"Possible Greenland" - The Earth as Common Ground. Interview with Bjarke Ingels
Text: Frank Kaltenbach
Greenland and Denmark have shared a common cultural and political history for centuries. It's therefore hardly surprising that the contributions in the Danish Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale 2012 were developed by mixed teams made up of architects and artists from Greenland and Denmark. "Greenland Connecting" is the contribution by the "Global Hub" team, consisting of Tegnestuen Nuuk, Inuk Silis Høegh and Julie Edel Harenberg from Greenland and the Danish office BIG–Bjarke Ingels Group .
How can best use of the potentials of trade and tourism be made, together with a sharp rise in the demand for better accessibility of the so far relatively remote island and better means of transportation? The most important mode of transport for reaching the scattered settlements is the aeroplane, while shipping is vital for transportation of goods. The Greenland Transport Commission therefore recommends moving the national transatlantic airport from Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland and, with approximately 16,000 inhabitants, the largest settlement in the country. As far as sea traffic is concerned, the Commission recommends opening up the passage to the north of Greenland, the so-called Northwest Passage , in order to make new sea routes accessible.
DETAIL: Bjarke, what is "Air + Port" about? Bjarke Ingels: The whole idea of the project is to identify change - or imminent change - and to find out what the potential spin offs or consequences are.
DETAIL: Considering the recent developments in Greenland, how did you deal with such a complex project?
Bjarke Ingels: Our propositions as architects can become tools in the public debate about what to do and how to embrace the future. I think for that purpose, at an early stage, to make things very simple is important. DETAIL: The scheme of your project looks very schematic and iconic. How do you set the concepts and how important are typology and/or aesthetics? Bjarke Ingels: The Air + Port as the idea of a port and airfield overlay is a response to the different topography of a mountain in relation to an airfield. It is actually almost like a bridge spanning from summit to summit with the terminal building lying underneath the airfield. All these elements are quite complex but you distil them into their simplest form. The whole idea of combining an airport and a seaport is almost symbolized by the "+". Since so far we are trying to inform the public and initiate a political debate we really don't want to get lost in very complex details. When you see the Air + Port, it seems almost self-evident and straightforward. This makes it less fragile in a controversial discussion.
Bjarke Ingels: The first thing we did in this project was to travel to Greenland a few times in order to meet with the local collaborators. They also visited us in our office in Copenhagen to understand the way we work. In the beginning we tried to gather as much information as possible and tried to get a clear understanding of the different issues that are currently developing. That of course created a quite complex image, looking at the flow of goods, looking at the flow of people. We identified a lot of concerns and a lot of potential changes.
Bjarke Ingels: I think in architecture and urbanism nothing is ever certain. I was just speaking with the Vice President of Greenland yesterday. He said he read through the reports and statement by statement he agreed completely. However, there are still a lot of complex issues, like the existing airport belonging to another municipality, which does not want to give it up without a fight. At the same time, with all the reports by the Greenlandic Transport Commission, the officials unanimously endorse that an industrial harbour and an international airport is necessary in the long run. So I think the manifestation of the Air + Port is immanent within the foreseeable future.
Bjarke Ingels: Not really. The project we've done is very much based on the hard facts we've been working on with the airport engineers. The orientation of the runway is the right one, the "island" where we have located the project is probably the right one. The position on the island could be debated though, also we would have to do some more water measurements. So of course there's still a lot more planning to do. But the whole project is based on five decades of research and sketching on the idea of a new airport. In that sense it is much more than some kind of out-of-the-blue concept.
Bjarke Ingels: We always try to establish as many references as we possibly can. I really believe you become a better architect by studying architecture. Of course, this idea of putting a Euclidean, almost 3-km-long, ultra-abstract runway through a sort of dramatic rocky landscape has some references to Superstudio as a continuous monument. Superstudio are the sort of utopian intellectuals we like to refer to. The big difference to Superstudio or the futurists is that we are not proposing some abstract idea, but actually presenting a very tangible proposition as a manifestation of a pragmatic utopia. It shows that within a specific view, operating in a specific set of conditions, you can actually create almost utopian visions.
Bjarke Ingels: I'm always very sceptical about universal applications but I definitely think this could be a possibility. It's transferable, and if nothing else the fact that it's so clear to communicate would make it capable of mediating the idea of hybridity and synergy. There are other examples that demonstrate that if a project is so clear that you can easily talk about it and easily show it, it will have greater resonance. Projects that clearly distil a single aspect into a very simple form have this potential to project ideas into the world, that are very complex to communicate otherwise.
Bjarke Ingels: The waste energy power plant we are doing in Copenhagen, which turns waste into energy and heat. Because of the magnitude of the building we proposed to put a public park on the roof, that is also a ski slope in winter. Just the idea that it's so easy to understand and the radical approach of having a public park and a playground on the roof as a piece of public infrastructure has made this project famous. Time Magazine awarded it as one of the 50 best ideas of the year, and it was shown on the CNN-television channel. This happened only because of the unconventional combination of social public programmes with public investments and infrastructure. It became an image for the idea of turning waste into energy. DETAIL: Thank you very much for the interview. The Architecture Biennale 2012 in Venice entitled "Common Ground" will run until 25 November 2012. La Biennale di Venezia