Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's all about the twist

At the beginning of the month, I went to a Ben van Berkel lecture at the Cooper. Stan Allen did the introduction and the two joined force in a conversation after BvB's talk. I had the feeling that the whole evening was just about two words: "twist" from BvB and "diagram" from SA.

SA started off the introduction by talking about diagrams, saying that UNStudio's use of diagrams cuts across the usual program-form dichotomy. Then BvB took the stage. He looked back to the IFCCA competition entry that UNStudio did in 1999, where a series of diagrams mapped the performance of Manhattan and extracted parameters that defined the design of West Side. He said, diagram is in a way a "twist" of information, instrumentalizing it as a tool to organize program and infrastructure. He explained the method of
"deep planning," which means to plan in a formally rich way. By doing this, infographs are turned into abstract design models. They are like mathematical models that adapts easily. They give orientation to the design but not illustrating it. This mathematics of UNStudio's design models reminded me of their early Mobius House. Similarly, the Mercedes Museum clearly follows the geometric model of trefoil knot.

Cross Section of Mid-town Manhattan
Mobius House, Het Gooi
Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart

Among the many design models, the twist is perhaps the most consistent in UNStudio's work. It appeared frequently across scale and typology. In Villa NM, the twist materialized as a physical expression of the spatial organization, visualizing the intertwining of domestic and social programs. In the Star Place in Taiwan, the atrium becomes a vertical twist - a "seamless organization of disconnected parts." (Yes, BvB showed that snake-horse-lion-man head again.)

Villa NM, Upstate New York
Star Place Atrium, Kaohsiung
Burnham Pavilion, Chicago

One of the recent works BvB showed was the Burnham Pavilion in Chicago's Millenium Park. He referred to it as a prototype, some sort of a 1:1 diagram rather than a building. He argued that there are currently too many external references (politics, economy, art, etc.) in our profession. He wants to concentrate on the internal forces of architecture. And geometric design models give him the opportunity to group the projects into series. Here I have some doubts. Is this autonomy all over again? Maybe he has cut across the usual program-form dichotomy and reached the side of pure forms.

No comments: