“Working toward your own Sydney Opera is what every architect dreams of,” says Bjarke Ingels, the best architect of his generation, at the outset of the elegant documentary Big Time. That dazzling structure, one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, was the result of hardship and sacrifice, beset by cost overruns and the resignation of architect Jørn Utzon, but Ingels says that the result was plainly worth it.
Big Time documents Ingels’s move to New York City from Copenhagen to oversee the design and construction of a pair of buildings. The first is 2 World Trade Center, an unconventional, cantilevered, terraced stack of blocks bridging the towering financial district with the smaller-scale Tribeca. The second is the striking tetrahedral Via 57 West overlooking the Hudson, an almost archetypal Ingels building with its sloped roofs, stepped terraces, and shared outdoor spaces. There’s nothing like it on the New York skyline.
At 43, he’s considered incredibly precocious in his field. But Ingels broods over the missed opportunities of marriage and children. These years are tumultuous, as he encounters business headwinds and confronts his mortality when he’s diagnosed with a brain cyst that causes terrible headaches.
Pushing these gargantuan yet eccentric projects to completion — and securing such powerful backers as Rupert Murdoch and Douglas Durst — requires correspondingly huge charisma. Ingels, who resembles Karl Urban, has a gift for storytelling, breaking down architectural concepts with marker drawings and funny analogies. Director Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s gorgeous film is informed by that same charm and intelligence the way a sailboat is informed by 7 knots of westerly breeze.
Directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder
Mongrel Media and Abramorama
Opens December 1, Landmark at 57 West