the presentation. “It means to give form to the future. That is what architecture does.” One of the lessons he shared from BIG’s portfolio was how necessary and desirable a sustainable future can be — and that architects have the methodology to design a sustainable future within the footprint of planet Earth.

He also, with great excitement, shared a lesson he learned from John Portman. “He became the developer himself, to build his designs,” Ingels said. He shared that BIG’s newest headquarters is under construction on a plot of waterfront land in Nordhavn his company recently bought. 

“I found a sustainability argument for exposed concrete interiors,” he said with a grin, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience.

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