Yes is More! A Book Review

Title: Yes is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution

Author: Bjarke Ingels

Dimensions: 163 x 250 x 27mm | 1,129g

Format: Paperback | 400 pages

Publication Date: 7 November 2009

Language: English

Publisher: Taschen GmbH, Cologne, Germany

Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution is a revolutionary architecture monograph that features some of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)’s most influential works. Founded in 2005 by Bjarke Ingels and Julien de Smedt, this Copenhagen and New York-based architecture office has been working on hundreds of projects around the world and won numbers of international awards. As their first ever book-portfolio publication, this book addresses Bjarke Ingels’ ideas and manifestos which Ingels himself became the writer and editor of this book. This book is divided into three sections: the introduction to the 20th century architecture theories, BIG’s projects, and Ingels’ interview with Jeffrey Inaba. This review will analyse how the book is presented and why it is unique, alongside with his three main manifestos that driven the way Ingels designed his buildings.

This book highlights 35 out of 189 BIG’s projects from 1999 to 2010 which are influential to their design practice. The projects that are shown are notably the most compelling representative of Bjarke Ingels’ design manifestos, which are: Pragmatic Utopianism, Yes is More!, and Hedonic Sustainability. These design manifestos thus will dictate how their architecture should be. Being the first architecture book that adopted comic format, Ingels carefully crafted his book in such a unique way, that no architects have done it before. One of the reasons why Ingels adopted the style of a comic book is because the comic format has the power to link stories continuously, so Ingels could refer back and forth ideas and stories in a chronological sense. However, as Ingels did not put the exact year for almost all of his projects, it is pretty vague of whether his project are shown in a chronological order or not. Another reason why Ingels might use this style is that Ingels initially wanted to be a comic artist. Ingels likes to draw and accordingly, this might be the manifest of his visual representation.

Each project begins with a bold 2 cover page: with the project’s logo and abbreviation on bottom-left corner accompanied by the building nickname, and eye-catching title that represents the project’s exciting story, e.g. in ‘Found in Translation’, the design coincidentally similar to a Chinese character which brought them the eye of the Chinese investors and media and this was like a gate-opener for BIG’s presence in China.

Fig 1. Excerpt from the book explaining his form finding process.

Even though Ingels eagers to create new architectural jargons such as ‘post-petroleum ecology’, ‘ecolomy’, and ‘towerphobic public obsession’, general readers with no architecture background will find it easy to understand as Ingels simplifies these jargons by explaining it alongside with diagrams (see Fig. 1). The abundance use of diagrams makes the book easy and fun to read, and it help readers to comprehend his ideas and design process better. It suggests that Ingels wants his ideas to be easily understood by many people, especially those who are not coming from the architecture field. Moreover, as the readers scroll through his stories, they would feel like Ingels is presenting/talking his work live in front of them because of the informality of language and direct-conversation type of word choice that used.

The introductions of revolutionary architects (Such as Mies van der Rohe, Robert Venturi, Philip Johnson, and Rem Koolhaas) and Obama with their manifestos in the first section of the book are a synthesis that shaped Ingels’ ‘Pragmatic Utopianism’ and ‘Yes is More! (Evolution)’ concept. For instance, Ingels mentions Mies’ ideas about modernism in which modernist sought for freedom of concepts that free from the burden of architecture norm. This liberal approach thus influences his design style, which is “free from any stylistic straitjacket - free to create new associations from the architectonic spectrum”.2 Moreover, Ingels believes that architect should be working in the overlap between wild ideas and pragmatic approaches. This concept is evident in all of his creative processes, whereas Ingels always come up with something that seems idealistic, but at the same time is still practical and buildable. Ingels’ criticism over utopic-unbuildable architecture and predictable-international style dull-boring architecture is a dramatic shift of architecture, which Ingels chooses to be in the middle of this architecture antithesis. Accordingly, BIG’s creative process is based upon the quest for finding the banality in existing building typologies, which then they try to inject ideas into it to create ​something different yet practical that responses to the site. By starting with the question “what if …?”, a simple yet intriguing sort of creative process is born by evolution instead of revolution as different building typology would emerge. Accordingly, Ingels’ idea about pragmatic utopian architecture becomes the dictum for their creative process.

