Friday June 15 saw the opening of an exhibition of submissions to the limited competition for the honeycomb apartment building Kleiburg. Three artists and three architects were set the task of giving Kleiburg a facelift. Remarkably, the three artists turned out to have submitted typically architectural projects, and the architects produced art. American architect Greg Lynn (1964) made the best plan and will receive a further commission to translate his ideas into a feasible plan.
Kleiburg is a typical Bijlmer block from the early 1970s with 500 rental dwellings on ten floors. The block is located in what is known as the Bijlmer Museum, where the blocks and surrounding space will preserve their original form and where the spirit of the original layout will be maintained. As a symbol of the substantial programme of urban renewal in the Bijlmermeer, Kleiburg is to become a 'monument of change'. The three artists – Henri Jacobs, Atelier van Lieshout and Jan van de Pavert'- and three architects – Sauerbruch Hutton, Lucien Kroll and Greg Lynn – were also asked to consider energy-saving measures, solar energy and 'special forms of insulation'. Not exactly issues that an artist tackles every day. And it would seem correct to state that the three artists were asked because they were expected to come up with the wildest ideas. In hindsight that turned out not to be the case. The designs do not reveal whether the authors are architect or artist.
As founder of architectural office Form in Los Angeles, Greg Lynn has gained a reputation, particularly in the USA, but also in Japan where he has worked on the Yokohama Pier project. One design of his has been realised in Vienna, and Kleiburg, if it gets off the ground, will be his second European project. He owes his invitation to take part in the Kleiburg study to his conversion of an old New York textile factory into a Korean Presbyterian Church, completed in 1988. Lynn's ideas are extensively documented in the inspiring, beautifully published book ArchiLab, which focuses on architectural experiment. In the book Lynn and 59 other offices show numerous computer-generated forms, which make one wonder whether they will ever become architecture. For the moment at least, Lynn's work and that of the rest of his experimentally minded colleagues remain blobs that might come in handy as screensavers. Renée Drost, a resident of Kleiburg, expressed this aspect in her speech that opened the exhibition as follows: 'Kleiburg is an object to be used. While it may be given a striking new appearance, it must do what it was built for, and it must be safe'. Wise words, and the fact that the Dutch for screensaver translates literally as 'screen protector' is not enough.
The design for Kleiburg does indeed resemble a screensaver, the one we have seen on every PC where a small lens races across the screen distorting and bulging everything within its frame. This movement is recognisable in the convex skin of the facade proposed by Lynn. Has Patrimonium fallen for the idea of Kleiburg as Screensaver? No, because Lynn's selection was not made out of admiration for his artistic facade, but in recognition of his surprising, simple, thoughtful, and above all feasible reorganisation of block and dwellings. And Lynn has done that better than all five competitors. The convex skin accentuates the logistical incisions where necessary and bulges more pronouncedly at points of verticality. Lynn divides Kleiburg into 'eleven different neighbourhoods each with its own entrance and circulation system'. That ensures a wide variety of views, lighting conditions, spatial relationships, and forms. Computer architecture, also called 'computer baroque' – from now on, screensaver modernism is also acceptable – might be hip and appealing to the eye, yet is often just skin-deep. Here however, it supports a considered and intelligent organisation scheme. The form is subservient, and at the same time the form deals competently with the existing monotonous facade, where the design concept is repeated. Lynn's intervention turns it into a monolith, a unique composition, no square metre of which is the same. Christo the packing artist couldn't have bettered him. It's almost art.