March 19, 2024
Science and Spirituality with Deepak Chopra

Building The Future with Bjarke Ingels.

World-renowned architect Bjarke Ingels joins Deepak Chopra to explore the intersection of design, mindfulness, and human well-being. They delve into Bjarke’s innovative projects in New York and Copenhagen, before discussing their inspiring encounter with the Bhutanese royals and Bjarke’s unique role in developing a new mindfulness city in Gelephu. Tune in for a thought-provoking conversation that blends visionary architecture with the wisdom of Eastern traditions.

Listen to the podcast here

Building The Future

A Conversation With Deepak Chopra And Bjarke Ingels

We are continuing our conversations with luminaries who influence people who are making a difference in the world. My very special guest is Bjarke Ingels. I won’t waste too much time talking about who he is. You can look him up on Wikipedia. All the details are there. Bjarke got his education at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture and is actually the Founder of Bjarke Ingels Group, which is an architectural firm, which now has about 700 people working.

Very impressive career and background. As I said, I’m not going to mention all of that because people can look it up anytime by going to the internet. I first met Bjarke at the World Economic Forum, where he gave a talk on architecture and sustainability. I have to say, I’d never heard a more impressive talk in my life on sustainability and have been a fan of his ever since. First of all, thank you.

Thank you. It’s lovely to be here.

You live between Denmark and New York.

I actually spent most of my time in New York because my child is enrolled in a public school in Brooklyn Heights. That’s how you get anchored to the ground. We practice on both sides of the Atlantic, so it makes sense to move around a little bit.

The first time I met you, I was curious. I came to your talk out of curiosity, but I don’t think anyone I’ve met has explored the idea of providing energy to the world from Africa. Can you say a little bit about it?

A Plan For The Planet

We’ve devised what you could call a plan for the planet. It is because we were getting a little bit tired of the fact that it was hard to get an overview. You often hear statements like, “If we all have the same quality of life as the West, or Denmark or the United States, then we need ten planets to sustain humanity.” That creates a sense of hopelessness. Another thing is, like you often hear, “We need to invent fusion energy,” or some other things that haven’t been fully invented in an applicable way yet in order to be able to respond to climate change.

There is this hopelessness that it’s not possible. We try to say what if we apply the methodology of architects, planners and urbanists and make a plan for the entire planet? We will be 10 billion people. It could be more, like between 10 and 11 billion people, by 2050. We should have the same quality of life as Denmark. We took that as a benchmark. Denmark and Singapore are actually quite similar and definitely in the upper spectrum. We said, “Can you actually sustain 10 billion people with a high quality of life in a sustainable way using only existing technologies?”

When you plan for a city, neighborhood, or even a country, you do it by looking at all of Earth. I think one of the first things we did was to find a way to make it tangible for everybody. What if we look at one Earthling? You are an Earthling. There’s 10 billion of us. How much Earth do we have to sustain each of us? The answer is I believe 238 by 238 meters and 71% is ocean, 9% is mountains and glaciers. Roughly 1 hectare is habitable, roughly half is nature, and the other half is agriculture and cities. This is where all the problems come from. We basically started saying, “Where do the emissions come from? What is causing the climate change?”

Tweet: When you make a plan for a city, neighborhood, or even country, one of the first things you should do is find a way to make it tangible for everybody.

The belches from cows emit methane. How could you sequester that carbon? If the methane is emitted from rice fields, or when we burn crop residue, could the crop residue be turned into biogas instead? Basically, we tried to see if you could actually take care of all earthlings by using only existing, well-known, and proven methods, without it being at the expense of the future of the planet. You mentioned this idea of how Africa and Europe could have a symbiosis. We were looking at the fact that renewable energy, for it to make sense, the two primary sources of energy you can access everywhere are wind and sun. They also happen to be incredibly effective, and they keep getting better and better at a lower cost.

You need either energy storage or you need a connected grid. The very simple thing is in the North, you have a lot of wind blowing. In the South, you have a lot of sun shining. When you look at different places at the same time, the wind is always blowing somewhere and the sun is always shining somewhere. Right now, Europe is divided into a series of different grids. Africa has scattered grids. The US has 3 or 4 different grids. If you connect them, you create a united planet where the North can be powered by the South or the winter can be powered by the summer and the night can be powered by the day.

