Bjarke Ingels

A waste-to-power plant in Copenhagen that doubles as a public ski slope. A 328-foot-wide silvery solar-harvesting orb that hovers over a busy Stockholm intersection while providing electricity to the surrounding neighborhood. A pyramidal New York City high-rise with a hollow core containing a garden exposed to the city. All these concepts are part of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels' quest to make cities more interesting. That approach has made the 36-year-old founder of the firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) one of the most-watched architects in the world, beating out such big names as Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid for high-profile commissions like the National Library in Astana, the architecturally supercharged capital of Kazakhstan. "Human enjoyment is a major parameter in the way we work," says the shaggy-haired Rem Koolhaas protégé. "We try not only to meet the criteria for a client's specific functions but also to make sure that the buildings contribute to the cities they populate." For all the attention and ambitious ideas, BIG hasn't built much yet, but its finished projects in Copenhagen offer a taste of what's to come: Mountain Dwellings is a craggy agglomeration of terraced apartments that gives every resident a lush, private outdoor space atop a parking garage; 8 House features grassy ramps built into its exterior. West 57th, his planned tower in Manhattan, will similarly hybridize city and landscape. Ingels is pioneering a new strain of organic architecture—and bringing some fun to a profession known for its seriousness.

Biggest creative hero: I'm a fan of big storytellers, like Charlie Kaufman and Christopher Nolan.
Most indispensable tool: Nike+ GPS on my iPhone.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Fun of themselves.
An everyday object you think is perfectly designed: AiAiAi TMA-1 headphones—designed like a power tool.
Dream project: A major urban node that combines traffic infrastructure with economical, ecological, and social infrastructure—like an inhabited bridge.

See the slideshow of Bjarke Ingels's work.
By Tim McKeough
Photograph by Jens Astrup/Polaris Images

Paul Cocksedge

What makes British lighting designer Paul Cocksedge unique? It's his ability to use incandescence as a raw material to conjure up ingenious curiosities—like NeON, a transparent vessel filled with gas that becomes visible when charged with an electric current. That was one of several student projects that launched the 33-year-old's career in 2003, along with Styrene, a lamp shade resembling coral made by heat-treating polystyrene coffee cups. Another, Watt?, a lamp whose electric terminals are attached to a sheet of paper that users draw on with a pencil to complete the circuit and turn the light on, revealed Cocksedge's taste for presto-chango objects that conscript people into service in unexpected ways. His 2009 table lamp Life 01 is a vase of water with a light source in the bottom that's activated when a flower is dropped in, its stem serving as a conductor. His "Kiss" public installations, introduced in Milan the same year, feature an LED canopy that's triggered when a couple kisses below. Although his projects may feel like magic tricks, Cocksedge says he does nothing more than harness the laws of physics. "I'm not the one who makes liquid expand or graphite conduct electricity," he says. "Design is a vehicle for packaging my excitement for something I've discovered."

Biggest creative hero: Matisse is one.
Most indispensable tool: Electricity.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Healthy food.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: Solar panels.
Dream project: A Times Square installation, perhaps with "Kiss."

See the slideshow of Paul Cocksedge's work.
By David Sokol
Photograph by Donald Milne

Saul Griffith

The word inventor makes Saul Griffith cringe. He says it reminds him of an "insane neighbor," but it's a handy way to describe the 37-year-old Australian engineer. In 2006, he won a hallowed MacArthur "genius" grant and used his $500,000 award to fund more than a dozen startups aimed at solving climate and energy problems. These include Makani Power, which deploys robotically controlled kite turbines to capture the powerful, plentiful high-altitude currents a conventional wind farm can't reach, and Potenco, a line of human-powered generators that can recharge gadgets. Right now, Griffith, who's based in San Francisco, is working in the emerging field of programmable matter, which could change the way we make . . . everything. He hopes to bring manufacturing to the microscale by replicating the way biological objects intelligently assemble themselves—think of the shape-shifting quicksilver that morphs into the T-1000 in Terminator 2. "The killer app is where we start making biological materials from the ground up that are more sophisticated, environmentally benign, and powerful than our existing crop," Griffith says. Imagine no more hulking, emissions-spewing factories, just a wireless signal that commands raw materials to form objects. For now, Griffith's research has mostly produced toys: a menagerie of inflatable animals and 3-D cardboard puzzles that populate his studio. "Not everything I do is driven by a goal—some things are driven by an exploration of what is possible and whether it can help," he says. "Having said that, I'm not ashamed if things I work on are used to make the world more fun for 8-year-olds."

Biggest creative hero: I will always love Galileo, but I'll also say Marcel Duchamp.
Most indispensable tool: My pen. Communication is always key. Barring that, my laser cutter.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Bread.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: I love bicycles.
Dream project: Utility-scale renewable energy at a cost less than coal. If I weren't so practical, I'd say making biology engineerable to the point that I could grow my own surfboard in a vat of goop—now that's hard.

See the slideshow of Saul Griffith's work.
By Alissa Walker
Photograph by Dustin Aksland