Book Club: Yes is More

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When I picked up this book from the Library, I can tell you that it was not what I expected (at first). The book is essentially a comic-book using real project visuals and diagrams from Bjarke Ingels’ firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) – read ‘an archicomic’. As I started reading it I realized that a novel would not have suited Ingels – this blend of seriousness and light heartedness that comes from the blend of graphic/imagery and text, is a perfect expression of BIG’s outlook on architecture.

The book is essentially about Ingels’ view on architectural theory and how he has evolved it for his purposes. The title is a play on the famous architectural phrase “Less is More” coined by renowned Modern architect Mies Van der Rohe in the mid-20th Century. Ingels’ viewpoint expands on the ‘original’ pillars of architectural theory. His is that of pragmatic utopianism, where he aims to blend the practical with the avant-garde. He then proceeds to prove is possible by walking the reader through the buildings they have conceived and built.

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My favorite part about “Yes is More” was the ‘proof’ he provides – how their buildings came to be. You get insight into the process, the thinking, the “happy accidents,” and some of the downright weird ways in which they design their buildings. This is particularly exciting, as BIG is well known for their visual and diagrammatic processes – in my architecture degree their work was often used as examples for how to create programmatic, parti, and process diagrams. Another favorite part was the moments where you were provided a glimpse of BIG’s office and working environment – and all of the Lego, model making, and fun machinery (laser cutters, CNC and the like) were pretty thrilling.

In a way BIG operates true to how a university studio class works – design in its purest unfettered form. They treat their projects with limited prejudice – everything goes and anything could be a solution. As Ingels puts it – “What we are basically trying is to say that by incorporating many good concerns instead of reducing them all to the lowest common denominator, you avoid compromise. Instead of meeting halfway, you oblige yourself to solve everything – to keep looking until you find that impossible move that takes into account all of the concerns of a project’s constituents.” They don’t limit themselves by factors that may cripple the creativity of others, but instead find the real solution – or the right solution for the project. And the best part about finding the right solution, is that it becomes incontrovertible.

The indisputable nature of the solutions to problems that BIG makes, creates buildings that push envelopes. A building that defies gravity because it has to twist in order to capture a view or avoid a property line? No problem! Let’s find the structural solution. It just goes to show that with the right team and with the right convictions everything is possible. I think that is an important lesson to learn – as many architects out there lose that passion for creative thinking. Too many elements – deadlines, budgets, clients, can stifle the desire to look for a different solution. What BIG exemplifies, however, is that you can still work within the given parameters and come up with something unique AND something that works.

What I guess I should have expected, but was a bit disappointing, was that many of BIG’s projects are unbuilt theoretical exercises. I would find myself looking at the renders and the concepts being presented and going “okay! I want to see the finished product!” But there is none beyond an idea, because either they didn’t win the competition or the client never followed through on the project. This is unfortunately the nature of architecture – you win some and you may lose many. There is a lot of give and take and you have to be prepared to let a part of you go in each design, but at the same time every time you solve a problem or overcome a challenge you gain so much. It is the reason we are able to continue to be creative because regardless of the outcome we must be driven to produce good design – design that is better for the persons it will serve, better for the environment, and better for ourselves. This excitement and hunger was present in “Yes is More” and it got me excited and itching to design something!

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I really enjoyed “Yes is More,” and would recommend it to other architects, and those who are interested in finding out how the design process works. BIG is an amazing firm that continues to delight people and push the boundaries with their architecture. It is a perfect book for anyone who is stuck in one frame of mind and needs a refreshing perspective or a creative pick-me-up. “Yes is More,” has definitely encouraged me to not take things too seriously, and have more fun with the design process. It also demonstrates that creative inspiration can truly come from anywhere, all you have to do is say ‘yes.’

And on that note I will leave you with this gem, which is found at the back of “Yes is More.” Oh Bjarke.

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Opinions in this article are all my own, and are based off of my understanding and interpretation of Bjarke Ingels Group’s book “Yes is More: an Archicomic on Architectural Evolution” – images are from the book 🙂

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