BIG TIME

If You Build It...

(DOC NYC started November 9 and ran through November 16. HtN has you covered with reviews so keep checking back!)

A film for casual lovers of modern architecture and aficionados, both, Big Time follows rising-star Bjarke Ingels, Danish architect of, among other buildings, Via 57 West, in Manhattan and, back home in Denmark, the Maritime Museum in Helsingør. As the movie begins, in 2015, he is about to go on Charlie Rose‘s show to discuss his winning design for 2 World Trade Center (the final tower). Just recently 40 at that point, he has seemingly reached the pinnacle of his profession. Is he precocious? Yes. Is such a pace sustainable? That is the question asked by (also Danish) filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder (The Invention of Dr. Nakamats). The result is an engaging cinematic portrait of one of the great artists of our contemporary world.

It turns out, according to Ingels’ parents, that the future architect was a precocious child, as well, though his initial interests pushed him towards comic books, rather than buildings. Ultimately, there was something a little more satisfying to, as Ingels puts it, turning “abstract ideas into concrete realities” than in merely dreaming up exciting new worlds. Besides, in his work, Ingels effectively does create new worlds, anyway: beautiful structures that look and feel like fresh and innovative ecospheres. So perhaps the leap from comics to architecture is not such a great one. As if to emphasize that connection, Schröder frequently films his subject explaining both his own designs and those of others by drawing accompanying images/storyboards on large sheets of white newsprint. It’s all brilliant visual thinking.

Unfortunately, the pressures of the job on Ingels – especially once he decides to expand his outfit (called BIG, or Bjarke Ingels Group; hence the movie’s title) beyond Denmark’s borders, eventually lead to major concerns about his health, exacerbated by an off-screen concussion. As Ingels meditates on how many famous architects before him have died of unnatural causes, prior to completing major projects, we watch him go through a series of medical tests, struggling to stay on top of his firm’s increasing workload. Life at the top can be tough for those who make it via their own blood, sweat and tears.

One of the great aspects of the movie is how beautifully Schröder – also the cinematographer – photographs the architecture, highlighting that which makes Ingels justifiably celebrated. From a school like Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium (Ingels’ alma mater) to apartment dwellings like 8 House and The Mountain to, my favorite, the ARC Amager Bakke power plant, which doubles as a ski slope, Ingels has long demonstrated a commitment to designing buildings that are both functional and sustainable. On top of all that, he also seems like a genuinely nice human being. I had never heard of him before, but now, thanks to Schröder’s lovely movie, I have gained a rich appreciation for both the man and his art.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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