Film review: The world of architecture with Bjarke Ingels in ‘Big Time’

Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s feature-length documentary ‘Big Time’ dips into the world of architecture with renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. The film premiered at the opening of the fourth edition of the annual Copenhagen Architecture Festival and is now screening in cinemas across Denmark.

by Miriam Thiel-Alberts, photos by Good Company Pictures

“If documentary is to document our world how it already is, and fiction is to fantasise how it could be, then architecture is the fiction of the real world.” – Bjarke Ingels.

Kaspar Astrup Schröder captures an intimate portrait of Bjarke Ingels and the ups and downs of being the world’s most successful architect in his new documentary, ‘Big Time’. The pair met through Astrup’s wife, who worked at the BIG group in Copenhagen, and for four years Astrup followed Ingels around the world to bring us an insight into his demanding life as a world-class architect. Ingels, who has risen to stardom with his unusual buildings and the commission to build World Trade Tower 2, leads two offices with over 400 employees in both Copenhagen and New York.


The film gets deep into the workings of Ingels’ architecture

In his 42 years Ingels has built more buildings than most other architects do in a lifetime, and his enthusiasm and creativity are captivating. The glossy pictures of the buildings, with Ingels’ straightforward explanations of the architecture, invite the viewer to dream about creating their own world or living in one of the beautiful buildings portrayed. The documentary proves that architecture can be a sexy affair, with beautifully designed buildings and new, catchy words to describe the crossbreeds of two things, such as a ‘Courtscraper’. And all the while the charming Ingels leads us through the world of architecture.

However, following an always on-the-move Ingels through the film can leave you feeling slightly breathless; he steams through, seemingly unable to stop. But why stop when everything is so easy? Ingels sails through meetings with important clients, wins competitions, meets royalty and receives the most prestigious assignments. Everything appears to be perfect.

But then life happens. After a concussion Ingels suffers debilitating headaches and fears he will be unable to continue his gruelling work schedule. Pictures of a tired Ingels sleeping in his car and having trouble following a meeting due to headaches show us another, vulnerable side of him.

Architect gets the girl

But sometimes the film can be a little too perfect. The scenes and interviews feel slightly staged and the film is as glossy and shiny as one of his building facades. Even though you might think you get an insight into his life, you don’t really get to know the Ingels behind the facade. At times, it feels a little superficial and fictitious – like it was created on a drawing board. And that is great for a fiction movie, but in a documentary I expected more ‘life’.

Astrup made the documentary across four years and probably wanted to paint a comprehensive picture of Ingels’ life. However, unfortunately he ended up only showing his big achievements, with the lead-up to these not making it into the film. This results in there being no real development of the story or of Ingels’ character.

Having said that, ‘Big Time’ is still very entertaining and easy to watch with striking visuals and a seemingly down to earth Ingels; it is a beautifully created visual statement of the architect’s life. But without the gritty side to it, the real emotions, the uncomfortable experiences and the imperfections – even though the film does try to show Ingels’ challenges – it never feels as though his perfect world is in real danger of collapsing.

‘BIG TIME’ is half in English, half in Danish. Most cinemas in Jutland will show the film without English subtitles, so do check the details of the screening.

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