Bjarke Ingels and Kim Stanley Robinson at IDEAS CITY

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[tran­script by Paul Rivers for City Atlas]

Joseph Gri­ma (direc­tor of IDEAS CITY):

Bjarke Ingels, to those of you who are stu­dents here at Coop­er Union, needs no intro­duc­tion, and I think many of the rest of you will have also heard of him or seen his work here in New York.

As many of you know, he’s work­ing on an extra­or­di­nary hous­ing devel­op­ment on West 57th Street and upcom­ing projects just here in Man­hat­tan also involve prob­a­bly at least two oth­er projects, one col­lo­qui­al­ly known as the Dry­line – a storm defense sys­tem intend­ed to pro­tect Man­hat­tan from the com­ing of a sec­ond Sandy, but to also cre­ate a new park that which will stretch along much of its coast­line and oth­er projects that are… I think are still in the pipeline and have only been rumored so far.

I don’t think its an exag­ger­a­tion to say he’s trans­form­ing the shape of New York as we know it today. And that’s just here in New York, else­where he is also work­ing on a major, extra­or­di­nary new almost sci-fi project on the Google Cam­pus in Palo Alto and count­less oth­er projects all over the world, and all of that by age 40, so one can only imag­ine what he will be doing in the com­ing years.

So I wrote to Bjarke and I said, “if you could chose any­body in the world to have a con­ver­sa­tion with at IDEAS CITY, who would that be, and I didn’t hear back from him for a few days, then a week passed, then a cou­ple of weeks, and then sud­den­ly in the mid­dle of the night, I got a text mes­sage, and he said Kim Stan­ley Robin­son, that was just the three words.

I had kind of almost for­got­ten about it then, and sud­den­ly I real­ized what a log­i­cal choice this is.

In the field of tech­nol­o­gy today, you increas­ing­ly real­ize that actu­al­ly what is hap­pen­ing is that bril­liant minds, bril­liant doers, mak­ers, are read­ing sci­ence fic­tion nov­els and just tak­ing them not as some sort of imag­i­nary map of some imag­i­nary dis­tant real­i­ty, but actu­al­ly tak­ing them as a kind of man­u­al for how to shape the city of the future, the world of the future that we will inhab­it.

So Kim Stan­ley Robin­son is a log­i­cal choice for Bjarke in that he has been since 1990…between 1993 and 1999 he wrote three nov­els that real­ly rede­fined the gen­re of sci­ence fic­tion, the Mars tril­o­gy as they’re known is real­ly con­sid­ered by sci­en­tists among oth­ers to real­ly be a roadmap towards the col­o­niza­tion of Mars. So I’d like to wel­come to the stage the­se two extra­or­di­nary fig­ures and I can’t wait to hear them tell us about the future that awaits us essen­tial­ly. Thank you very much.

Bjarke Ingels: Thank you, so may­be I should…thank you for com­ing to New York, Stan. 

Kim Stan­ley Robin­son: Real plea­sure.

May­be I should jus­ti­fy why I…uh well Joseph did a good job…why an archi­tect would be so inspired by a writer, espe­cial­ly a sci­ence fic­tion writer, and I know that you…wrote your the­sis on Phillip K. Dick, and I quite often use one of Phillip K. Dick’s def­i­n­i­tions of sci­ence fic­tion as a rea­son why any­one should be inter­est­ed in sci­ence fic­tion. Which is that he wrote, and I might mis­quote it slight­ly but the spir­it is, he wrote that: sci­ence fic­tion is not a space opera although it often takes space in space, its not a sto­ry from the future although it often takes place in the future but sci­ence fic­tion is lit­er­ary, where the plot is trig­gered by some form of inno­va­tion, and this inno­va­tion is often tech­no­log­i­cal but it can also be social, polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, bio­log­i­cal, what every­body basi­cal­ly takes the world as we know it, changes one impor­tant fact, or fac­tor and then the whole nov­el becomes a nar­ra­tive explo­ration of the poten­tial of that idea, the con­se­quences, the cas­cad­ing con­se­quences, the side effects, the con­flicts, the pos­si­bil­i­ties that erupt from this one changed fac­tor.

Just like in my mind almost all aspects of life, but espe­cial­ly in design when you’re doing some­thing, when you’re try­ing to design a build­ing or a city or what­ev­er, you try to look for things that might’ve changed or could change, then once you try to alter that one vari­able, the whole design process becomes a design explo­ration of the poten­tial of that change. 

