BIG has a plan for the planet: Can it be done? __ Bjarke Ingels

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Ecogradia
BIG has a plan for the planet: Can it be done? __ Bjarke Ingels
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BIG has a plan for the planet: Can it be done? __ Bjarke Ingels

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Ecogradia
Ecogradia
BIG has a plan for the planet: Can it be done? __ Bjarke Ingels
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All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?

Bjarke Ingels, the founder of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is renowned for his blend of technology-driven design and scientific rigour. His considerable list of accolades includes Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016 and the Wall Street Journal’s Innovator of the Year in 2011.

Bjarke Ingels believes we already have the methods and technologies needed to sustain Earth with a population of 10 billion people in 2050. Discover how his unified plan simplifies the sustainability conversation, bringing clarity to multitudes of data and offering hope and practical strategies.

Episode outline

00:22:22 “The good news is we don’t need to wait until we invent new technologies because with existing technologies […] you can actually power and sustain 10 billion people.”
00:02:19 Becoming Bjarke
00:05:14 “I just suddenly came back from Barcelona realising that maybe architecture could be very exciting. And I sort of swayed off my original trajectory.”
00:08:33 “By making the building even better at what it’s designed for, it’s also beautiful.”
00:09:42 Plan for the Planet
00:12:00 “You can almost paralyse any conversation by saying, yeah, but what about this and what about that?”
00:16:49 “One way to make this really tangible so that everyone can relate and understand is to make it at the scale of a single Earthling. So we said, what if we divide all of Earth into 10 billion equally sized plots of land?”
00:18:50 “With a certain amount of offshore windmills and a certain amount of photovoltaics, you can actually create twice the amount of energy that you’re currently getting from oil, coal, and gas.”
00:19:48 The Plan in practice
00:21:47 “We came to the conclusion that we could actually shrink the footprint required to power and sustain one Earthling to fit comfortably within what we have available.”
00:25:42 “Maersk as a company has a carbon footprint twice the size of Denmark’s. So if you can engage with Maersk to turn them carbon neutral, it’s like taking Denmark off the map twice.”
00:26:33 “By understanding and seeing things more clearly, we have already started acting and making decisions differently.”
00:27:34 “At scale, timber construction is probably not the answer to everything, but it puts a little bit of pressure on the Holcims and the Cemexs in the world to accelerate their invention of low-carbon concrete.”
00:27:56 The need for a global plan
00:29:15 “When you don’t cover concrete but leave it exposed, it keeps carbonising. So it keeps actually sequestering CO2 from the air.”
00:31:47 “We are not used to making plans at the scale of a planet. So therefore we have been stuck a little bit in political speeches and activism.”
00:37:25 “I do think that Earth is missing a tangible, actionable plan at the scale of the planet.”

Summary

Conversations about sustainability are usually complex and messy. In the opening episode of this season of Ecogradia, we spoke to Bjarke Ingels about the power of architectural form to deliver performance and help address the climate crisis. Now, he returns to unpack BIG’s ambitious Plan for the Planet.

This global framework reconciles a future of 10 billion people with today’s renewable methods and technologies. It cuts through the noise of multiple data sources and offers practical insights to steer individual solutions.

Bjarke’s story begins with a twist. Initially, he wanted to be a graphic novelist, not an architect. When he couldn’t find a cartooning academy in Denmark, he chose the Royal Danish Art Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Architecture (Copenhagen) instead.

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the founder and creative partner of Bjarke Ingels Group, is known for his inventive approach to building design.
© Justin Wu

His goal was to hone his drawing skills, but a study trip to Barcelona changed everything. The expressive works of Antoni Gaudí and Enric Miralles captivated him, leading him to fall in love with the narrative potential of architecture.

In Bjarke’s view, buildings such as Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família (Barcelona, Spain) are like built graphic novels. They made him see that architecture could be “very exciting”.

His interest in sustainability started even earlier. In high school, Bjarke wrote a thesis on environmental policy, inspired by the 1992 Rio Conference (Rio de Janero, Brazil). This early exposure to global environmental issues set the stage for his later work in sustainable architecture.

BIG’s Plan for the Planet emerged from frustration with the “whataboutism” that often stalls meaningful discussions on environmental issues. Bjarke and his team sought to prove that it’s possible for the projected 2050 population of 10 billion people to live sustainably, with a quality of life comparable to Denmark or Singapore.

The framework is built on consideration of practical, existing technologies and methods. For instance, says Bjarke, offshore wind farms and solar power could potentially generate double the energy currently produced by fossil fuels; and silvopasture could offset the emissions of livestock.

Silvopasture is the practice of integrating trees, forage, and the grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way.

As a thought experiment, Bjarke suggests breaking down the planet into 10 billion equal plots, giving each of us a tangible sense of our share of Earth’s resources. This method aims to make the global sustainability challenge more relatable and comprehensible.

Bjarke is already putting the insights from Plan for the Planet into practice. For example, BIG’s new headquarters in Copenhagen uses low-carbon concrete mixtures and energy piles, which are integrated with the foundations.

The low-carbon concrete used in BIG’s new Copenhagen HQ continues to absorb CO2 over time, offsetting some of its initial emissions.
© Rasmus Hjortshõj

He’s also working with companies like Maersk to turn ports into green growth hubs and transition their fleets to sustainable fuels. These projects demonstrate that large-scale entities can adopt sustainable practices, significantly reducing their carbon footprints.

According to Bjarke, Maersk’s carbon footprint is twice the size of Denmark’s. Turning Maersk carbon neutral would equate to eliminating Denmark’s impact twice.