Of course, these things require a lot of coordination, but in the absence of a plan, we will never get there. It may be a challenge to implement such a plan, but even by having a plan and knowing that that plan works based on existing technologies, you actually start having a North star that you can start guiding your decisions if you are a country, a company or even an individual.

Tweet: In the absence of a plan, we will never get there.

I saw you give this talk. I was blown away, to tell you the truth, as was everyone else. What kind of reception have you had to this idea?

I think one of the strengths is the way architecture and planning works. In politics, you have speeches and you have legislation. There’s a limit to how much information you can deliver with a speech. With a speech, you can deliver a sentiment or an opinion. You have scientific reports that are very heavy, incredibly specific and maybe not that accessible. I think we’ve combined all the hard data and science that we found publicly available and then this way of illustrating complex information and creating a vision for a future using the language of planning. I would say anyone we’ve shown it to instantly gets it and returns with an experience that they now see with greater clarity than they did before.

They understand the basics, the fundamentals of the problems and the challenges more specifically. In that sense, I think as a tool for institutions like the EU or the United Nations to actually have a work in progress, which is a plan for the planet, so that when each member nation or region has to make plans for 2030, 2050, then they can actually look up into the plan for the whole planet and see what part should we play in this if we want to get all of Earth to become sustainable by 2050.

Building The Future: When each member nation or region has to make plans for 2030 or 2050, they can look up the plan for the whole planet and see what part they should play in it if we want to get all of Earth to become sustainable by 2050.


Have any governments, any countries, UN or EU actually formally responded to your ideas?

We haven’t had meaningful access to the large government bodies yet. I’ve shown it at the Vatican. I’ve shown it in various forums. I would say the strongest outcome is that it has forged a collaboration with Maersk, the shipping company. Their logo is the seven-pointed white star on a blue background. That logo sits on a fifth of all containers on Earth. We are working with them to change their fleet from methanol, a renewable energy source, to a dense energy source. Over time, it would make their entire fleet carbon neutral. To do so, in every country and region where they have major ports, they want to turn all of them into green growth hubs where they use renewable energy, wind and sun, to create the fuel they need to power their fleet.

By doing that, they can also make the ports run on renewable energy and maybe the entire city that they sit in could run on that renewable energy. Not only do they touch many different countries all across the globe, but as a company, Maersk has a carbon footprint twice that of Denmark’s. To turn Maersk carbon neutral would be like taking Denmark off the map two times. In that sense, we are beginning to approach the scale that you need to operate on, but only through private company collaborations. I think the real meaning could be a tool for public and political decision makers.

We both now spend a lot of time in New York City and I live close by Union Square. If you go past Union Square, there’s a sign there that says Countdown to Irreversibility. It says that five years and so many days from now, if we don’t act, we will be seeing disasters in many parts of the world. That includes some islands sinking, populations disappearing, climate refugees as a result of that violence, as a result of pandemics and disease. Basically, the breakdown of what we call human civilization.

I stop by that sign and look at it and every time I see it, the time is running by. People are sleepwalking across and nobody cares, it seems, when we have possible solutions like this. Yet, there are wars going on, Ukraine, Russia and the end, even the Middle East, it’s all about oil. People are dying and being killed for the weapons industry and all these special interest groups are thriving. Yet, there are creative solutions like the one you offered.

All of you who are reading should rally to this cause. We need a groundswell of global movement to come up with a creative solution like the one Bjarke has told so that we can actually reverse climate change. Climate change is reversible. A sustainable planet is possible, and that connects to everything from social justice to our personal health and our ability to experience joy in life. Everything that humans have aspired for is at risk if we don’t act.

I hope everyone who’s reading this will give us ideas on how to make this a global movement. Also, obviously, we need to talk about this at the UN and at the European Union. I think we can do that. We have this conference coming up, Sages and Scientists, on September 14th and 15th, 2024 co-hosted by the Chopra Foundation and Harvard University and their faculty. I hope this takes your creativity to the next level and we need a critical mass of people to be aware of this. It’s great that this shipping company is doing this. They’re also experiencing peril right now, as you see, in the Red Sea and so forth.