And also, I nor­mal­ly explain to peo­ple that don’t know what archi­tec­ture or design is that at the core of it, it is the art and sci­ence of turn­ing fic­tion into fact. That you spend a lot of time solv­ing prob­lems, get­ting per­mits, etc and then once you’re done, sud­den­ly what start­ed out as a wild idea is now con­crete real­i­ty and sim­ply the world as we know it, so in that sense there is often this amaz­ing poten­tial in find­ing fic­tions that you would want to see turned into fact and may­be just before I hand it over to you with a seri­ous ques­tion, we found a video…because the oth­er day I stum­bled upon a video that this Swedish amat­uer ani­ma­tor did, that is actu­al­ly a.. it’s a three-min­ute film that real­izes and visu­al­izes a lot of the ideas that Stan has brought for­ward in his books and I think it’s a pret­ty good exam­ple of a series of fic­tions that I would love to see turned into fact. Could you show the video?

VIDEO- 6:13–9:35

Thanks. So what kind of thing…like you mentioned…because of course one of the first fron­tiers of space explo­ration is, today peo­ple hap­pi­ly go up into sort of 3 or 4 miles of height to places where you can’t real­ly sur­vive with­out assis­tance on plan­et earth. And the­se are sort of exam­ples of space tourism, when that becomes an option.

Kim Stan­ley Robin­son: Yes but — I want to — for peo­ple who aren’t famil­iar with my work, to assert that I am a real­ist.

And I come from Cal­i­for­nia, and there­fore look­ing at the world today I see the world that we live in as a kind of large sci­ence fic­tion nov­el that we’re all writ­ing togeth­er. Because all the­se inno­va­tions are com­ing and hap­pen­ing so fast that in effect we are already in a sci­ence fic­tion nov­el and always will be. So to write sci­ence fic­tion is to do a kind of real­ism, and just like your quote from Phillip K. Dick was very, very apt, because you change one thing and you can fol­low the ram­i­fi­ca­tions out into a sce­nar­io, and its not real­ly pre­dict­ing the future, but just express­ing what might hap­pen from the things that we’re doing now. And then they recom­bine with each oth­er and make a sto­ry.

And I guess the oth­er thing I want to say is that you do the hard part like…like Bjarke talked about turn­ing fic­tion into fact, and for me we do that all the time but that’s actu­al­ly very hard to accom­plish in the real world. And I do like the oppo­site, I turn fact which is our cur­rent real­i­ty, very sci­ence fic­tion­al, into fic­tions to try to tell sto­ries of where we might go and how it might work.

And ulti­mate­ly when Bjarke and I met, what I saw in his work…in you know he said some­thing like, any­time you con­front a dilem­ma, always say yes. And so there was this kind of utopi­an cop­ing with the sit­u­a­tion at hand, and mak­ing the best of it. There was a kind of joy­ful­ness even in the kind of emer­gen­cy cen­tu­ry that we’re enter­ing, with all of the cli­mate change prob­lem, and all the prob­lems that we face.

Nev­er­the­less you designed your way out of it by cop­ing with it as best you can, and it isn’t just dis­as­ter main­te­nance, its actu­al­ly growth into some­thing that could be quite mag­nif­i­cent. So I do the easy part, I look at the sit­u­a­tion and say well, it could be so great, lets build a city on Mars in which they could go down a mile inside a cylin­der and that way they stay warm, or build on the inside of a crater on top of a lava ponds, and I can just say make it so or I can write the sen­tences. Actu­al­ly turn­ing it into real struc­tures in the real world.. I am enor­mous­ly impressed by because I think that’s the hard part.

Ingels: Actu­al­ly those things on Mars, the fun­ny thing is that the first time I got the Red Mars in my hands and start­ed read­ing it I was actu­al­ly on a ship, on an expe­di­tion in the North­east of Green­land, which is…it’s a huge nature park, its an extreme­ly harsh cli­mate, by law you’re not allowed to get off the boat with­out wear­ing a sur­vival suit, like you don’t need oxy­gen but every­thing else, like you will die if you drop in the water, you actu­al­ly have to car­ry a rifle, like with the­se huge car­tridges that are like bear car­tridges because there’s polar bears. 

