Insights from a starchitect

Bjarke Ingels and Grove at Grand Bay
Bjarke Ingels and Grove at Grand Bay

Bjarke Ingels is called a starchitect for a reason: his body of work.

Though the Copenhagen native just turned 39 on Oct. 2, he already has a wheelbarrow of awards: two Henning Larsen Prizes, named for the great Danish architect, who died only a few months ago; the Nykredit Architecture Prize, the largest given in Denmark; the European Prize for Architecture; and an American Institute of Architects Honor Award — to name just a handful.

The honor Ingels has yet to achieve is the Pritzker Prize, the one that former boss Rem Koolhaas took home in 2000. The Dutch Modernist went head-to-head with Ingels this summer for the $1 billion contract to redesign Miami Beach’s convention center, and Koolhaas won.

Still, Ingels is making his mark in South Florida. The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) designed Terra Group’s 600,000-square-foot Grove at Grand Bay, with Miami landscape architect Raymond Jungles; and Marina Lofts, a luxury 800-unit rental high-rise in Fort Lauderdale being developed by Asi Cymbal.

What brought you to South Florida?

I grew up with “Miami Vice”: The white Art Deco architecture soaked in neon lights, the convertible cars, the pastel-colored suits and the powerboat chases under highway overpasses with skyscrapers in the background were my childhood image of all the things that were cool about America — next to space shuttles and Hollywood! So when David Martin called 25 years later, I didn’t hesitate to come to Coconut Grove.

Describe your designs for Marina Lofts and Grove at Grand Bay.

Marina Lofts is an exercise in dense, affordable downtown living that attempts to revitalize a livable pedestrian downtown in Fort Lauderdale — to blow new life into an under-enjoyed part of town.

The Grove at Grand Bay is an experiment in creating a vertical community of stacked villas. The homes are as big, generous and with such expansive terraces that they might as well be homes with gardens. It is also an attempt to create a neighborhood where the towers don’t simply accumulate, but rather carefully respond to each other to maximize qualities such as daylight, sunshine and views. In a way it is about re-Groving the Grove — making the shaded gardens under the canopy of tropical trees into an urban habitat.

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How did you feel about losing the convention center bid?

I have lost so many competitions in my architecture career that I have become quite good at it; so much more reason to celebrate when we do win!

What did you learn from working at Rem Koolhaas’ firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)?

The merits of having a three-letter acronym as your company name.

How do you spend your day?

I’m fortunate that I have great partners and colleagues and a CEO and a team of directors that free me up to deal directly with what I love — ideas about architecture. So I spend as much time as possible with the teams in our respective offices trying to explore where we might find our next big thing.

When you’re visiting South Florida, you sometimes stay at the home of David Martin, who runs Terra Group. How do you balance friendship and business?

To design and build a building for someone is a minimum commitment of four to five years, and you will get to see a lot of different sides of each other — there will be pressure and tension, confrontation and conflict — just like any fruitful relationship.