A Push For Global Mobilization

I think one of the interesting things that you’re seeing is that during COVID, the whole world could mobilize very quickly and actually spend a lot of money, in the trillions, because there was a very understandable, immediate threat of people dying from this new disease. You see, for instance, with Ukraine and Russia, suddenly, the supply chain of oil and gas from Russia is threatened. There’s a massive mobilization into solar panels, thermal heat pumps and other alternative sources.

Tweet: One of the interesting things that you’re seeing is that during COVID, the whole world could mobilize very quickly and actually spend a lot of money in the trillions because there was a very understandable immediate threat.

When we have to, when the threat is so clear that in Europe, we were going to freeze over the winter if we didn’t find alternative energy supplies from the gas from Russia, suddenly, it’s possible to do it very quickly. We somehow need a clear and implementable plan and then to understand the actual urgency, because once you do that, the Earth has shown many times that it’s actually incredibly capable of acting

Bjarke is a physician. I’ve been frustrated for the last 40 years that it’s only when somebody comes down with an acute illness that people take action. Your example of COVID was very clear. We saw people dying. We saw relatives and friends dying and then we acted globally. Do we have to wait for 5 or 6 years to see people dying and all this trauma before we act? That is the silliness of our system. We wait until people get sick when we know right now that sickness is imminent.

The best treatment is actually in the behavior before you get sick.

Those of you who are reading this, please send us ideas and suggestions on how we can make this global movement. I’ve been looking at some of your other amazing creative developments, such as mountain dwellings in Copenhagen. This was one of your first projects, was it?

It is one of my first projects. Essentially, we were asked to design an apartment building next to a parking house. We had to design both buildings at the same time. We got the idea that instead of having the homes looking straight into a block of cars to actually organize the cars on a slope, slowly ramping up, creating a South-facing side of a mountain, if you like, where all the apartments become penthouses and they all have a large garden on the roof of the downstairs neighbor.

Suddenly, you make a manmade mountain of houses with gardens by actually exploring the synergy or symbiosis between the parking that wants large floors close to the ground and can have deep space and the homes that basically want the daylight and the air and the view. Instead of trying to have one answer for everything, try to enjoy and explore the differences between different programs or activities. When you put them together, they can actually gravitate towards their favorite position and create instead of 100 ordinary apartments with a penthouse on top, all of them become penthouses. You end up almost having the suburban lifestyle of a house with a garden in the middle of a city setting.

Is this one of your earlier projects in Copenhagen, too?

We call it the VM House. It’s a very simple idea also. It is because from the sky, it looks like a V and an M. Instead of always making things out of rectangular boxes, if we start angling the homes, they start looking past each other instead of looking straight at each other. The form that looks like it could be that we wanted to make something more expressive, but what makes the building expressive or striking also makes it more enjoyable for the people living in it. Suddenly, you get distant views.

We’re finishing a building called The Spiral in Hudson Yards in New York. It’s almost like if you look at a typical skyscraper before modernism, many of them have setbacks. They look a little bit like very tall, slender cigarettes. They have setbacks that have to do with the setback requirements of the zoning law because the city wants to ensure that the taller the building becomes, the more light it allows to pass down to the street.

With The Spiral, we created those setbacks as you have to, but staggered them so they become a cascade of terraces up to the top, like a spiral with trees and gardens. Every floor has access to its own outdoor space. As with a lot of companies, they occupy maybe fifteen floors. Where you have the terrace, you also have a little double-height space that connects to the floor above and the floor below.

Statistics say that people never take the stairs in a skyscraper because they have to go out through a series of doors and find the flight of stairs. If you can see the stairs and if you can actually see your colleague two floors up, then you’re not going to go take the elevator. You’re going to walk up to them, and you are actually going to remember to tell them this thing that you always wanted to tell them but you forgot that could make their work a little bit better. It’s often the conversations by the water cooler that trigger the breakthroughs and, of course, you get the exercise.

Tweet: It’s often the conversations by the water cooler that triggers the breakthroughs.

