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Eco-humanism is the future, says BIG's Jakob Lange

Jakob Lange, a partner at playful Copenhagen-based BIG, talks about stripey buildings and why Thomas Heatherwick is getting in his way

What brings you to Manchester?

I’ll be talking about hedonistic sustainability. We can create ways for people to have a better quality of life with architecture. One example is the Havnebad in central Copenhagen, where people can swim in their lunch break. It is important for architects to do more; we create buildings for the future, that people will live in, dream in, make love in. Our task is to create as many opportunities as possible for people to live out their dreams and use our architecture so it is not only an expressive facade or sculpture, but also has a purpose.

Do clients buy into this idea of hedonistic sustainability?

They realise it’s necessary to obtain government approval and that to sell their apartments or rent their hotel rooms or conference space, they have to offer added value. 

Do you have any evidence of this added value?

Our Mountain project and the VM houses [a 209-home housing project in Ørestad, Copenhagen, designed with JDS Architects] were built with below-average construction costs and sold at normal prices – so the client got a bonus.

Is sustainability a driver in the detail design of your projects?

In Denmark, regulations are really tough. It comes down to government regulations and the clients’ willingness to pay extra for particular materials. We would always like to do a more eco-friendly building but often have clients who are not willing to pay for it.

How does BIG work with environmental engineers? 

We work with lots of different engineers. It’s very easy to find talented people to work with everywhere. Very often the initial idea of a building is not something that you need an engineer to verify. There is usually a simple and logical explanation of why a particular shape is better than others. Usually it’s about the orientation and the amount of windows facing south. 

What are you working on now?

A retreat of serviced apartments for retired people in Taiwan. The project is based on stripes and, because the site is very close to the equator, these are oriented in the east-west direction so little sunlight will shine directly into the building. Our next major project will be the Danish Maritime Museum in HelsingØr. We’ve put the entire museum in the walls of the ship dock with big bridges to span across and connect the museum. It will be done later this year.

Do you have any prospects in the UK?

We’ve done a few competitions in the UK but we’ve not won any of them. Thomas Heatherwick is stealing all of our juice – but he is a good friend and he is doing a good job.

  • As part of the RIBA North West’s ‘Pushing Boundaries’ series, David Zahle of BIG will be talking at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School on 14 March

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