The 20 essential young architects
Is it just us or is the young architect a very different beast these days? For the first time, “young” actually means young, but “architect” may no longer mean architect. This is our list of the most significant rising practices. Like all list stories, you’ll disagree with some of it, but that’s half the fun.
The first thing to mention is that the “young architect” is definitely younger than he or she used to be. We borrowed the convention of using 40 as our cut-off point, but at least half of the people on this list are 35 or under – and one of them is a 33-year-old overseeing a practice with 75 staff. Have we moved from the architect of promise to the upstart with power?
Secondly, the school of thought that architects need to build things to make their presence felt is losing currency. There are a few on this list who reflect that – these are the strategists and networkers who challenge legislation and foment debate.
Interestingly, of those who do build, by far the most successful in business terms are the practices who were nurtured by Rem Koolhaas at OMA. Theirs is a world of seismic competition wins and huge staff counts.
But where’s all the rebellion? There’s little sense here of a generation reacting against the ideology of its elders – perhaps that’s simply because we live in apolitical times. In fact, there are few signs of a coherent generation at all, although there are definite camps: the Children of Rem, the quiet but extremely sophisticated disciples of Zumthor and SANAA, the tower builders and the open-network activists.
This is a global list in more ways than one. You’ll find three Americans, two Japanese, two Chinese, a Chilean, an Indian and a bunch of Europeans. But increasingly these practices are international anyway, undermining notions of national architecture – more important a crucible these days are the practices they meet at. Having said that, you’d think a British magazine might put more British architects on the list. But then, the key thing that is giving all these youngsters their big break is the culture of open architecture competitions – and that’s something this country desperately needs.
ONE TO WATCH: STUDIO EBV
Barcelona-based Studio EBV hasn’t built a thing, but a catalogue of winning competition entries in the form of beautiful black-and-white images of buildings that appear to be hewn from rock – including the one below for the Ribera del Duero Wine headquarters – has earned this small office the title of young Spanish architects of the year and attracted interest from Herzog & de Meuron.
EBV’s design process is a slow and careful one. “We always start with the same thing, with pencils and models,” says co-founder Alberto Veiga. “We can’t work in any other way. The computer models all come later.” EBV has been invited to take part in the giddy task of building 100 villas in 100 days for a project run by Ai Weiwei, due in 2009.
ONE TO WATCH: BIG
Bjarke Ingels bounces across his studio past a dozen white and green foam models and pauses to inspect a giant Lego construction. The model is going to be shipped over to New York for the first retrospective of what should be a fledgling practice. But with a staff of 75 and a stellar media presence, there is little doubt that Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is fully hatched.
The dotcom boom might have had something to do with it, muses the effervescent Ingels, 33, who left his post at OMA to co-found Plot with Julien De Smedt when they were 25. “19-year-old programmers were becoming billionaires overnight and Frank Gehry had invented the icon,” says Ingels. “It seemed totally possible for us.”
The genesis of one of the most hotly tipped young practices in Europe was intriguingly not in architecture, but in film. The friends applied to fund a movie and did a few architecture competitions on the side. “After six months we had won three competitions in a row and we got a ‘no’ for funding for the movie,” says Ingels. “So we became architects.”
Then followed five years of remarkable success. Plot captivated the architectural public in Europe, winning both competitions – for social projects such as public housing and a psychiatric hospital – and awards by the armful. However, the practice split acrimoniously in 2006. While his former partner De Smedt works across the world, Ingels is happy to concentrate his energies on Copenhagen. “There is an entire side of architecture that is strategic, which is easier to do in places where you have intimate knowledge, where you can be cheeky.”
Strategically, BIG is doing well. The major projects in the office are four towers in Copenhagen of up to 180m. At the moment there is a 45m height limit in the city but there is a political pressure to densify, and the office is waiting for the mayor’s decision. Other projects on the go are a hotel in Sweden, and – a recent major coup – the Copenhagen Maritime Museum competition, a project Ingels describes as the anti-icon, a hole in the ground.
His manifesto, entitled, BIGamy, is about resisting “conceptual monogamy” to ideas: “Rather than being radical by saying fuck the establishment… we want to try to turn pleasing into a radical agenda.” In principle, he is saying that rebelling is useless, as the existing system is the result of a series of rebellions. What good would another revolution do? His solution is to be everything to everyone. It’s a pretty savvy bit of business rhetoric, and also a clear sign of the influence of Ingels’ time at OMA.
Despite the bright colours, the persona, the graphics, his approach to architecture boils down to Occam’s razor: the simpler the object and clearer the derivation of the idea, the better. In other words, if it’s not memorable and it’s not easy to understand, it’s not there. “People do get excited about good ideas. If your ideas start with something people can relate to, not like French philosophy or Jewish mysticism, but if they’re about football fields and affordable homes and parks, people get it. And they like it if they get it.”
With one partner in Mumbai and the other in London, Serie is poised to capitalise on one of the world’s emerging architecture markets. The duo has received a number of commissions on the subcontinent, from interiors to schools, offices and shopping malls, all with a calm, intelligent, fluid design – as seen in the proposal for Brockholes visitor centre in Lancashire, below. “In India flair comes first,” says co-founder Christopher Lee, who teaches at London’s Architectural Association. “If you’re experimental with your ideas and you have a good design then that’s all they need to know. If we were only based in the UK, where it’s all about experience and red tape, we’d still be doing house extensions.”