So, and I was on a boat with sci­en­tists and artists, almost like the first 100 col­o­niz­ers of Mars, in Red Mars which is like a group of sci­en­tists, and it felt incred­i­bly rel­e­vant to my cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

We also have the E.U Com­mis­sion­er for the Envi­ron­ment here in the room, and the inter­est­ing thing about what hap­pens in Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars, is that they actu­al­ly talk about stew­ard­ship of a plan­et,  as some­thing proac­tive, for instance the preser­va­tion­ists, they wan­na keep Mars as unin­hab­it­able, like the way we found it, where­as the ter­raform­ers, they want to cre­ate glob­al warm­ing because Mars is very cold, they want to pol­lute the atmos­phere with CO2 and oth­er gas­es, of course oxy­gen and nitro­gen, to make the air breath­able. They want to bring inva­sive species from Plan­et Earth, to start cre­at­ing a bios­phere, so its almost like turn­ing the whole idea of glob­al warm­ing and the envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges we are fac­ing now on plan­et Earth inside out, the con­cept is a proac­tive issue.

Well ever since I wrote the­se books that its kind of a fun­house mir­ror a reflec­tion of what we have done here, in both cas­es we’re stuck with plan­e­tary man­age­ment, and we… man­age­ment is may­be the wrong word, because we don’t know enough to do it well.

We don’t have that much pow­er. If we push Earth’s envi­ron­ment past cer­tain tip­ping points, ocean salin­i­ty, or aver­age tem­per­a­ture, things will spi­ral quick­ly out of any pos­si­bil­i­ty of us com­ing back from that.

We don’t have that much pow­er, so its not geo­engi­neer­ing which implies more con­trol than we have, its more like geo-finess­ing where we hope to tweak things in the right direc­tion and avoid doing bad things in the first place.

So I like that the Mars book serves as a thought exper­i­ment where you think about… on Mars its ter­raform­ing, on Earth we call it geo­engi­neer­ing because its too painful of a joke to talk about ter­raform­ing Earth.

But the issues are the same, we have an impact on the cli­mate, we have an impact on the envi­ron­ment, we need to make a sta­ble civ­i­liza­tion, we need to be in a sta­ble bal­ance with the plan­e­tary sys­tems, the flows of ener­gy, the abil­i­ty to get rid of wastes, all of the­se things have to be put into a long term bal­ance, and if they aren’t none of the­se space dreams of enjoy­ing the solar sys­tem, our local neigh­bor­hood will come to pass, and they’ll be ren­dered irrel­e­vant.

Its impor­tant I think com­ing from my per­spec­tive to insist that Earth is the per­ma­nent cen­ter of the sto­ry, there’s no plan­et B, Mars won’t do us any good unless Earth is in a sta­ble long term bal­ance. Because the project of inhab­it­ing Mars and the solar sys­tem will take either cen­turies of thou­sands of years, so the time scales are grotesque­ly off, we have a decades…an emer­gen­cy that is hit­ting us in the next few years and decades, and a poten­tial that extends off beyond that; if we were able to solve our prob­lems here then we could have quite an extra­or­di­nary time in our solar sys­tem, which is close enough to play around in, and can be both use­ful and beau­ti­ful.

Ingels: Excuse me, I also think its kin­da help­ful when you see the.. exact­ly the mon­u­ments, almost cat­a­stroph­ic scale of inter­ven­tions that are nec­es­sary on Mars to start bring­ing it like towards…there’s this whole array of efforts includ­ing cre­at­ing like the­se off world solar focusers that cre­ate the­se hot beams that emit tons of mat­ter and CO2 into the atmos­phere. They’re trig­ger­ing vol­canic erup­tions, all kinds of ele­ments of like mas­sive dis­as­ters, glob­al warm­ing…

You can make a nar­ra­tive that the three books take place over a span of 100 or 150 years, sim­ply because things work so incred­i­bly slow­ly, which again reminds you again how much eas­ier it is to actu­al­ly proac­tive­ly take care of the plan­et that actu­al­ly comes with a ful­ly-inhab­it­able ecosys­tem, rather than mak­ing one in anoth­er loca­tion.

