Bjarke Ingels will build you the tower of your dreams — just don’t ask him to sign the paperwork

Danish architect discusses collaboration, red tape and 2 WTC at New Yorker fest

Bjarke Ingels 2WTC Silverstein
From left: Bjarke Ingels, 2 World Trade Center and Larry Silverstein

Bjarke Ingels’ client list in the U.S. includes Silverstein Properties, Tishman Speyer and Google. He’s been honored with seemingly every accolade and his perma-smirk graces the cover of several American magazines.

But in the eyes of Uncle Sam, he’s a hack.

The Danish architect said U.S. officials don’t acknowledge his credentials because they don’t recognize his education at Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura in Barcelona and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. This, he said, caused some problems in getting licensed in New York.

“After months and months and all kinds of lawyer bills, I get a polite letter saying that they don’t acknowledge my education and I can go down the route of professional internships,” Ingels said, winning laughter from the audience at the New Yorker Festival Sunday. His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, was able to work around this obstacle because some of its partners are licensed. Ingels is far from alone in this: Several high-profile, foreign-educated architects, including the late Zaha Hadid, have worked with locally-licensed firms because they were not authorized to work in New York.

Ingels, speaking with the New Yorker’s Ian Parker, discussed his design for 2 World Trade Center, which he had drawn up with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and 21st Century Fox empire in mind. He envisioned open floor plans and heaps of outdoor space, but with Murdoch out of the picture and Silverstein on the lookout for a new anchor tenant, that design could change.

“I think a lot of aspects of the design have a lot of merit that maybe are more universal than were specific for Fox and News Corp.,” Ingels said. “But I also think that if someone were to show up who had different and highly specific requirements then I think that could also be accommodated.”

Larry Silverstein has indicated he will stick with Ingels’ design, but that construction on the 2.8 million square-foot tower will have to wait until a new anchor is found.

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Ingels noted change is always part of the process. After all, Norman Foster was jettisoned even after the foundations had been poured with his design in mind.

“It’s always too early to celebrate in architecture,” Ingels said. “Once that tenant has been found, we’ll know.”

Foster’s diamond-shape design was perfect for a law firm or financial institution but wouldn’t appeal to a media company, Ingels said. In a fairly accurate impression of Silverstein’s voice, he recounted the developer’s concerns that his design would stand out as an “alien newcomer” among the other buildings, which had been designed in tandem by different architects working in the same room of 7 World Trade Center.

“Do I think it’s brilliant? Yes,” Ingels said, assuming a raspy, Silverstein-like cadence. “Do I understand that you’ve done everything that you can to accommodate the needs of your client? Yes. Do I think it fits here? No.”

After the other WTC designers, including David Childs of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, the firm that designed One World Trade Center, gave their blessing, Silverstein approved the design, Ingels said. (Silverstein told The Real Deal a similar version of this story earlier this year.)

Ingels’ other projects in New York include the Durst Organization’s pyramid-shaped rental building, Via57, HFZ Capital Group’s 76 11th Avenue, and Tishman Speyer’s Hudson Yards tower, the Spiral.

Parker asked Ingels if he becomes less hands-on as the firm gets busier. Ingels said that architecture is a collaborative process, and that he’s assumed the role of a sort of “curator” or “instigator” on the projects.

“It’s not like it’s only the genius architect that knows and then he or she is surrounded by a bunch of executive morons,” he said. “Of course, I’m as vain as anyone, so I like it when I come up with a brilliant idea. But it’s not necessarily my responsibility to come up with a brilliant idea. It’s my responsibility to make sure that it’s the brilliant idea that gets built.”