Ingels’ second proclamation on design approach that complements his theory on pragmatic utopianism is design adaptability. He accepts the modernist idea that architecture should free from any precedential classical form, which in this case Ingels tries to create his own style and norm of architecture. On the other hand, Ingels disagrees with their universality of design rationale. Ingels’ argument is about how architecture should understand its locality and genius loci. Figure 1 demonstrated how his notion is apparent in his design process, and in the finishing of most building projects. Ingels takes into account Rem Koolhaas’ idea to suspend judgment and prejudice in order to fully appreciate and comprehend the world as it actually is. For example, he brilliantly cooperates with the site and regulation restrictions to create architecture that is profitable for the client, and also respecting its neighbourhoods while generating an exciting public space. Despite Ingels’ rejection towards universal design, he seems a bit shifted out from this concept and this becomes evident in the Water Culture House project whereas he just moved the building to multiple cities with no change of design.

At the same time, Ingels shares a very anthropocentric view of how architecture should be adaptive to the way we want to live. His rationale is that architecture has the power to create change and simultaneously affects how the city would dictate its inhabitant’s live. Therefore, architecture should have an agenda and by incorporating multiple interests and ideas – say yes to everything – he could evolve architecture into a being that is adaptive to the way we live without compromising the interests of many. Similar to Darwin’s theory of natural selection which Ingels itself is taken inspiration from, architecture that could adapt and evolve to the interests of people and environment is architecture that will survive.

An interesting discourse about how BIG’s architecture should operate is also discussed in Ingels’ manifesto of Hedonic Sustainability. In this concept, Ingels assimilates the concept of eco-friendly and sustainability with adaptability. Unlike the common belief that sustainability means reducing the consumption of energy and goods, Ingels instead places a new focus on having sustainable design that follows the over-consumption and hedonistic lifestyle. This, in fact, is a contrast to the public discourse of sustainable lifestyle.

Fig 2. Excerpt from the book explaining the flow of energy in Ingels' urban metabolism.

Ingels emphasises the idea that sustainable lifestyle should be enjoyable rather than full of suffering. Ingels insists that there should be an equal scale between the amount of energy consumed and energy produced. In lieu of the current practice that people only consume energy, Ingels proposed that by transferring excess energy to the right demand, there would be a loop of energy consumption that people will not need to worry about their consumption amount (see Fig. 2). Hence, the design challenge that architects are facing today is not merely about having passive design as a general axiom for design, but ultimately understanding how building and city operate as part of a whole urban metabolism and how using the creative process architects could incorporate sustainability into their design.

Many of the thinking in BIG’s ideas and buildings exert influence in the world of architectural practices and conversations. Firstly, Ingels is a master of the art of presentation and a true storyteller. The book itself proves that the way he uses comic form is already create a sense of intimacy to the reader. Through the extensive use of rhetoric words, Ingels successfully persuade his clients and it is evident in almost all his projects that he explained in the book. Secondly, Ingels tries to be realistic by incorporating logical aspects of building with its limitations towards gravity and buildability, but at the same time inculcates evolutionary yet radical idea to the design. In a nutshell, pragmatic-functionalist approaches that incorporate the client-political-urban needs. Yes to everything! Thirdly, even though Ingels rejects the modernist idea of universal design, Ingels agrees that architecture should start like a tabula rasa which pure concepts and spaces could emerge. Architecture should be adaptable to incorporate the needs of people. Fourthly, if Pragmatic Utopianism is their aspiration towards creative process, evolution (Yes is More!) is the way how their architecture should response, then Hedonistic Sustainability is the way their building should operate. By attentively observing the possibilities of energy and design, architects could create architecture that is responsive to the environment without undermining the people’s needs and lifestyle. Therefore, this book is an exceptional example of how architecture could be such an interesting creative process to fathom.

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