Audemars Piquet Museum in Basel_Image by BIG_01
A project by the Bjarke Ingels Group in Switzerland utilizes column-less glass walls, which can hold up in a seismic event thanks to their curvature.

A new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., provides a window into lauded architect Bjarke Ingels’ work. It also provides a window into how he looks at glass—or more specifically, how he looks through it.

“I think for me, glass is purely about daylight and views,” Ingels told™ during an exclusive interview. “And of course trying to find the aesthetic in that. But I think … the quality of glass is in its transparency.”

Bjarke Ingels discusses the thinking behind one of BIG’s projects featured in the Hot to Cold exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Ingels and his Denmark- and New York-based architectural firm the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) recently premiered the museum exhibition “Hot to Cold: an odyssey of architectural adaptation.” The showcase, which opened last week and will remain in the museum through August, features 60 projects by Ingels’ firm.

Architectural models, mock-ups and prototypes of BIG projects are suspended over the second-floor balconies of the museum’s main hall for observation. The models are displayed from projects in hot climates to cold climates, demonstrating the correlation between architecture and the environment in which it exists.

A museum project in the works for Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet is “one of the more interesting uses of glass we’re doing right now,” says Ingels. The structure is shaped in a double-spiral that undulates up and down, and the walls are “column-less” and made up entirely of glass. He says they were able to accomplish this due to the rigidity created by the curvature of the glass.

photo model 1
The exhibition features more than 60 models and mock-ups of BIG projects.

The project is in a seismic zone, so normally, they wouldn’t be able to use such large lites of glass. But, according to a description of the project, because of “the spiral geometry of the building, every sheet of glass is curved, adding stiffness to prevent the glass from buckling in an earthquake.”

In terms of how climate affects BIG’s use of glass, Ingels says the cold bridge in cold climates is a main driver of any restrictions, while thermal exposure is the concern in warmer climates. Adapting a project to its climate is a key dictator for the firm, as the theme of the exhibition indicates, and the design team has come up with some pretty creative solutions.

One example is Shenzen Energy Company’s headquarters in China. In an effort to maximize daylighting while minimizing direct sunlight exposure, they designed a “folded” or pleated curtainwall for the building instead of a traditional, flat façade. The glass on the folded curtainwall facing west is clear to maximize daylight, and the glass facing east is opaque to minimize sun exposure.

Honeycomb Building in Bahamas_Image_by BIG_01
In this high-end residential complex in the Bahamas, floor-to-roof glass walls recede in 15 feet thanks to balconies that allow for big views but provide shade.

BIG also likes to use the natural shading of balconies to its advantage. In a high-end multi-family residential project in Miami, the building is clad almost entirely in glass for massive views from the inside, yet large balconies provide shade. The same concept is used in a complex in the Bahamas, which has 15-foot-deep balconies. “You recede the glass so much that you can have it completely open yet you still won’t get the direct sunlight,” says Ingels.

BIG is also working on the South Mall Campus of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and part of that project includes the implementation of large skylights topping off part of a below-ground gallery so people on the ground level can look down into it while those inside are treated to natural daylight.

[Check out BIG’s library of projects here.]

From a technology standpoint, Ingels says that electrochromic and other dynamic glazings will be a “game-changer” as they continue to advance, light quality improves and it becomes more financially feasible. He also says he thinks the “invasion” of tech companies, such as Apple and Google, from the digital realm to the physical realm could spur “massive innovations within building materials” over the next decade.