It might seem that Bjarke Ingels has been everywhere since founding his firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) 15 years ago. In addition to recent projects like a reimagining of Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées in Paris and the new LEGO House in Denmark, the starchitect (a 2009 RECORD Vanguard) joined start-up giant WeWork as chief architect two years ago—a position that he no longer holds. Asked for comment on reports of Ingels’ departure, BIG shared WeWork’s statement with RECORD: "Following the company’s reorganization and new leadership at the end of last year, Bjarke Ingels stepped back into a consulting role on key projects."
Ingels told RECORD about the chief architect position in a May 2018 interview. “The overall idea is really to focus on buildings for now,” he said, “then take it to campuses and neighborhoods, then entire cities.” When he joined WeWork, the Danish architect was compensated with equity rather than a salary. Since then, the coworking company has had its fair share of fumbles. Questionable management tactics by Adam Neumann came to light last fall after a failed initial public offering; the CEO then stepped down from his role and WeWork’s valuation quickly plummeted. The company escaped bankruptcy by accepting a $9.5 billion bailout from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in October 2019, then reportedly laid off some 2,400 employees in late November.
The news of Ingels departure comes on the tails of another controversy. Last week, the architect caused a stir when he met with Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro—a far-right politician and climate-crisis denier—to discuss potential new “ideas” for the country’s ministry of tourism, says the firm. "Creating a list of countries or companies that BIG should shy away from working with seems to be an oversimplification of a complex world ... If we want to positively impact the world, we need active engagement, not superficial clickbait or ignorance," Ingels said in a statement. “We can't expect every public instance to be aligned with all aspects of our thinking, but we can make sure that we bring the change we want to see in the world, through the work we do. The ideas and ideals of the projects we propose bear their legitimacy. That means working in countries like Brazil (and the USA for that matter) despite the controversies that their elected leaders may generate.”
Ingels will continue to lead his firm, with offices in Copenhagen, London, Barcelona, and New York. The architect has not responded to request for comment at this time.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on February 3, 2020.