In some way, it’s these little inventions, and you can say that on each floor, the terrace is typically not much bigger than the room we sit in. Sometimes, it’s a little bit bigger, but it’s an outdoor space with greenery. If you have a phone call or a break, you can go out and you also have a straight view to the colleagues above and below you. As a result, the whole building has this rather striking spiral around it, almost like an ornament. You can say what makes the building look different is also what makes it perform differently. Of course, it’s not just an appearance. It’s inherent in the bones of the building that something else is possible.

Here’s another building in New York.

This is our first building, which we call the Court Scraper. It’s a tetrahedron. It looks like a pyramid of sorts, but it’s a city block on the West side of Manhattan. We thought one of the anchors of public space in Europe in Copenhagen, where I come from, is the courtyard. The courtyard is a communal space where everybody who lives around the courtyard can go down and enjoy the weather, the trees, and nature. It’s a communal space, so if you forget your tricycle, bucket or teddy bear in the evening, it will still be there in the morning because even though you share it with hundreds of neighbors, it’s everybody’s communal courtyard. We thought, “What if we put that into a Manhattan city block?”

It’s almost like a miniature Central Park for the people living there. Of course, if you would build like a 20 or 30-story building all the way around it, no sunlight would ever come down. As a result, the building is very asymmetrical to the Northeast. It’s the height of a high rise but to the Southwest, overlooking the river, it’s literally the height of a handrail. Everybody who looks over the courtyard actually see the sun setting over the Hudson River. You end up combining the views and the verticality of a New York skyscraper with the commonality and social space of Copenhagen courtyard.

When you go to small villages all over Europe, you have the village square where people have the equivalent of your courtyard. Even in Latin America, every little place I’ve been to, there’s this village square always. It becomes the hub where people meet, socialize, eat, play and all of that. I think that’s very much missing in our big cities, at least in the United States.

By the way, Copenhagen has been a place of pilgrimage for me for the last four decades because of Neils Bohr and the quantum revolution that occurred there. It’s almost like a holy place for me. I have been there many times. The last time I was there, I was in Malmo, and this was the first time I had seen a bridge from Sweden all the way to Copenhagen. One used to have to take the ferry in the past.

I think the bridge is also a good example of these simple transformations. Before the bridge was built, there was an incredible resistance against it. Why should the state spend so much money on making a bridge? After it opened, it united Denmark and Sweden in a way that didn’t exist before. Suddenly, Copenhagen is now the capital of Southern Sweden, because they’re closer to Copenhagen than they are to Stockholm. It also becomes a very direct way to facilitate social and cultural integration between two neighboring countries.

My very special guest is Bjarke Ingels. In my opinion, he is the number one creative architect whose ideas could actually save our planet. I hope this conversation is inspiring to you and that it somehow will result in a global movement in a critical mass for a more peaceful, sustainable, healthier and joyful world. We’ll be seeking associations, partnerships and speaking to the United Nations and other organizations as well. I have prepared a few questions looking at your life. Let me ask you some of these. I don’t know if we can get through all of them. How do you balance innovation and practicality in your architectural designs, particularly when creating structures that push boundaries?

Hedonistic Sustainability

A philosophy we’ve applied in almost all our work is one we call hedonistic sustainability. It’s basically the idea that instead of always only thinking about sustainability as a necessary compromise that you have to do, because the alternative could be even worse. I think the first project we ever did in the year 2001 was the Copenhagen Harbour Bath which extended the life of the city into the water around it.

Building The Future: A philosophy we’ve applied in almost all of our work is one we call hedonistic sustainability. It’s the idea that instead of always only thinking about sustainability, it’s a necessary compromise that you have to make because the alt


Essentially, the port of Copenhagen had become so clean that you could swim in it. When we opened it, you saw the citizens of Copenhagen jump in the port in the middle of the city. Instead of driving for hours to get to the Hamptons, you could literally jump in the port in the middle of town. It became clear that a clean port is not only nice for the fish, it’s amazing for the citizens. They can enjoy it.