So true. We start­ed the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion with 280 parts per mil­lion of car­bon diox­ide, now we’re at 400, the effects are obvi­ous. We can burn about 500 more giga­tons of car­bon and stay with­in that two degrees lim­it that sci­en­tists have declared might be safe and not spi­ral into dis­as­ters, but we’ve iden­ti­fied 2500 giga­tons of fos­sil car­bon already, and so that means that there are about 2000 giga­tons of fos­sil car­bon that are strand­ed assets, that we have to not burn and its worth about 1,600 tril­lion dol­lars at cur­rent prices.

So there are peo­ple on this plan­et that are gonna want to burn that, they are going to be care­less of the con­se­quences, they are gonna con­vince them­selves that it’s ok, and the rest of us are going to have to insist that we not burn the four-fifths of the car­bon that we iden­ti­fied.

Well this is alarm­ing and I think we need the tools of thought and we need post cap­i­tal­ism. And we need a way to price prop­er­ly the neg­a­tive exter­nal­i­ties as econ­o­mists used to put it, because those aren’t exter­nal­i­ties those are inter­nal­i­ties, and we’re real­ly just defer­ring the­se costs onto future gen­er­a­tions, but they pay a hor­ri­ble price com­pared to the price that we would pay.

So the pres­i­dent of the World Bank said last year we need to put a price on car­bon, this was remark­able com­ing from the head of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, or one of the heads, the mar­ket sys­tem doesn’t work, it under prices things, you’re not pay­ing the true costs, so here the tech­nol­o­gy involved is eco­nom­ics and jus­tice and lan­guage and the rule of law, the­se are all tech­nolo­gies as well as the machiner­ies, and it’s impor­tant to keep that in mind.

May­be two things that I add to that, I think what you’re talk­ing about, the human ele­ment that there’s like too much temp­ta­tion to this like short-sight­ed prof­it or this like…a lot of dis­agree­ment I think one of the things that’s fas­ci­nat­ing in the Mars tril­o­gy is that you have a plan­et that is high­ly pop­u­lat­ed by basi­cal­ly sci­en­tists and engi­neers, so peo­ple that real­ly know how to act, peo­ple that have the skills and the tools and the tech­nol­o­gy and the abil­i­ty to act and solve res­olute­ly, and do what’s nec­es­sary but then when it comes to at some point, with­out spoil­ing too much, Mars acquires inde­pen­dence from Earth, you know, any colony always ends up rebelling the old world. 

And in this case they have to find out what’s going to be the polit­i­cal sys­tem, and for me I was actually…I was hav­ing a hard time com­ing through because a major part of book 2 is like there are the­se end­less quar­rels about which polit­i­cal sys­tem to imple­ment, which ide­ol­o­gy.

It was dri­ving me nuts like all the­se peo­ple that had like amaz­ing capac­i­ty to act were com­plete­ly numbed by their annoy­ing dis­agree­ments.

Well as I said I am a real­ist and…people are nev­er going to agree about the­se things and that’s real­ly what pol­i­tics is, you need work­ing majori­ties of 51% or 55% or 60%, you’re nev­er going to get 100%, nor any­thing close so you have to find out all the details of the­se things and there’s lots of dif­fer­ent poten­tial plans, and lots of dif­fer­ent ways of describ­ing the issues involved. Dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic sys­tems, dif­fer­ent social sys­tems, you could say going from glob­al cap­i­tal­ism to glob­al social democ­ra­cy.

I mean if you could instan­ta­neous­ly enact the laws of Den­mark inter­na­tion­al­ly every­where on Earth that would be a big step in the right direc­tion. And then fur­ther steps could fol­low from there, so this is a hard thing to argue in the Unit­ed States where we don’t have a social democ­rat par­ty but what you can say is pub­lic util­i­ty dis­tricts or what you can say is gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple and speak out again­st oli­garchy and wealth and speak towards democ­ra­ti­za­tion of wealth and pow­er.

You know de-oli­garchi­fy, this is my cur­rent phrase, so the­se are.. the­se are still tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions and their gonna cause end­less argu­ments, and I do think that given that that’s true may­be we should reel it back to design into some of the things that you’re doing. It was men­tioned in the intro­duc­tion that the so called Dry­line, and I myself am real­ly inter­est­ed in hear­ing more about this and I bet a lot of peo­ple are. Its more of a con­cept or a mys­tery to us now and I won­dered if you could tell us more.

