As the leader of Danish design firm BIG, superstar architect Bjarke Ingels has imagined everything from Denmark’s LEGO museum to a garbage-burning energy plant with a ski hill built on top of it. (No, really. That’s a real thing.)
With Unzipped, a new installation now on display in Toronto, BIG stacks together 1,800 hollow fibreglass blocks to assemble a surreal, zipper-esque structure that shifts from appearing curvy and opaque from one viewpoint to transparent and rectilinear from another. Originally installed in front of the Serpentine Gallery in 2016, the pavilion has now been reassembled in Toronto by development company Westbank Corp.
While leading a tour of the installation during its opening, Ingels discussed an architect’s responsibility to create designs that contribute to their neighbourhood’s identity. “Ninety-nine percent of a city is the ordinary places we live and work,” he said. “One percent is its landmarks. But those are the things that really create a lively, engaging environment.”
While Unzipped is only a temporary landmark in Toronto (it will remain stationed off of King Street West through November), it foreshadows a future permanent one. After the pavilion departs Toronto, Westbank will begin construction on the same site to build a BIG-designed condo development that resembles a blocky mountain range.
Architectural maquettes inside of the pavilion spotlight a number of BIG’s other avant-garde past designs — many of them collaborations with Westbank. Two projects currently under construction, Vancouver House in Vancouver and Telus Sky Tower in Calgary, are both towers that gracefully twist and turn as the rise in response to site conditions and a shift from office to residential floor plates, respectively.
The results, while dictated by functionality, are exactly the sort of bold forms that have established Ingels as a singular visionary. As Westbank founder Ian Gillespie put it, “18 hours a day, seven days a week, there are at least a dozen people standing around taking pictures of that building.”
Judging from the Instagram hashtag #unzippedtoronto, BIG’s Unzipped Installation is attracting its fair share of shutterbugs, too.
In 2017, Netflix documentary series Abstract devoted an episode to Ingels that outlines his skill at translating complex requirements and site restrictions into playfully conceptual building schemes.
Hey, VIPs — want to party inside Unzipped? Look for your invitation to Sharp’s upcoming Book for Men launch party in your inbox.