Q&A with Bjarke Ingels

December 1, 2023

Meet the architect behind TPAC’s new performance home

Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect, founder, and creative partner of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) working on the conceptual design for Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s new performance home, sat down with President & CEO Jennifer Turner to share his creative process and what makes this project so unique.


JENNIFER TURNER: How would you describe the balance of art and science in architecture and how does that factor into your approach?

BJARKE INGELS: In many ways, I am using both the left and right side of the brain. On one hand, you have to trust in your intuition and go with your hunch with a certain confidence. On the other hand, you have to solve a lot of real problems by asking many pointed questions and listening to the thoughtful answers you receive.

In architecture, you have to be able to put into words exactly why something is relevant – exactly why something is interesting and why we would want to pursue this. Architecture really is an art and a science, and it’s by bringing these two spheres together that you accomplish something with the potential to be interesting or beautiful, but also practical and realizable.


TURNER: Designing a performing arts center is considered one of the hardest, most intricate projects. What makes them so unique?

INGELS: Wagner called opera the Gesamtkunstwerk, which means “the total work of art” because you have all the arts coming together in a singular expression. The music, drama, theatre, storytelling, set design, and costumes need to be funneled through a single delivery. It is so interesting for an architect to design one of these cultural spaces because the architecture is that single expression.


TURNER: As an architect with projects all around the globe, what are you wanting to bring to Music City?

INGELS: As an art form, architecture is a bit like portraiture. I often get the question, “In architecture, isn’t it annoying that you always have to listen to clients with their demands and requests?” But because architecture is like portraiture, you may ask, is the Mona Lisa an expression of DaVinci as an artist, or an expression of Mona Lisa the woman, the subject?

The answer is both. A great portrait captures the likeness of the subject, but also the character, the personality, the soul – and maybe the potential of the subject. In this case, the subject is TPAC, which is very much alive and active in the city and is going to be one of the cornerstones of the new Nashville. And it could be a building that expresses to the city, “Here is a performing arts center where you can enjoy the performing arts,” and a building that expresses to the rest of the country and the world what kind of a state and what kind of a city Tennessee and Nashville are.

TURNER: Why did you say yes to this project?

INGELS: A performing arts center is a project where an architect can unleash all the aspects of the art and the profession. And, it isn’t very often that a significant city sets out to create a new one. In Europe, many of them are from former centuries. So, that in itself is an amazing opportunity and worth traveling far for. Also, I think Nashville really is a city in America that is having a renaissance. It is about to redefine itself as it goes into a new stage of its evolution as a city. It is a very exciting thing to be part of as an architect.

TURNER: How do you envision TPAC’s new performance home impacting Tennessee and Nashville in the future?

INGELS: One thing that is important to understand about architecture is that our city isn’t the way it is because it always has been. It is the way it is because that is exactly how far the people that came before us got in creating a framework for the life they wanted to live. Because we know that life is always evolving, the life of the city is always evolving. The city we live in, the framework that was created; it was for how the city was, not how the city is today.

As an architect, you don’t know what building you’re going to design when you begin. You discover it along with everyone else and arrive there together. I think we’re arriving at something that will be a unique expression of Nashville today and will allow the people of Nashville and citizens of Tennessee to see themselves in a new way.