Bjarke believes that a unified global plan, underpinned by a clear picture of the challenges we face, is essential for coordinating our efforts towards achieving our common goal.

His plan also raises some questions: is it possible to forge consensus around a single strategy at the planetary scale? Is this plan achievable, or is it mere provocation? Can our planet’s myriad complexities and diversities fit into a single plan?

Gallery

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:04:42 “…kind of Catalan expressionism. And…”
What Is Catalan Modernism and Why is Barcelona so Famous for It?”  |  Culture Trip
00:06:07 “…on the Rio Conference in 1992, because…”
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992”  |  United Nations
00:06:24 “…in the Gro Harlem Brundtland Report…”
Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future”  |  United Nations
00:06:27 “…doing Agenda 21…”
Agenda 21”  |  United Nations
00:10:06 “…quote in Form Giving you say…”
BIG. Formgiving. An Architectural Future History”  |  Taschen
00:11:23 “…so the Plan for the Planet, it started…”
Who We Are”  |  Plan for the Planet Foundation
00:11:42 “…comes from whataboutism that many…”
whataboutism”  |  Britannica
00:20:57 “…you call silvopasture the combination…”
Silvopasture”  |  US Department of Agriculture
00:03:52 “…was the Royal Danish Art Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture. Had a…”
Architecture Education”  |  Royal Danish Academy
00:04:38 “…exposed to Antoni Gaudí and Miralles…”
Antoni Gaudí”  |  Britannica
00:04:39 “…Gaudí and Miralles, this…”
Enric Miralles (1955–2000)”  |  The Architectural Review
00:11:38 “…here at BIG, we’re getting…”
About”  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:14:24 “…from the United Nations or the…”
About Us”  |  United Nations
00:24:43 “…now with Maersk, the shipping…”
Improving life for all by integrating the world”  |  Maersk
00:27:42 “…on the Holcims and the Cemexs in the…”
Who We Are”  |  Holcim
00:27:42 “…on the Holcims and the Cemexs in the…”
Meet Cemex”  |  Cemex
00:34:31 “…again, the General Secretary of the United Nations did not…”
Who is and has been Secretary-General of the United Nations?”  |  Dag Hammarskjöld Library
00:36:56 “…certified DNGB Gold, we’ve…”
About the DGNB System”  |  Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen
00:03:48 “…academy in Denmark. So the…”
Denmark”  |  Britannica
00:04:34 “…went to Barcelona on a…”
Barcelona” (Catalonia, Spain)  |  Britannica
00:04:50 “…around the Sagrada Família or on…”
Basilica de la Sagrada Família” (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)  |  Fundació Junta Constructora del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família
00:04:53 “…roofscapes of Casa Battló or Casa Milà…”
What is Casa Batlló” (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)  |  Casa Batlló
00:04:55 “…Battló or Casa Milà, they’re almost…”
La Pedrera – Casa Milá” (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)  |  Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera
00:06:19 “…held in Rio. They…”
Rio de Janeiro” (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)  |  Britannica
00:10:14 “…proposition like CopenHill can happen…”
CopenHill” (Copenhagen, Denmark)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:12:20 “…Denmark or Singapore. Actually…”
Singapore”  |  Britannica
00:25:23 “…city like Århus, the second…”
Århus” (Jutland, Denmark)  |  Britannica
00:26:54 “…the new airport of Zurich, which will…”
Zurich Airport Building Dock A” (Zurich, Switzerland)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:27:03 “…airport of Luxembourg also…”
Skypark Business Center” (Luxembourg, Luxembourg)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:27:57 “…new BIG headquarters is…”
BIG HQ” (Copenhagen, Denmark)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:28:02 “…harbour of Copenhagen, so it’s…”
Copenhagen” (Denmark)  |  Britannica
00:30:32 “…of the US or a…”
United States”  |  Britannica
00:30:33 “…country like India, which is…”
India”  |  Britannica
00:31:03 “…doing the Woven City in Japan…”
Toyota Woven City” (Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group
00:31:03 “…Woven City in Japan or in…”
Japan”  |  Britannica
00:31:06 “…or in Malaysia, the south…”
Malaysia”  |  Britannica
00:31:10 “…Malaysia, the south Penang islands, and…”
Penang” (Penang, Malaysia)  |  Britannica
00:31:10 “…Malaysia, the south Penang islands, and…”
BiodiverCity Penang” (Penang, Malaysia)  |  Bjarke Ingels Group

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

00:18:54 “…amount of photovoltaics, you can…”
solar panel”  |  Britannica
00:19:09 “…and half hydrogen batteries. Like…”
Fuel cell”  |  Wikipedia
00:20:08 “…kinds of biofuels. It would…”
biofuel”  |  Britannica
00:28:39 “…cement called Uni-Green where a…”
2023 ESG Report”  |  Unicon
00:29:06 “…foundations are energy piles that extract…”
Energy Piles”  |  Scholarly Community Encyclopedia

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editor-at-large
Narelle Yabuka

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi Kothari

Senior communications executive
Sana Gupta

Senior editor
Tyler Yeo

Art director (video)
Alexander Melck  |  Phlogiston

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

Video editors
Guellor Muguruka  |  Phlogiston
Madelein Myburgh  |  Phlogiston

 

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Can architecture heal our planet? In this bonus episode, we delve into the power of regenerative design. From restoring existing structures to rethinking material ownership, find out how sustainability and healing go hand in hand.
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All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?

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