It actu­al­ly falls quite nice­ly into this bal­ance that you always cen­ter your nar­ra­tives about. On one hand the social…the social polit­i­cal aspect and the oth­er hand the hot sci­ence and engi­neer­ing, in the case of the Dry­line like after Sandy it became quite evi­dent that with ris­ing tem­per­a­tures the Hur­ri­cane belt on the Atlantic has expand­ed north and south, which means that cer­tain­ly states that aren’t real­ly used to like fre­quent and strong, storms are sud­den­ly get­ting them more and more fre­quent­ly and then it just so hap­pens that the fun­nel shape of the New York bite makes all of the East coast of the tri-state area func­tion as a gigan­tic fun­nel that brings storm surge into the mouth of the Hud­son River that basi­cal­ly puts 50% of the city at risk. 

So some­thing needs to be done, and there we try to sort of… in a way to com­bine the..  envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing with the social engi­neer­ing and if you look at the New York sea his­to­ry the devel­op­ment of New York City has been very much shaped by two giants and the encoun­ter between them. 

Bob Moses – Robert Moses the pow­er bro­ker – a pub­lic ser­vant with almost unlim­it­ed pow­er, very top-down with often dev­as­tat­ing impact on the neigh­bor­hoods he inter­vened in,  like nec­es­sary projects but very heavy hand­ed and very top down. At some point he tried to typ­i­cal­ly run a high­way through Green­wich vil­lage, he encoun­tered resis­tance from Jane Jacobs who had ral­lied the local grass­roots and even­tu­al­ly in a sort of David Goliath moment of New York City devel­op­ment defeat­ed the plan and saved the vil­lage. So for the Dry­line we though this needs to be almost like the love child of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, like any­way because to pro­tect the city from storm surge you need a holis­tic and con­tigu­ous approach of like 12 miles of con­tin­u­ous water­front pro­tec­tion.

Its very very heavy on engi­neer­ing, it needs to be sort of coor­di­nat­ed col­lec­tive­ly, but to make it urban­is­ti­cal­ly suc­cess­ful it needs to have an enclosed dia­logue with the local com­mu­ni­ties, so it doesn’t become a wall that separate’s the life of the city from the water around it, but it is actu­al­ly wel­comed. Because when you have to…to make mas­sive projects you have to move a lot of soil, you have to bring in a lot of steel, you can do it just as a sin­gle serv­ing, pur­pose of cre­at­ing a dike and that’s it, or you can try to say that while we’re doing it why don’t we ask every­body what are their great­est fears for this? What are their great­est con­cerns? What are their desires for their com­mu­ni­ty, what’s on their wish list, what would be amaz­ing and then try to see that while doing to pro­tec­tion you can do it in such a way that it also becomes parks or land­scapes or pavil­ion and so, etc. So its in a way try­ing to bring the human ele­ment, and the sort of hot sci­ence ele­ment in a form of syn­er­gy.

Actu­al­ly I was think­ing may­be there was this interesting…back to your point about cap­i­tal­ist and alter­nate mod­es, that nor­mal­ly I say as an archi­tect to be quite often up again­st the stan­dard solu­tion, and the stan­dard solu­tion is often serv­ing a sin­gle cri­te­ria.

And a typ­i­cal exam­ple could be a sort of Robert Moses pub­lic hous­ing project. Where you know you need x amounts of res­i­den­tial units, may­be you want day­light from 2 sides, you need a min­i­mum dis­tance to the next build­ing, there’s a cer­tain effi­cien­cy of an ele­va­tor that goes x amount of floors, then may­be you need anoth­er ele­va­tor, you stop there, so you end up hav­ing a slab and then an off­set and then the next slab and an off­set and the next slab, so your serv­ing that one cri­te­ria.  It’s a stan­dard solu­tion that’s per­fect if you only look at that but it doesn’t say any­thing about life between the build­ings, it doesn’t say any­thing about a diver­si­ty of house­holds, it doesn’t say any­thing about which pro­grams are nec­es­sary to cre­ate a neigh­bor­hood that’s active 24/7, it doesn’t say any­thing about like the neces­si­ty of diver­si­ty both eth­ni­cal­ly, cul­tur­al­ly but also eco­nom­i­cal­ly.

So in a way what we try to do quite often is to… because the stan­dard solu­tion is hard to avoid because its so good at solv­ing that one cri­te­ria.

