Yes is More! – How Architecture Is Like Experience Planning

An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution – what is that supposed to be? The Danish architects of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) published a book on their projects and their philosophy of pragmatic utopianism – a pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective. In short: Yes is More! The cool thing: In contrast to other text books on architecture, Bjarke Ingels chose the format of a comic book to literally illustrate their work.

Architecture is a great source of inspiration and I also love comics and graphic novels. Although this is not really a comic, as the book does not take advantage of the mediums strengths (like the format, creating great dialogues and developing different narratives at the same time, unfortunately there are also no superheroes), the concept works perfectly. The illustration of architectural ideas depends very much on visual elements. So instead of having a textbook on architecture with lots of pictures, this is an illustrated book with lots of text boxes and speech balloons. That way ‘Yes is More’ perfectly visualizes the creative process of architecture and the approach behind BIG’s projects. In this video Bjarke Ingels talks about their philosophy and the book at one of the TED conferences:

Their methods and processes are rooted in design thinking and very similar to what the marketing industry calls experience planning. At the core of experience planning is the integration of interactive thinking and channels into the marketing strategy. The movement away from just communication and campaigns towards systems of interaction and experiences is not new, but still valid and highly relevant. In order to create a fully integrated and consistent brand experience, all systems of interaction need to be taken into account – the product and packaging, the point of purchase, the smell of the store or of the moment the product gets unpacked, communication and distribution channels, the places and time of interaction, communities around a category, applications, interfaces, the broader cultural context and many other things. Steve Jobs and Apple have almost perfected that approach.

A great example of BIG’s work is the Danish pavilion on this year’s expo in Shanghai. The concept is based on the thought to bring Danish city life to China and give the Chinese the real experience of Denmark rather than just displaying it. The theme of the 2010 expo is ‘Better city – better life’.

The Danish pavilion in Shanghai creates the experience of the Copenhagen city life by reflecting the cultural developments of these two urban environments. While the main means of transportation in Shanghai have changed from bicycle to car over the last 30 years, Copenhagen has been creating more bicycle lanes and reducing car traffic. “The bicycle has become a symbol of a sustainable city and a healthy lifestyle.” Therefore the concept for the pavilion is based on a bicycle lane, looped around itself.

That is already a great idea, but not enough to create the full experience. Bjarke Ingels and his team shipped 1001 Copenhagen city bikes to Shanghai so that the Chinese visitors can ride around the expo area. In addition to that, they transported one million liters of fresh harbour water from Copenhagen (which is supposed to be so clean that you can swim in it) to Shanghai. So now the heart of the pavilion is a huge bath with original Copenhagen harbour water.

And as this wasn’t already enough, the highlight of the pavilion is the biggest tourist attraction of Denmark – the Little Mermaid. As they thought that China already has enough copies, they wanted to fight for the idea to move the actual little mermaid from Copenhagen to Shanghai. And so they did. The chinese people grew up with the little mermaid and visit it as one of the main tourist attractions in Europe. Now they can see it in their own country.

To give the whole concept of cultural exchange another twist, the Chinese artist Aei Weiwei was asked to place a temporary replacement in Copenhagen Harbor for the duration of the Expo while Copenhagen’s real Little Mermaid is in Shanghai. Ai Weiwei’s Mermaid Exchange recreates the image of the missing icon via a real-time link up through a LED screen.

Experience planning in this case includes a cultural insight (the bikes and the mermaid), takes the setting and the theme of the expo into account (on the huge expo area a bike can be quite useful), and created an overarching BIG (in the truest sense of the word) idea: let’s bring the healthy and sustainable city lifestyle of Copenhagen to Shanghai. Based on that core idea a whole set of ideas on different layers came to life which all work symbiotically together – the bike lane concept, the city bikes to ride around the bike lane and the expo, the pool with fresh Copenhagen harbour water and the generous cultural exchange shipping the original little mermaid to China while chinese artist Aei Weiwei reinterprets the empty space on the rock in the Copenhagen harbour during the absence of the Little Mermaid.

In terms of the approach and the execution this kind of utopioan pragmatic architecture and brand experience planning are quite similar. It is at the same time about thinking big as it is about paying a lot of attention to details and getting the executional sequence right. Like in planning it is about the ultimate goal of turning accurate analysis into a creative process and turning a problem into a potential solution. The bottom line is creative problem solving and this is one of those really inspiring examples from architecture that we can learn from. The book ‘Yes is More’ is full of stuff like that.

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About aschauerte

Marketing, Media, Communications and Business Strategist.

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