Note: This is a summary of a talk given at Postopolis!, taken in real-time, with minimal editing. Reader beware! Postopolis! was organised by BLDDBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, Subtopia, and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, and ran from May 29th-June 2nd 2007. Flickr group for photos here. YouTube videos uploaded here. All Postopolis! posts here.
Aranda/Lasch are a New York-based architectural firm. Many of their projects can be found in their book 'Tooling', published in February last year. Geoff gives an introduction to one of their more fantastical creations, 10 Mile Spiral.
Their presentation is, they suggest, loosely based around an idea of scale. Starting on molecular scale, and working up. (They could've made a hamfisted reference to Powers of Ten at this point, but smartly resisted. I know I couldn't have.)
At this 'lowest' level, they've recently been working with molecular scientists, on 'quasi crystal unpacking'. This is a form of crystalising process which, unlike regular crystal, produces a pattern that never reappears. It deploys the so-called "forbidden symmetries" (in degrees of 5, 7, 8 or 12). This production of non-repeating structural lattice, but with limited set of parts is a really interesting form of 'radical modularity'. This sounds extremely interesting and I'd have liked to have heard more about it.
Moving up the scale to, as they put it, "the scale of the basket", they've been looking at weaving for a long time. "As a lot of people have" (!). They've collaborated with a Native American artist, Terrel Dew Johnson, to create 13 or so baskets which fuse what you might call traditional methods of working with their more algorithm-based approach, actually looking at the nature of collaboration too – their "shared practice of pattern making through design". They're really beautiful objects, and they note that they "produced a number of constructions that reinvogorated both of our practises".
Move up to the scale of an installation, they showed fantastic work of a garden installation on the banks of St Laurence river north of Quebec City, orientated towards producing an effect: Camouflage View. It's a sort of corrugated or folded wall, mirrored and brush finished on one side, on certain 'blades' to camouflage the amazing view of the river behind. Working as a screen, the wall then reveals the view slowly. Reminds me of lenticular technology, in its shifting reveals as you move across it. They say it "smears images across its face so at times the piece itself almost disappeared, and at other times exaggerated objects and movement."
Up to pavilion level, they show ideas for a grotto, again built around these algorithmic, generative ideas, which enable them to work with a limited number of parts, and yet create a "non-obvious, almost wild, way of coming together." There's a sense of the build process of these structures being somewhat out of control, which throws up interesting challenges to design practice. This structure looks similar to the AA's pythagorean tree-structure pavilion I saw in London last year, which may have had a similar design process.
At the scale of building, they've worked on a log cabin/mountain hut project for the Sierra Nevada mountains, exploring different ways of working the material around the idea of 'packing'. Packing produces stability through adjacency, which they've developed in the construction of the long facing 'tectonics' in the walls of the cabin.
Next scale up is urban planning, and a favourite project, looking at spiralling as an urban planning technique. This came from a competition for a new entry gateway to Las Vegas, which specifically asked for a new sign. Ingeniously, they had a different approach to signage. "We figured that if Vegas works at some level like a sign, then we figured it would be OK to make a sign works somewhat like a city." Hence the incredible double-helix spiral, which Geoff covered in depth a while ago. There are some lovely phrases here, like the spiral "anticipates Vegas at the speed of a car", in that you perform "Vegas activities", like playing roulette from the car.
Finally, at the scale of nature (!), they've developed projects around 'flocking', which I won't dwell on, but instead indicate how their work had got increasingly based around developing custom tools in code, and approached projects procedurally, through systems. These have been deployed into their latest great project, called "Colour Shift".
"Colour Shift" uses the largest single-span LED video billboard in US. It's 90-feet wide and 65-feet tall, towers 165 feet in the air. And shows video. It's enormous. On Borden Avenue in Long Island City., the billboard faces the Long Island Expressway, into Midtown Tunnel, and is owned by Fresh Direct, who have the factories underneath.
Their project – "to get inside the dynamic of RGB space" – basically uses the billboard to colour cast the city around it, by 'broadcasting' fields of slowly shifting colours, generated via an algorithm built in Processing. The sheer size of the billboard literally colours the city around it, and they show some amazing pictures of this point of buildings and streets at night, cast in reds and purples, blues and yellows. They also demonstrated the algorithm in real time, moving around the colour wheel (try for yourself). The timing of the shifts is done at the 'advertising time' that they purchased from Fresh Direct, interestingly.
This was designed as a form sculptural piece, crossed with a live documentary, almost. To record the affects of algorithm on city around it; how it transforms the city. They actually discover it exaggerates an existing effect. Setting out to saturate the existing dynamics on the site, they find that the people who were most conditioned to it every day – those who work on site – were kind of immune to the changes. They barely noticed. (A bit like Bilbao residents I noticed once, jogging past the Guggenheim in the early morning and not even glancing at the giant frozen explosion just metres away.) They see the piece as a "kind of a portrait of a factory, as much as anything else", which is a lovely idea in terms of modern portraiture.
We asked them about their use of code in their work, and how it enables them to work with chance, unpredictability, and that kind of "wild, out of control" generative aspect they mentioned earlier. They see that the "rules and toolbuilding in this kind of interface are very commensurate with their architectural practise", despite it not being part of a traditional architecture toolkit. It gives them a relatonship with code, which isn't just based around the ability to insert a random function, but gives them access to ways of working and fields of knowledge. It's a creative challenge, and each project they do has some aspect of a challenge to practice built in. They didn't know what effect it would have, necessarily, and also found that code is "a kind of esperanto" - a middleman for communicating with all kinds of research and disciplines: "It's become a tool for us to spark collaborations ... from basketweaver to physicists to musicians".
Found all this fascinating, particularly how code can support mulitdisciplinary design processes and projects, as well as enabling generative aspects etc. This firm is chock full of great ideas, such as the 10-Mile Spiral, but the way they work may be just as influential.