So our pri­ma­ry weapon when we try to design things is to add more cri­te­ria, to remind the deci­sion mak­ers that this is not enough. You also have to look at this, you also have to look at this, you have to look at this, and sud­den­ly by pil­ing up con­cerns and demands and cri­te­ria the stan­dard solu­tion doesn’t work any longer and you find more…you actu­al­ly force the archi­tec­ture out of the con­straint and the straight­jack­et of the stan­dard solu­tion and into more sort of adven­tur­ous forms and I think may­be back to your eco­nom­i­cal or cap­i­tal­is­tic mod­el – you’re say­ing one of the prob­lems of cap­i­tal­ism, is it the beau­ty of cap­i­tal­ism is that it allows for the dis­tri­b­u­tion and the trade of ser­vices, you don’t have to shoot your own ani­mals and sow your own plants and weave your own clothes. You can write books and you can do it beau­ti­ful­ly, and then you can use the val­ue cre­at­ed from your writ­ing to eat and clothe. So, but of.. but of couse its, right now it’s a quite prim­i­tive sys­tem.

Yep.

Right now its quar­ter­ly prof­it and share­hold­er val­ue as if that were it. So if you added in the terms your describ­ing, this is just what I was say­ing, you’ve come to a dilem­ma and you say yes, this is exact­ly what I think Bjarke is describ­ing in a dif­fer­ent way.

What you add I think is full employ­ment, ade­qua­cy for all, and this recent idea for Thomas Piket­ty, pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion, not just on income which is a great idea, but a pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion on cap­i­tal assets, a tru­ly trans­for­ma­tive sin­gle addi­tive to the mix because sud­den­ly the pub­lic sphere and every­body begins to share their wealth, and the argu­ments again­st it, pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion on cap­i­tal assets, are almost com­plete­ly emp­ty.

The ful­mi­na­tions of the Wall Street Jour­nal, or the Econ­o­mist, again­st this idea of Piketty’s were actu­al­ly com­plete­ly with­out con­tent, because it’s a very good idea with no good argu­ment again­st it except the peo­ple who have the­se agglom­er­a­tions of cap­i­tal don’t like the idea because it seems like it might reduce pow­er. Beyond that there’s no good argu­ment again­st it, the fact that the rich might not like your idea is real­ly not one of the most pow­er­ful argu­ments again­st it.

So I think there are tweaks in our sys­tem, addi­tions, new extra cri­te­ria when added to it, you still would have trade, you would still even have a mar­ket, it wouldn’t be a free mar­ket but its not a free mar­ket now. Car­bon for instance is grotesque­ly sub­si­dized, and if it weren’t it could be that solar and wind pow­er already out­com­pet­ed, but we have a gov­ern­ment that is may­be demo­c­ra­t­ic or may­be bought or may­be it’s a bat­tle­ground in between those sit­u­a­tions. And we know that’s the case so there are fights to be had. What I find is impres­sive is in this incred­i­bly con­flict­ed and you might even say locked moment of polit­i­cal bat­tle that you can still get things done in the real world, and I’m won­der­ing when you have ideas when you have a project or pro­pos­al or some­one comes to you with a ques­tion, what would you describe as the major resis­tance? If you could make a change to get more done as an archi­tect and design­er, what might that be? It might prob­a­bly not be just one thing but…

I think, to at least have enough of the ear of the chief deci­sion mak­ers to be able to make an argu­ment that goes…I think any­time you wan­na sort of not just recon­firm the sta­tus quo but you need to dig a lit­tle bit deep­er into the root caus­es because quite often in archi­tec­ture you are being asked to answer a very well defined ques­tion but if you have access to prob­ing a lit­tle bit through analy­sis, or through meet­ings and ques­tions and access to cer­tain key experts with­in a cer­tain field, when you can go slight­ly deep­er, you can may­be say okay so may­be this doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be the ques­tions…

You know, why has the ques­tion been for­mu­lat­ed like this? What are the root caus­es, what are the key cri­te­ria and then you can some­how come back…like for instance…so that’s why quite often if you only have access to the mid man­age­ment it can be a lit­tle bit dif­fi­cult, or very dif­fi­cult if not impos­si­ble to change the game, or to reframe. 

Where­as if you real­ly do get the access to the chief deci­sion mak­ers you might be able to address the con­cerns and the core val­ues with a com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed answer. 

