Bjarke Ingels' "Worldcraft" and Why Architects Need to Be Better Storytellers

A Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, has developed a concept he calls "Worldcraft" that he hopes will change architecture and buildings forever.
Christopher McFadden

Bjarke Ingels is a world-renowned architect with big ideas for the future of buildings and architecture in general. He thinks architects need to strive to make fantasy a reality and be braver with their ambitions in the built environment.

Invoking the concept of the computer game "Minecraft", Ingels loves nothing more than making the impossible possible. From ski slopes on power plants to making manmade mountains of cars, his works speak for themselves.


In the following article, we'll introduce Bjarke Ingels, his concept of "Worldcraft" and how we could all benefit from being better storytellers. 

Who is Bjarke Ingels?

Bjarke Ingels is a Danish Architect and founder of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group, Copenhagen, New York, and Beijing). He is known for his innovative building designs that tend to challenge conventional architectural concepts.

Some of his recent projects include:

- Danish Maritime Museum (2013);

- 8 House (2012);

- West 57th (2012); and,

- Superkilen master plan (2012).

worldcraft Bjarke Ingels design
An example of Bjarke Ingels' work. Source: BIG

Bjarke is also something of an award winner. His numerous awards include AIA Honor Awards, the Crown Prince Culture Prize from the Danish Culture Fund, and the Wall Street Journal’s Architectural Innovator of the Year Award (2011).

He is also seen as a visionary in architecture and has been invited to speak at many venues around the world. Notable examples include TED, WIRED, AMCHAM, 10 Downing Street, and the World Economic Forum.

Bjarke is also known for his concept, called "Worldcraft", with the goal that architecture needs to allow the public to "transform their own environments", using the same principles as the popular computer game, Minecraft. 

What is "Worldcraft"?

"If a documentary is to document our world as it already is, [then] fiction is to fantasize about how it could be. In that sense architecture is the fiction of the real world... turning dreams into reality with bricks and mortar," - Bjarke Ingels (Future of StoryTelling 2014).

Bjarke Ingels believes we should look at buildings, and architecture in general, as more than just functional spaces. He likes to think of architecture as a tool to make fiction real - to change dreamlike ideas into everyday reality.

Rather than following traditional architectural practices of reaffirming the status quo, Ingels likes to take multiple desirable elements and put them together.

For example, he asks questions like:

- How can garden homes exist alongside high rise buildings?

- How can a power plant function as a ski slope?

In his video for the Future of StoryTelling 2014, Ingels explains his vision, and why he feels architects need to be better storytellers.

Within the video, he recalls how when he first started studying architecture, many would ask him why new buildings are "so boring". Bjarke explained how peoples' visions of architecture today tend to be based on the past.

Older buildings are, often, literal works of art but modern ones are more about containing a space - they are utilitarian but not aesthetically beautiful things. In his mind, modern architecture has become more about maintaining the status quo and not dreaming big or inventing what could happen next.

Cities, to Ingels, are never complete; they are simply evolving over time. They are, in effect, a work in progress.

One example of his vision is a project called "The Mountain" in Copenhagen. This is a large residential block with integrated car parking. 

Worldcraft the mountain
"The Mountain" Source: BIG

What makes this building different is the way it addresses a common conflict between owning a house or a flat. The building combines "a man-made mountain of cars" that allows for "[the transformation of] a stack of homes into a cascade of houses with gardens [that have] penthouse views and lawns".

This achievement has removed, in his view, previous restrictions for occupants to decide between houses with gardens or claustrophobic high-rise flats. 

Another of his visionary projects was a new Waste-to-Energy power plant in Copenhagen. With this building, he managed to achieve something previously unheard of - combining a ski slope with a power plant. 

Ingels managed to turn something normally considered a "dirty neighbor" into a public space. 

Through his work, he tries to emulate in the real world what many players attempt to achieve in computer games like Minecraft. Ingels suggests architecture is an opportunity for real-life fantastical world-building.

You can, he believes, turn fiction into hard fact. You don't need to be restricted by past preconceptions of what can be done. 

Architecture, he believes, must become "Worldcraft". It must become the craft of making our world, to turn fiction into fact. 

How do I become a good storyteller?

Storytelling is not just important in architecture. Developing this skill can be applied to many aspects of your life from being the center of attention at parties, getting a job, or 'hooking' your crush to seeing the bigger picture on engineering projects.

There is also some evidence that storytelling can be used to help deal with problems, even traumas

Many people tell stories as a way to soothe their hurt feelings, disappointments, or feelings of having made a mistake. The more often you replay the tale of having your home broken into, the less painful it feels and the less you perhaps blame yourself for leaving that back door unlocked. 

Whilst storytelling comes naturally to some people, you can develop some of the basics yourself. Once you have mastered it, the world might well become your oyster.

Some common techniques to help improve your storytelling are as follows:

- Set the context: You know the ins and outs of the story, so make sure you grip your audience at the introduction. 

- Avoid unimportant tangents: Don't get lost in the long grass, stay on target; otherwise, you will easily lose the audience.

- Know your audience: Try to avoid being offensive, unless absolutely integral to the story. Try not to make others feel lesser than you or any of the characters.

- Embellish the truth, but not too much: Whilst being "liberal" with the truth helps spice up the story, don't go so far, so that it has no relation to what actually happened.

- Rehearse: Try to rehearse your story so that it doesn't feel like you are reading from a script. It will also help guide your thoughts as you tell the story to others.

- Be considerate of others: Don't reveal any secret details about a real person. 

- Keep it short: Try to keep stories between 30 seconds to a few minutes, especially with strangers. 

- Pay attention to your audience: If you are telling a harrowing tale, listeners can quickly become uncomfortable or uneasy. Prewarn the audience and try not to labor the point.

What are the elements of good storytelling?

Most good stories have some basic, but important elements. Whilst many authors and storytellers will vary in their advice, the basics tend to remain the same.

These include, but are not limited to:

- Characters: These should be introduced early with enough information for the reader or audience to visualize them. 

- The setting: Be sure to describe the environment in enough detail so the audience can feel they are there. 

- The plot: This is obviously the actual story. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end.