In 2019, we opened Copen Hill. It’s the cleanest waste to energy power plant in the world. It’s so clean that the steam that comes out of the chimney is cleaner than the air of Copenhagen. We’ve been able to turn its facades into the tallest climbing wall on Earth, 100 meters, 300 feet, and the roof into an alpine ski slope. You can hike, trek, and go downhill skiing on top of a power plant that turns the waste of Copenhagen into a resource. I actually think almost fundamentally a lot of the dichotomies that we see in the world. You mentioned innovation versus practicality. You can also say hedonism and sustainability could sometimes be seen as opposites or pragmatic utopianism which you could also see as opposites.

Seeming contradictions.

I think the oxymoron, which is essentially the idea embodied by two seemingly opposing ideas tends to be where we go. I think that, in that sense, very often, it is done by actually diving into the practicalities. By asking questions and maybe even making stronger requirements, suddenly you force, in this case, the architecture, into unusual forms. It’s actually not by disregarding the practicalities, but actually saying, “Not only do we want to do what you normally do with the building, but we also want to make sure that you can see your upstairs and downstairs neighbors, or that every floor has access to the outside.

You start making more demanding requirements and suddenly, the standard solution is no longer enough. You force the architecture into something more performing and more interesting. The best example I can find is there’s a game called Twister, which is a family game where you put a carpet out on the floor and there’s different fields you have to put your feet on. As the game progresses, you suddenly have to touch all these different fields at the same time and you find yourself in back bending configurations with your face rubbing up against the body parts of other family members. The game becomes more and more interesting by making the task more difficult, but still respecting all of the pragmatics. You force the innovation into being.

Tweet: Suddenly, the standard solution is no longer enough, and you force the architecture into something more performing and interesting.

What seemed like contradictions then becomes a complementarity.

Also, once you’ve made that leap, you won’t see it as a contradiction anymore. You’ll see it as a new category in its own right. These are examples of sustainable cities or buildings that are better for the environment, but are also much more enjoyable for the people that get to live in them. I think that suddenly takes it from the slightly abstract but scary idea that in some future, we’re going to have very serious environmental consequences. Over to this idea, why not do it now? We have to do it anyway, but it’s also going to make our cities more enjoyable and more livable.

I was looking at all the elements of playfulness and whimsy, such as the mountain dwellings. I think playfulness is a necessary ingredient for creativity as well.

It doesn’t matter why someone suggests something. What matters is why we choose to pursue it. You don’t have to necessarily have intention when you are playing with ideas. You can do it for fun or maybe because this feels better, but then once you’ve suggested it to the group, we discuss it, and we might recognize that one of the ideas seems to be doing things better. It might not be why we made it, but now that we see it, it’s why we end up pursuing it.

Tweet: It doesn’t matter why someone suggests something. What matters is why we choose to pursue it.

There’s a lot of conversation right now amongst social scientists on what they call emergence and they say when you have shared vision, maximum diversity, complementing everyone’s strength and some kind of a collaborative emotional and spiritual ecosystem, you can solve any problem. I’ve seen that collaboration seems to be a key aspect of your practice of working with various stakeholders and disciplines. How do you navigate the collaborative process to ensure that diverse perspectives enrich your final architectural outcome?

A Collaborative Process

You can say that when we design something, we have a team and we convene regularly. Each time we meet, we look at all the work that has been done, all the analysis, all the massing studies, all the functional layouts and the diagrams. We try to establish the key criteria. What are the biggest problems we have to solve? What are the greatest potentials we might want to unleash? What are the fundamental values of this particular project?

We then look at the different ideas in the context of problems, potentials and values. As we select certain ideas to pursue further, almost like in an evolutionary way, we reiterate what is the agenda or the story of the project at this point. When we meet again, we look at the new things, and we then reformulate the narrative of the design. Bit by bit, that means that the whole group, every team member, but also the clients when we meet with them and the and the consultants and the collaborators, end up being part of the formulation of let’s call it the source code or the DNA of the design.

The shared vision becomes more and more specific and tangible. At no point is the team waiting for me to show up as the creative director and tell them what to do because as the project evolves, the narrative of the design becomes more and more clear to everybody. In a way, it’s giving the power to every team member, the consultants and the clients because we all now understand and see in the same way what this project is all about. Eventually, it gets a life on its own. It’s a way of empowering the entire team by giving everybody access to the source code.