In a way I quite often com­pare a great idea to a good joke. Quite often we joke around in the stu­dio as a work in process but that because sim­i­lar to sci­ence fic­tion actu­al­ly, the anato­my of a joke is that you have a builder which sits you in a rec­og­niz­able sit­u­a­tion, and you kin­da see where it going, and then the punch­line is com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed but still makes per­fect sense, and its fun­ny. It makes you laugh and its the same so…the joke reveals an alter­nate con­se­quence or an alter­nate real­i­ty with­in the real­i­ty that you already know and rec­og­nize. It’s the same like in a…like with a great idea that you have a whole argu­ment that builds up describ­ing and ana­lyz­ing and dis­sect­ing the world as you know it and then the answer is com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed but makes per­fect sense. 

For instance one of the projects I pride myself in is prob­a­bly the clos­est to sci­ence fic­tion that we have real­ized or we’re build­ing right now, is that we’re doing this waste to ener­gy pow­er plant in Copen­hagen, where it’s the biggest and tallest build­ing in Copen­hagen, it turns trash into dis­trict heat­ing and elec­tric­i­ty, and there’s a lot of good things about it, but the best thing about it is that it is com­plete­ly non-tox­ic, it’s the cleanest way waste to ener­gy pow­er plant in the world. It emits steam and a small amount of co2. 

The prob­lem was, we were invit­ed for the com­pe­ti­tion – so why would they want to do any­thing but the busi­ness as usu­al and the trick is that the CEO of the com­pa­ny she’s a strong believ­er in her indus­try and the tech­nol­o­gy that she’s spear­head­ing but nobody knows, nobody can see that its total­ly clean, on the con­trary like you know it just looks like. 

So when we pro­posed the idea to use the roof­s­cape of the pow­er plant to turn it into a pub­lic park, where you can ski in the win­ter in Den­mark, because we have snow, but we don’t have hills sud­den­ly and nor­mal­ly you would want to be as far away from a pow­er plant as pos­si­ble because you know…but here you lit­er­al­ly have clean moun­tain air on the roof of a pow­er plant so sud­den­ly we  make some­thing bla­tant­ly vis­i­ble, its like a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­thing that would oth­er wise be invis­i­ble almost like they’re…

I know your last book is about shaman­ism, shaman is like you take some­thing from the spir­it world and you man­i­fest it into the phys­i­cal world, that’s almost what we’re try­ing to do. We’re tak­ing the invis­i­bil­i­ty of the clean tech­nol­o­gy and mak­ing it evi­dent that you have a ski slope on the roof of a pow­er plant. And I think there its just, we had a CEO who was aware of…that she some­how had a strength in her pro­duct that was invis­i­ble, and by mak­ing it phys­i­cal­ly man­i­fest every­body could some­how sign up on this idea that oth­er­wise would almost seem insane. 

When we pro­posed it, we were work­ing on the com­pe­ti­tion and I got a phone call from my CEO and it she was like she was call­ing to like… to get me to calm the fuck down, she was like sort of, Bjarke this is a one bil­lion dol­lar project in our home­town, we would real­ly want to win this, don’t screw it up with the stu­pid ski slope. What are you doing? 

Yeah yeah.

But I gave her the argu­ment, and she said yeah okay, I’ll talk care of my side of the busi­ness and you take care of your side.  But it is some­how this idea that you need to some­how be able to tap into the big­ger pic­ture. And I was a lit­tle bit inter­est­ed in your cube mon­e­tary sys­tem, I don’t know if it gets too com­plex.

Well let me fol­low up though on what you’re say­ing yes because the gen­er­al point I’m gonna make out­ta that is that there’s this sur­plus of joy or inven­tive­ness, that okay it’s a neces­si­ty that we clean up waste and turn it into ener­gy is like con­ver­gence where all the sys­tems of civ­i­liza­tion feed into a big larg­er cycle that works and then the styl­ish­ness of that is part of the plea­sure of it so, its not like we need the pow­er. We’re, we…there’s so much waste in our tech­no­log­i­cal base as it is right now that you can imag­ine us as being a kind of diffuse…it’s a pret­ty dirty tech that we’ve quick­ly got­ten to in a kind of bru­tal­ist way.

As you clean it up its not like you lose priv­i­leges but you can actu­al­ly got to the young and you can say its not as if back in the I don’t know 1950’s we lived high on the hog and now you have to be poor and live like saints because we destroyed the world, its actu­al­ly it was a lit­tle bit stu­pid back then and now clean style styl­ish­ness you can live bet­ter than when you’re more out in the world, less cocooned in crap and you have a sweet tech­nol­o­gy that takes care of the­se prob­lems in a cycli­cal way, that you can pass on to the future gen­er­a­tion.

