Wednesday, February 6, 2008

“an environment of force and motion”

Greg Lynn’s Animate Form

In Animate Form, Greg Lynn carefully and comprehensively delineates a new(ish) field of design and process. To do he has defined new terms and issues for describing his thesis. He redefines (or clarifies) some terms and co-opts terms from math and science. The most important (re)definition is of animate/animation as not just the movement of objects but rather “impl[ing] the evolution of a form and its shaping forces.” Animate form is an environment of forces and motion as opposed to the more traditional way of thinking of design and form as static points. It is not necessarily literal motion, but is a range of forces acting on continuous surfaces/forms rather than a collection of points. There is no single definable point but rather fields of influence.

He argues that designing by manipulating the forces and areas of influence sponsors multiplicity of event/time/instant in a single form. This facilitates a greater response to a range of shifting and static contextual conditions than traditional design allows. For instance, site, program, and movement of people can all be conceived of as forces and motion simultaneously acting on and responding to form.

Lynn uses his newly minted terms and concepts to launch a fairly comprehensive attack on traditional processes and practices of design and architecture. “Architecture remains as the last refuge for members of the flat-earth society.” He points out that, “buildings are often assumed to have a particular and fixed relationship to their programs.” Buildings are rarely designed for a flexibility of program and never designed to sponsor an often inevitable shifting of use/program over the life span of a building. Lynn’s concept of the performance envelope models a range of programmatic/typological relationships and interaction potentials. Again the focus is on the multiplicity and mutability sponsored by an animate process.

Lynn makes a productive argument for the inclusion of digital media in the design process. Often the role of digital media and technology in architecture is questioned, its value being subjugated as merely a tool for representation, efficiency, and production. Designs generated from digital modeling have typically been little more than shallow, surface based forms that are justified post facto with flimsy pseudo intellectual reasoning. Additionally, “because of the stigma and fear of releasing control of the design process to software, few architects have attempted to use the computer as a schematic, organizing generative medium for design.” The use of new technology in architecture typically has an incubation period while architects figure out its range, capacity and limitations. We have to define digital process in its own terms rather than in terms from traditional design. For example, when steel was first introduced as a building material, architects designed forms that still mimicked traditional masonry construction. The full potential of steel was not realized until it was defined in its own terms.

Lynn gives us a linguistic and conceptual framework in which we can design and work using digital process and animate form.

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