Right now, you are very busy designing buildings in the dense urban environment of New York City. Are there unique challenges to New York?

Yeah, I would say at the end of the day, every city and every culture have its unique set of challenges, but they’re challenging in various ways. I like to say that certain things are complicated in New York, but it’s a lot easier to do a 1,000-foot skyscraper in New York than it is in Copenhagen, because in Copenhagen, every building is like six floors. I think each environment has a specific ecosystem that makes certain things possible. I think also, as an architect, you also have to understand a little bit about what environment you are in that certain innovations would contribute positively in one environment, but they might actually not make any sense in another one.

Tweet: At the end of the day, every city and culture has its unique set of challenges, but they’re challenging in various ways.

That actually brings me to what I was going to ask you. How does the architectural landscape of New York contribute to the global conversation of contemporary architecture?

In the big picture, urban density is good for the environment. Actually, the energy consumption per capita or per person comes down the more you live in dense proximity. New York has a lot of shortcomings and sometimes can feel like one of the biggest third-world cities in the world.

Especially the airports, after having traveled in Asia.

I think maybe it’s an American thing. I think Americans are great at innovation in the third world, but they’re not very good at follow-through. The Metro may have come first to New York, but as a result, it’s one of the worst Metros in the world.

I’ve been to the Moscow Metro and the Japan Metro.

This idea of density as a driver. What is striking about the mountain range that is the skyline of Manhattan, there are definitely some beautiful buildings, but the majesty of it is actually in the aggregate. It is the collective of all of these, maybe often quite mundane towers, that provides a majestic mountain range of peaks and valleys.

Panoramic view.

I think also the successful coexistence of so many different points of view, it also means that there is a lot of confrontation and conflict in a city like New York. We definitely feel that when we try to modify it by adding a building,

New York has a very rich architectural history, too.

It is the cradle of the skyscraper.

Creating The City Of Mindfulness

We were both together in Bhutan. In this new project, you are basically being given the responsibility of creating the city of mindfulness in Gelephu. You had a very good response from the king and queen and all the people who were there. I had a question about Gelephu, where this project is supposedly going to happen. It doesn’t have the ambiance of the rest of Bhutan, the mountains, the forest, the monasteries and the feeling that Bhutan gives you. How are you going to incorporate all that?

Bhutan, as a country, is doing a lot of things very well. It’s a small population, less than 1 million people. Its a territory the size of Denmark but basically the Himalayas. From seven and a half kilometers, 20,000 feet in in the North down to like 300 feet in the South on the border to India. Of course, when we think of Bhutan, we do think of the more Alpine regions higher up in the mountains. We think of the Tiger’s Nest, this beautiful temple that is hugging the side of a mountain. You have to hike there. We also think of a culture where the history, craft, heritage, ceremonies and spirituality is omnipresent in the city and the landscape and the towns. However, they’re also experiencing that the younger generation is leaving.

They’re going to Australia.

Software engineers newly educated in Bhutan could can actually make more money cleaning the high school corridors in Perth. As such, they actually see a big brain drain. Essentially, what they’re trying to do is to create a special administrative zone, 1,000 square kilometers on the border to India, which is bookended by two nature parks. It is in a place where you have tigers and elephants roaming around to see if they could create a city that could have the vibrancy and economic energy that the young people right now have to go to Mumbai or Perth or Singapore to find.

Therefore, since a lot of the culture of Bhutan is alpine or mountainous in its architecture and in its clothing and culture, what we are trying to do is almost reinterpret what would be the tropical equivalent of Bhutanese culture and architecture and see if you can the foundation of the values that are quite unique in Bhutan.

What I found most striking is even when you go to a public school with 5, 6, and 7-year-olds, meditation, spirituality, and quite deep philosophical awareness are rooted in the way that the kids are treated, which is also, like every Bhutanese person I’ve interacted with, whether it be the driver or the cook or the guide or the royal family. Every walk of life has an incredibly forthcoming and helpful presence, but not overly serving.

