April 22nd, 2012
08:57 AM ET

Bjarke Ingels: Rethinking social infrastructure

By Bjarke Ingels, Special to CNN

The infrastructure of the industry of the past seems to be inevitably appropriated as the framework for the social and cultural life of the present.

The old train tracks on Manhattans lower west side turns into the highline - the most popular park of NYC today.

The Tate Modern in London is an old power plant.

The most beautiful parks and lakes of Copenhagen are the old city fortress reinvented.

The world's first ski-lifts were repurposed mining lifts – as the silver dried out the flow got reversed - rather than bringing metals down from the hills they started dragging skiers to the slopes.

The Soho industrial loft with the tall ceilings, long spans and big windows becomes the most desirable place to live.

Somehow the pioneering of the infrastructure of industry or military paves the path for the main stream architecture.

In fashion work uniforms and sports gear invents features and engineers new and better, faster, stronger materials and fabrics. They then find their way into fashion through vintage and later through appropriation on to the cat-walk. The list is endless but some of the pillars of fashion today- the jeans and the sneakers – were invented for the mine or the running track.

Rather than waiting for the past infrastructure to get decommissioned and reborn with a new social program – could we conceive of our public infrastructures to come with intended social side-effects from day one.

Our public infrastructures for transport, industry, energy, waste, water, sewage etc. are major investments in our public budgets. However they always appear as grey areas on the city map. Like black holes in the urban fabric lost for the public realm – they are big ugly boxes that cast shadows on the neighbors or block the views.

What if we could harness those massive investments and imbue them with positive social side effects from the get go rather than in retrospect? What if we could turn a highway interchange into a man-made valley with a public park? What if the massive volume of a waste-to-energy power plant could become a mountain with ski slopes in a city full of snow but without hills?

By proactively cross-breeding the public infrastructure with social programs we can inject new urban life forms in to the heart of our cities – and we can seize billions of dollars to the shrinking budgets for urban social philanthropy.

Having tested these ideas for a handful of projects in Copenhagen and Stockholm – the STHLM SPHERE and AMAGER BAKKE – we are preparing to take them to the developing world. Where sudden growth and social inequality contrasts a small affluent population of key players in the economic development with large populations living in informal settlements. The infrastructural investments that cater to the few – high speed rails and highways – are necessary for the economic prosperity of the country while serving only a small part of its people.

What if these investments could be similarly cross-pollinated so that rather than merely having unanticipated consequences like when a highway cuts favela in half – separating one side from the other – they could have positive social side effects in the form of nested programs, parks and playgrounds – turning the investments for the few into the enjoyment the many. Pragmatism becomes hedonism in the social infrastructure for the city of our future.

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Filed under: Architecture • Design • The Next List • Video
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. social bookmarking seo

    First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question which I'd like to ask if you don't mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Kudos!|

    September 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  2. Steve John

    Well Explained the Use of Infratucture way to go dude..

    September 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  3. communication

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    September 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  4. Rabbi

    Israel should be the focus, not social change. The Jewish people need help, and all I see in America is anti semitism....

    What stupid Americans seem not to understand, is that Jews are chosen people.

    We will reap the rewards of our faithful service to Yahweh.

    The goyim of this world should be happy to fight over the scraps that we Jews throw from table.

    Israel will reign supreme over earth, and anybody challenging that assertion will be conquered, with the help of US military.

    You people may not like us Jews, but you WILL learn to fear us.

    If a few of you must die to save a few of us....that's a bargain I can live with. Your own nations agree with me on this.

    Your sacrafices are necessary to ensure the survival of the only democracy in the middle east. Be happy.

    April 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Reply
    • God

      Nobody likes a tattletale.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:41 am | Reply
  5. emdogg

    Great series, but I want to re-watch the show sequentially. CNN please post the videos all in one place. I want to send them to others to watch, but it is next to impossible to find the first, second, third as the show on TV.

    PLEASE HELP us viewers. Thanks.

    April 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  6. Tony Castrigno

    BIG thinking + INTEGRATED disciplines + REAL WORLD applications. Three things that rarely come together in one place. I think his energy and insight are refreshing and if his approach is can be grasped and practiced more widely even the smallest design projects can be elevated to a more meaningful place.

    Two comments on the piece... the editing of the interviews was fabulous. The editing on the architecture – ruined the appreciation of the forms and solutions. And it was too short – what happened to the "bridge project" studio?

    April 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  7. Ana Kinkaid

    Brilliant use of technology and innovative design – Here comes the future!

    Change is not just thinking. It is actually doing something in the real world that offers choices and opens minds to new possibilities.

    Thank you for this great story.

    April 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  8. ergodesk

    This is how we will survive GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE, by turning our thinking on its head. Design change from the inside out, including the Construction Materials. More: http://goo.gl/KLCjs

    April 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply

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