When pandemic stay-at-home orders were implemented in March, people in cities around the world were made prisoners in their own apartments. Residents in many buildings designed by the Danish-born architect Bjarke Ingels found themselves spending time on their balconies.
“One of our first buildings, in Copenhagen, has these very long balconies that are staggered,” Ingels says. There, residents connect with neighbors in a physically distant way. “People were sending me videos of ‘block parties’ where everyone was outside, enjoying the sunset and listening to music—but safely.”
Ingels isn’t the first architect to build a balcony, but he’s made it a motif in his residences, from New York to Taiwan. Incorporating additional outdoor space seems inevitable after the Covid-19 pandemic. And, as the world reassesses offices and urban spaces, Ingels sees an opportunity to fast-track additional ideas and hone the design language he’s been championing for years. “We’ve been spending a big part of Covid—really all of 2020—looking at this,” he says.
It’s not only about outdoor spaces. Ingels wants to change everything. This includes mechanical systems, which he says lag in innovation; facades, which could be more energy-efficient; and the layout of apartments, which are mostly one-size-fits-all. “In the 1950s, there was this kind of fixed idea of a nuclear family, whereas the diversity of households today is massive,” he says. In his eyes, urban homes in the next few decades will reflect a broad spectrum of uses, as well as iterative innovations in technology.
Here are a few ways Ingels intends to improve housing, wellness, and how we live and (try to) work.
Rearranged Living Spaces
Traditional apartment layouts simply don’t account for many family formats, Ingels says, including single-parent households, childless households, and co-living arrangements with multiple roommates. “Most of us have, in our lifetime, stayed in a shared flat with other people,” he says, “where we took a bourgeois home from the early 20th century and converted it into something where five young people each had a bedroom and a shared living area. That should be reinterpreted into building designs.”
In the Sluishuis, an Ingels project in Amsterdam, one of the apartment types is called a slice home, which is essentially two apartments with shared rooms in the middle. “It could be for divorced families with children,” he explains. “Depending on whose week it is, you can move the entryway so the children can stay in the same home.”
Co-living, he says, “is going to be a bigger and bigger part of our residential future.” People might have distanced during the pandemic, but the ongoing economic slump might force many to find savings in shared accommodations. “I don’t think the result of Covid is that we’re going to live in complete isolation in a sort of hermetic bubble,” he says. The most immediate consequence is “that dense cities have discovered the importance of outdoor space.”
Balconies as Rooms
“During Covid, one of my partners in New York took every conference call from his balcony,” Ingels says. “It’s generous enough in terms of space, and it’s shaded well enough that it can function as his home office.” Most people think of balconies—particularly in urban apartment buildings—as “small, little things, maybe with space for a potted plant and room to smoke a cigarette,” he says. “But I think the balcony is going to be much more like an outdoor room.”
Even though it’s an extension of the home, Ingels doesn’t think a balcony should necessarily be as private as the rest of the house. It could, he says, be a form of semipublic, semiprivate common space. Take his apartment building in Copenhagen, with balconies jutting out over one another. “At first, it was seen as challenging, because you didn’t have full privacy from your neighbor,” he says. “Now, it’s seen as creating a community.”
Part of Ingels’s preoccupation with outdoor space derives from his interest in biophilia, which posits that humans who experience changes in light, weather, and seasons “are more productive and healthy,” he says. “The more access you have to greenery, if only visually, the fewer your sick days and the higher your productivity.”
According to a 2009 study out of Norway, blocking out nature results in negative effects. Ingels says future generations of buildings, including his own, will have “almost an extra layer to the facade— but outdoors, where you have access to fresh air and plants.” One such project of his, King Toronto, is already under construction. “It’s essentially a mountain where every home has a terrace with a tree on it,” he says.
The added benefit of plants on an exterior is that the nature, in theory, creates “shade for a glass facade,” he says. “You don’t have to have tinted or mirrored glass,” because the foliage creates a barrier to sunlight.
“In the past, there was global agreement on what ‘high-end’ meant,” Ingels says. Developers (and consumers) required “a checklist of features and materials.” Is the bathroom covered in marble with a standalone bathtub? Is a kitchen loaded up with commercial-grade appliances? Criteria along those lines are on their way out, he suggests, to be replaced with “personality, character, and authenticity.”
He points to a hotel he didn’t design—the Nômade in Tulum, Mexico—that is set in the jungle and features tents nestled in groves of palm trees. “With that abundance of greenery, you can allow people to live relatively close to one another without impacting their privacy,” he says. He acknowledges that the rooms are comfortable and pleasant, but it’s not the kind of luxury you’d find at the Ritz. The real point is that people need to “sense the care of the designer.”
Eventually, people will forsake their apartments some to return to work. When they do, Ingels wants to change what they see when they step outside. Earlier this year, he released plans for Toyota Woven City, a commission from the car company set on a 175-acre plot at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan.
“Every third street is a classic street” with room for cars, albeit ones that are mostly electric, Ingels says. A second street type is a recreational promenade in which people can ride bikes and scooters. The final type, he says, “will be like a park, with grass and trees.” Residents will be able to walk from one end of town to the other—or wherever they need to go—without ever leaving green space.
“It turned out that this would be the perfect scenario of a post-Covid reimagining of a city,” he says. “When a space isn’t dominated by vehicles, it becomes additional outdoor space for people to enjoy.”