It’s more like you feel real, three-dimensional people who are standing right there and are happy to help or engage, but with a presence that you find rare. In that sense, I do think that what is truly unique about Bhutan, even though the visuals we associate with Bhutan is, of course, the Himalayas, you could actually create a tropical city in the South that would be like a modern manifestation of what I find so unique about the Bhutanese culture.

Bjarke and I were in Bhutan at the invitation of the king and Queen and we attended the 117th birthday celebration of the kingdom of Bhutan. There were 50,000 people in that stadium. At the end of that ceremony, the king and queen, you and I, and 50,000 people danced together. There was no security, there was no hint of any anxiety or anything of the sort. I’ve never experienced that in my life. The humility of the king and queen as well.

They may not be an economic superpower, but they have another power, which is exactly this power that everybody can converge towards something. Also, 5% or 10% of the country are volunteers, so they have this huge core of volunteers because the king asked them. These volunteers became incredibly instrumental in the COVID response, for instance, which means that Bhutan handled COVID better than any other nation on Earth.

We are used to measuring everything in economic terms. I think it is no coincidence that Bhutan came up with the idea of measuring gross national happiness rather than gross national product. Therefore, I’m fascinated by the idea that there is another way to mobilize a nation and instigate change that you can’t account for in economic terms, even though it will have an economic impact. It will create benefits and welfare for the nation.

Tweet: There is another way to mobilize a nation and instigate change that you can’t account for in economic terms, even though it will have an economic impact and create benefits and welfare for the nation.

When I was there, there were two parts of me. One is overjoyed with the experience and the other is heartbroken over what’s happening in the world with violence, whether it’s Ukraine, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Korea, you name it. You see a country here where that would be almost unimaginable, the violence that we are seeing in the world right now. I hope people can take some inspiration from what Bhutan is doing.

There are definitely some lessons to be had. This was my fourth encounter with the king and his team. It’s a relatively recent effort. The master plan framework for the life of the mindfulness city. In order to ensure we root that the design for the city in the culture of Bhutan, we are establishing a local office in Thimphu and in Gelephu, where we can, in a way, harness also the power of the people that will allow us to share and co-develop these designs with the local talent mass. Also, the local talent mass will remain at some point if we continue to do other things. I have a feeling we’re going to have a long-standing journey together with the Bhutanese, but that we end up also rooting that the talents we attract stay in Thimphu and in Bhutan


Also, bring talents like you there, too. Tell me about this. This is an extraordinary book that comes from you and your colleagues. We’ve been going through it and can’t get enough of it. Tell us a little bit about this book.

It’s called Formgiving. Formgiving is the Danish word for design. As you can hear it, it literally means form giving because to design is to give form to that which has not yet been given form. Out of nothing, something. That means that when you’re designing a building, city, or space, you are giving form to the world that you would like to live in the future. It’s about giving form to the future.

Building The Future: When you’re designing a building, city, or space, you’re giving form to the world that you would like to find yourself living in the future. It’s about giving form to the future.


We try to organize a lot of the work we’ve been doing over the last decade and we try to organize it in a journey from the past. We try to describe the evolution or the taking shape of making, sensing, sustaining, thinking, healing and moving, which I think are somehow the main challenges. We try to describe the possibility of making things evolve. Looking at the present, essentially, what are we involved in now and then we try to give an idea of the future. Of course, we are going to go to other planets. We’re working with NASA and another company.

There’s a whole section here on what the future might hold on the moon, on Mars and, of course, on Earth. In our Sages and Scientists conference at Harvard, September 14th and 15th, 2024, where you will be part of a panel, probably leading it, we also have people who designed the software for the Mars Landing from MIT Media Lab. I think that’ll be a great conversation because not only are the design of the software for the landing but possibly future architecture and clothing and designs of that sort.

This has been an amazing conversation and forever, I’ve thought that the difference between happy people and unhappy people is something called the brain responds to what we call problems. When you see a problem, the first thing is to reframe it as a challenge, but then reframe the challenge as an opportunity. Bjarke Ingels is the perfect example of that. Check out everything we’ve talked about and give us your feedback. Bjarke, that was an amazing conversation.

Thank you. It’s such a pleasure.


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