2 September 2011 – Between the Bellinis, speeches from the dignitaries and the best sushi ever likely to be served outside of Toyko at the opening of 1 Bligh Street in Sydney this week, came the suggestion from a guest that the building’s lead architect, Christoph Ingenhoven, could well be the next Jørn Utzon
It might be a big call, but the Germany-based Ingehoven is already on the global map of great architects.
Go Beyond Green
Among his latest projects, for instance, is Google’s new headquarters in northern California. He is not allowed to discuss the look of the place, but can reveal the brief is to go “beyond green” and create the healthiest possible environment.
What that means is still unclear; the building is at the schematic design stage, Ingenhoven says.
Graciously, Ingenhoven allows himself to be bailed up by two members of The Fifth Estate during festivities on the 28th level, top-floor balcony of the building. It’s a mark of the man that he responds to the Utzon remark with perfect neutrality, and with generosity to questions on his work and views.
For instance: what does he really think of the BIM (building informational modelling) project management software used at the buiding? Is it the huge waste-saving, efficiency-generating development software the hoopla suggests?
Not at all, he says. Sure, BIM is now mandated in major European buildings, and with Google, and it has some great features, especially its design conflict “red flag”.
But in the end, “it’s just a tool,” Ingenhoven says. It’s still a lot of hard work; someone has to input all the data, do it correctly and in-sync with all the consultants.
There are plenty of wonderful buildings that have been successfully built without BIM, he points out.
What about the Google commission? What can we expect?
“The brief is to build the most healthy building in the world, and it is supposed to be greener than green, whatever that means,” he says.
Could he specify what shape this might take?
“Well, it is a very efficient building. Whatever [else] that is, we have to find out.
“I am not allowed to talk about what it looks like but I think that to be beyond what is normally green, I think you have to try – it’s a big site – to solve all those problems and all the resource questions on that site.”
Reducing the footprint
For example, how much water should it use? Should it contain water use to what it can harvest, or does it “deserve” more? “Water is a problem in northern California,” Ingenhoven says.
On energy, the question is: “how much sun do you get, and is it possible to run the building with just the energy you get on the site? And by the way, it is possible.”
Another key will be the ecological footprint, or share of resources, that the building will take.
Typically the US uses between one and four planets’ worth of resources per person, while the United Arab Emirates has a capacity of 1 and uses 10 times its share, Ingenhoven says.
“You’re not good. It’s 1.8 on average.”
Less is more
In Germany, he says, there is a concept that in order to even out the score each person must use less than their share. As in golf, where the sign says: “Please repair your pitch and one other,” he says, “so you have to take care of your garbage and that of others … consume less. You have to be under 1, 0.6 [or so].”
Google will extend the idea to how it sources food for its workers. It now has two farms, each of 10 hectares, and each expected to each cater for 10,000 people (there will be a total of 30,000).
“We try to break new ground,” he says.
What does Ingenhoven think of the new Apple Mac building, a massive doughnut-shaped building for 10,000 people?
“No comment,” he says. “What do you think of it?” he counters.
“It’s another Pentagon,” he finally says. The main problem being the size and scale.
“If you do things at that scale generally … you are getting big risk,” he says. “If something goes wrong, the failure is immense.
“You should do smaller things. That’s the way democracy works; that’s the way modern cities work; do many smaller things.”
Google’s building will be big enough, he says, a campus building for about 3000 people. But he worries about airports designed to cater for “60, 80 or 100 million passengers. If that goes in a slightly wrong direction, you end up with a disaster.”
What projects stand out for Ingenhoven, from his vast portfolio?
“For highrise, pretty much what I’m looking at, to 99 per cent,” he says, referring to 1 Bligh Street
What is the one per cent he is not happy with?
Maybe, just maybe, the building could have been five storeys higher, Ingenhoven suggests. But in the resolution of the design was a bigger than normal footprint, a compromise on height so that Chifley Square would not be overshadowed.
Mix it up, and up?
Should we try to increase the density of the city and build higher where possible?
“The most important thing is to have a mixture,” Ingenhoven says: a greater mix of buildings, heights and uses.
In particular, he thinks Sydney’s CBD could have more residential property.
“You have a lack of residential, You see the crowds at 4 o’clock and 5 and 6, then it’s empty.”
“And Sydney is such an attractive city. There are so many chances to build residential. You have to have better infrastructure, better underground [transport], but it’s a wonderful, beautiful city. You have all the potential.”
So is he looking at something else in Australia?
Something close, in Sydney?
“Yes.” But he reveals no more, except that this trip is not to discuss future business, but solely to honour the official opening of 1 Bligh St.
It’s a big round trip for a function, but Ingenhoven is used to it.
“I am flying in today and out day after tomorrow. I have a new passport because the old one is absolutely filled.
“I have been 14 times in Australia since we did this, and it was six times in the first four months. I’m most sorry to say [that in many cases] it was just a look and 24 hours.”
Could he have done much of the work during those trips remotely, on line?
“No, I don’t think so,” he says. It’s all about trust and for that you need face-to-face contact with your clients and to collaborate.
“You have to be there to get used to the place, getting to know the people, the culture, the temperature.
“It is personal because they have to trust you. At the very end they have to trust you because there is always big trouble and people have to trust you [to get through that].”
In spite of all that travel, Ingenhoven is still keen to work on another Sydney project.
“I feel very sad that it’s finished,” he says. “I like the city and the connection to Australia.” And he has strong connections, including a son who works in Sydney “as a business man, in real estate”.
“He started studying architecture – for three weeks. I wasn’t sure about that and my wife wasn’t sure. Then he said he wanted to quit and I asked why. ‘The long hours, they work all night,’ he said.”
Surely he knew that, having seen his father in action? Ingenhoven thought the same, but the son said, “I thought it was only you, but now I see everyone is like that.”
However there is hope with his fifth and youngest child, a boy of 12 who wants to be an architect.
“He’s very serious about it,” Ingenhoven says.
As, clearly, is his father.
- See our previous article on Ingenhoven and 1 Bligh Street
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