Whether it’s a mixed-use highrise in Vancouver or a subterranean maritime museum in Denmark, every project that BIG presents to the public comes with its own detailed slideshow to illustrate the many site-specific considerations that literally shape the final product: sight-lines both from and past the structure, zoning restrictions, access points, grade, wind direction, how sunlight moves across the site over the course of a day, and innumerable others besides. This attention to context is at the heart of “Hot to Cold,” on view in the Great Hall at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., until August 30th.
The 60 projects featured – some built, some proposed – were conceived for locales that range from the Arabian desert to the tundra of Finland, and the extreme climatic variations BIG has had to contend with are at the heart of the exhibit. Girding the second floor arcade of the museum’s Great Hall, more than 60 models, mock-ups and prototypes are arranged by climate – from hot to cold – tracing a virtual journey around the globe and giving the show its name. On the ground floor of the hall, visitors are greeted with a massive model of BIG’s under-construction Danish Lego Museum.
The exhibit is the first North American showcase of BIG’s work, and provides a behind-the-scenes look into the firm’s creative process, including how it responds to harsh environmental demands. Where the conditions are more forgiving, the effects of other factors – programming needs, local politics, and even legislation – are felt more keenly. “Architecture always responds to a series of existing conditions – the context, the culture, the landscape, and the climate,” says Ingels. “Our climate is the one thing we can’t escape.”
Photographs by Iwan Baan and films by Ila Bêka, Louise Lemoine, Kaspar Astrup Schoder, WAITT and Squint/Opera complete the exhibit by portraying the projects’ lives after the architects’ job is done. The positioning of these media and the many models on view was determined by BIG itself specifically for the Great Hall, to draw the sights, sounds and changing lighting conditions into the viewing experience and put the skills being illustrated into practice.