Nov 4, 201303:11 PMPoint of View


Q&A: Kai-Uwe Bergmann

Q&A: Kai-Uwe Bergmann

W 57th St Residences by BIG

Courtesy BIG

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We’re in the midst of an urban population explosion, so the news media trumpets around the world. “Demographers predict that New York alone will add one million more residents by 2040,” notes the Living Cities Competition brief. “Finding housing will pose a crisis for hundreds of thousands of them, unless new residential towers are built to house this urban influx.” With these developments in mind, I went for some enlightenment to one of the judges in the Living Cities Competition, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, whose firm is responsible for innovative and striking housing designs in cities, from Copenhagen and New York. 

A partner in BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) Bergmann heads up the firm’s business development in 15 different countries. He’s a registered architect in the US, UK, and Denmark and a LEED AP; he was the project manager on the first carbon neutral master plan in Central Asia’s Baku in Azerbaijan. Here he talks about building and materials practices around the world, the advantages of steel construction, and the energy a new generation of architects is bringing to the profession.

The Mountain by BIG

Courtesy BIG

Susan S. Szenasy: It's common knowledge that the 21st century city is in a growth pattern, which means the influx of large numbers of people to urban regions; they all need to be housed. In what area of the world are you seeing, or is BIG working on, projects that can influence the ways the rest of us think of housing in dense urban areas? 

Kai-Uwe Bergmann: We have projects in the cities where we live, Copenhagen and New York, which address this very issue of creating more dense housing for these populations, but we do this without losing the intimacy that each of us so uniquely and universally claims. Some examples are VM Houses, The Mountain, 8 House in Copenhagen and our West 57th Residences in New York.

Another project that will soon begin construction is our Transitlager Residences for UBS Bank in Basel, Switzerland. Here, instead of razing a 1970's concrete warehouse, we enliven it with live/work apartments that also satiate a growing need for reuse by stacking three new floors of housing above the existing structure, thereby preserving our planet and refurbishing it to the way we wish to live today.

SSS: Your work in 15 different countries puts you in touch with probably 15 different approaches to the materials used to build residential buildings around the world. Is there one place that welcomes the use of all available structural materials? And if so, what's your assessment of the results?

KUB: Each country and construction culture does things according to their environment, trades, and available materials so it does vary very much from place to place. In Denmark they use a lot of pre-fabricated concrete elements for everything from structural members to flooring to fascia. In the US there’s a preference to build either wood frame construction for low-rise projects and stick-frame steel for larger projects. Perhaps concrete or a composite of the two is used for more complex buildings. Canada builds residential buildings in site-cast concrete; this is also done in the Middle East and Asia where labor is less expensive. It’s really a fascinating study to see how each country and culture builds and how then this influences the architect’s design.  

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