And so the ski slope on top is kind of the objec­tive cor­rel­a­tive of that, which we would say in Eng­lish class. It lets you see the spir­it involved in that lets do this stuff, joy­ful­ly with the idea that we can….

The utopi­an pos­si­bil­i­ty is still there, 7 bil­lion peo­ple can live on this plan­et in ade­qua­cy, sta­bly over the long haul with real­ly smart agri­cul­ture, real­ly smart tech, real­ly smart design, it is not at all phys­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble.

Its polit­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult and we have some bad infra­struc­ture that has its own path depen­den­cies, that we have to work through, and we have to work through it real­ly fast because we are in some­what of a lit­tle bit of a long emer­gen­cy, although that’s a con­tra­dic­tion in terms. But we have to do it real­ly fast and the more every­body gets on board with it not just in ideas or words like mine, but objects and struc­tures and infra­struc­tures like Bjarke’s case. That’s where I think the con­ver­gence real­ly comes togeth­er and it’s a beau­ti­ful thing.

There, I think also like this idea of not being so waste­ful, because of course I just… the pow­er plant, the scrub­bers that extract the co2, they actu­al­ly end up with a lot of co2 that actu­al­ly has mar­ket val­ue, because you can do stuff with it, so you end up actu­al­ly extract­ing a lot of resources that in their own right don’t become pol­lu­tion, they actu­al­ly become poten­tial prof­it. I also may­be I think one of the rea­sons look­ing toward again space and this idea of sur­viv­ing in space, because of course there the resources are so scarce that you need to make ecosys­tems.

Cir­cu­lar.

Yes sort of you need to retain the water by fil­ter­ing it and bring­ing it back, you need to cre­ate the­se uh, loops… And I was think­ing that.. I thought that was an inter­est­ing thought that… When your liv­ing on Mars, every­body is so basi­cal­ly depen­dent on those main util­i­ties: pow­er, oxy­gen, water, food, etc that you can’t actu­al­ly sur­vive as a home­less because you wouldn’t be able to breath or you would freeze to death, and starve you know like it is.. 40:55 so you can’t be home­less. So there­fore some­how social­ism or social democ­ra­cy comes much more nat­u­ral­ly in an envi­ron­ment where nobody can even ques­tion the basic needs as a birthright.

Yeah I think this is the… Then you think to your­self, but wait Earth is also a space­ship, the space­ship Earth image from the 70’s is a beau­ti­ful image and impor­tant. There are no neg­a­tive exter­nal­i­ties, and also there is no plan­et B that we can escape to if we wreck this one. So it all comes down to mak­ing the cycles work here and part of that would be… one of the meth­ods to make those cycles work is social jus­tice itself.

So you have food, water, shel­ter, cloth­ing, health­care, edu­ca­tion and the right to work for every­body, at that point there isn’t the waste­ful­ness of the poor who have top soil loss and defor­esta­tion because they need to feed their fam­i­ly that night, nor the waste­ful­ness of the hyper-rich with just con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion.

There’s like this group in Zurich called the 2000 watt soci­ety, just liv­ing off of 2000 watts per year …that that’s the aver­age amount of watts that every­body on the plan­et right now has and this group in Switzer­land has decid­ed that you can live on the aver­age with the 7 bil­lion and a half avail­able right now in ener­gy terms, be very com­fort­able.

So that’s the promise I think, and I think we’re run­ning close to the end of our time here, so may­be it’s a good place to end. But except, I want to end with a thank you not only for invit­ing me, but also for doing this work, because I now say you know an ounce of…an ounce of laws is worth 10,000 pounds of rhetoric.

I can write any kind of sto­ry you want. But get­ting things built in the real world is just real­ly what we all need to do now, so it’s a kind of an exem­plary fig­ure and its real­ly a plea­sure to watch your work and to talk with you here.

And I want to say like may­be I…  I… since I still.. like being forty and lets say if I retire at 80 I have 40 years to try to real­ize a few of your basic fic­tions! And I would def­i­nite­ly love to do so.

Okay I want to go body surf­ing on the rings of Sat­urn if I have to pick one image, lets work on that one okay. Alright.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much!