The Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG, are big these days, working around the world from their offices in Copenhagen and New York. One of their projects, now under construction, is a giant waste-to-energy (the modern cleaner sounding name for a garbage incinerator) facility in Copenhagen that has a park and ski run on the roof, (lots more on TreeHugger here) and was designed to have a big smoke ring puff up every time the building released a tonne of carbon dioxide. The ring got cut by the authorities building the plant, so Ingels has turned to Kickstarter to raise funds to develop the prototype.
By sweeping nothing under the carpet, but rather projecting our carbon footprint onto the Copenhagen sky, we provide every single citizen intuitive information to help them inform the decisions they make for their lives and for the city that they want to live in.
Now this is a great feature; a recognition that waste to energy is not perfect, that there is a carbon footprint to it. There are a few other footprints too, but none of this usually gets mentioned in all the glossy coverage of this facility.
The campaign on Kickstarter is raising US$ 15,000, which is probably less than the cost of the model of the building that's sitting in BIG's lobby, or a couple of Bjarke's lovely black suits. It's petty cash for his office these days. So why is it on Kickstarter?
We will use this funding to build our final prototype and test it before we get approval to build and install the real thing. You will be a part of history, making the world's first steam ring generator.
It's controversial. On Dezeen, commenters complain "Crowdfunding for a mere 15K? BIG is the most prolific practice out there at the moment, surely they can easily afford that? Embarrassing." Others suggest that "It's economic democracy in action. Yes it serves to generate publicity, but also indicates whether people actually want it in the first place." Finally:
The public can't vote against the smokestack. It only takes $15K of yes-money to overrule what could readily be 99.9% opposition to it. In any case, we know that $15K is a drop in the bucket for this project and all that's being sold is bragging rights. So we have the illusion of voting, the illusion of public consent. This is the point where marketing slides its greasy hand into the soul of men and women and pets their vanity for all its worth. I take that to be Ingels' chief talent.
There's really no reason that a Kickstarter campaign should not be about generating interest and exposure for an idea, for using it as a tool to gauge interest. But it seems odd to use it for an architectural feature on the top of a building. It seems odder to me that this entire building gets such a free pass, no discussion of the virtues or problems of waste-to-energy, just a whole lot of wow for BIG's wrapping this sow's ear in a silk purse.