Architects like to plan their use of time systematically. Le Corbusier divided his day into three parts – for painting, architecture and urban planning. Greg Lynn devotes 30% of his time to teaching, 30% to commercial commissions and 30% to research. No doubt it was during the remaining 10% that he wrote the sci-fi story he recited at the Berlage Institute. Jeroen Mensink reports.
Though even his complex forms cause many a mouth to drop open in wonderment, Greg Lynn’s design method is every bit as interesting as the end result. In recent years, however, his pioneering work has shifted emphasis – spurred no doubt by the concrete commissions he has secured – to the production side of the building process. Lynn’s lecture to the Berlage Institute on February 28 last therefore dealt more with technology than with space.
Lynn’s experimental approach reminds one of the work of Jean Prouvé, Renzo Piano and Norman Foster. These architects take responsibility for engineering and prototyping and seek a reorganisation of the entire construction process. Prototypes are built at Lynn’s office during the design phases using his own computer-controlled 3D cutter (CNC Mill – Computer Numerical Control). Unintentionally, therefore, he assumes some of the manufacturer’s responsibility. To Lynn, this is not so much desirable as necessary to convince manufacturers of the feasibility of his designs.
Greg Lynn fields the usual criticism – that high-grade technology does not belong in the construction sector and moreover is too costly – by showing realised work. An example is his renovation project in Stockholm, for the now defunct pglife.com. The maker of SAAB prototypes, who carried out part of the interior, completed his work on time and within budget. The contractor, however, ran behind schedule and exceeded the budget by 100%.
Ideally, Lynn would like to appoint a construction site manager rather than concede all authority to a contractor. The manager would have to lead a team of highly qualified specialists. Better management of specific expertise would open up new possibilities. Lynn’s enthusiastic plea makes you believe that the construction process might progress beyond the Stone Age some day.
The Kleiburg block of flats in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer district was also shown to the packed audience. According to Lynn, it is exemplary of his current practise, in which he is regularly asked ’to rethink large modernist problems’. The Bijlmer block is one such ‘large modernist problem’.
Lynn explained that the proposed redevelopment – attaching escalators to the existing building – must, literally, establish new connections with the resident community. Attaching additional public space must foster social control and a sense of community. The open escalators compensate for the anonymity of the enclosed lifts and endless galleries. What’s more, the additional public space, which from the outside looks like an ‘alien’ eating into the building, gives the stern facade a more playful countenance. Whether all the Bijlmer’s deep-rooted problems can be solved with this proposal remains to be seen. But certainly, many of the block’s shortcomings will be eliminated.
Following in the footsteps of Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi and Frank O. Gehry, Lynn is currently working on a tea and coffee-pot (plus accessories) for design giant Alessi. Here, too, he is experimenting with production techniques. Lynn is seeking to combine standardisation and uniqueness. His proposal allows unique items to be produced for years thanks to a clever combination of a limited number of components that can be produced in bulk. Again, all engineering and prototyping is carried out in his office so that he can study the production process closely. In terms of form, the complete service looks remarkably like a random collection of organs and will certainly not go unnoticed when used.
To escape from the promise that ‘architectural theory’ presupposes, Lynn has recently started using science fiction as a medium for expression, since it is a more narrative way of describing the desired atmosphere and spatial quality. A sci-fi story will be added to his soon-to-be-published book Embryological House, an excerpt from which he read for the audience.
This text has also generated interest from the SF Channel, an American TV station devoted entirely to science fiction. Attracted by images of his designs, the broadcaster is currently working with Lynn on various leaders (short film fragments) based on animation films of his work.
What makes Greg Lynn so interesting is that he not only generates innovative forms of architecture but also is closely involved in how these complex forms are realised. To achieve his aims during both the design and construction phases, he makes maximum use of the computer.
Such a practically minded American architect naturally receives a warm reception from the down-to-earth Dutch. And so we’ll be following the construction process of his Bijlmer project on our Dutch soil with close interest.