On April 3, 2012, Gregg Lynn delivered the 2012 Sally Walsh Lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Lynn is a Studio Professor at UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Design. His studio, Greg Lynn FORM, works within and among multiple fields, partnering with companies such as BMW, Boeing, Disney and Imaginary Forces. Following the lecture, Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz Amaré–Cartwright of Studio WAC, interviewed Greg Lynn over a series of emails.


Jenny Lynn Weitz (JLW): Algorithms, math, digital manipulations, surfaces and animations are clearly present in your works. Can you explain differentiation in your projects? What makes you invest capital and labor on one derivative over another?

Greg Lynn (GL): First of all, for me what is more important than varying solutions and refining the variations based on constraints is to design spaces, forms, and surfaces that have a quality in and of themselves. So the question of designing many derivations is a more specific question. I don’t think differentiation in and of itself is that interesting. Variation for variations sake is somewhat suspect and lazy in my opinion. The most obvious answer is to temper variation with constraints and these are the same old constraints germane to any design problem and scale just solved with new tools resulting in new forms and organization sometimes. Because the market is demanding a combination of brand identity and rapid variation in models there is a new problem today that didn’t exist before. Apple or Audi use an old school design method where they design a brand identity and then stretch it, expand it, scale it like taffy so whether it is big, small, long, short, squat, or tall it gets the same form, materials, and color. I find what BMW and Nike do much more interesting [work] where they establish design cues for their brand and then mix and match them for different models. You can identify their brand but they also innovate with design and their design is less forced and better than say Apple or Audi making another silvery brick.


Scott Cartwright (SC): With the increasing affordability of 3–D printers the main sales pitch of these devices is to make everyone a designer. Wouldn’t a more accurate sales pitch be to speak of the communicative aspect of the tool; that it would make you a cross between a consumer and a contractor, allowing you to more easily enter a dialog with a specialist? That the tool itself would redefine how products were sold, considerably altering the relationship between object and consumer?

GL: I think the 3D printer says your house will become a factory. I don’t think this will make everyone a designer. I think you will be able to print replacement parts and objects in your house instead of going to the store or online. I do think that there is a trend towards needing to have someone like an architect in the process of bespoke purchases. People do not want to be designers they just want to be consumers of bespoke objects or objects that are running on faster and faster design innovation cycles. I can see cars, bikes, clothing, furniture and appliances having an architect that interprets bespoke desires and designs a specification that is sent to a factory, or someone’s home factory, where a one-of-a-kind industrially produced object is made.


JLW: In terms of product design, how do you go back and forth between working in different scales, with different manufacturers and types of clients; what’s the relationship of say the Ravioli Chair you did for Vitra and any of your architecture projects?

GL: I really never see the difference in design language and materials honestly. After the Korean Presbyterian Church of New York I realized that I did not have a material palette or a detail language and I very consciously used things like the Ravioli Chair to develop a language of materials, assembly, ergonomics, and detailing. I find the industrial design projects very important to help me formulate a language of materials and details that otherwise I might grab ‘off–the–shelf’ for a building.

JLW: Well, the beauty of industrial design projects is that you get the opportunity to explore with new materials and processes or find new applications for materials that are readily available. And yes, you can possibly do the same with architectural projects of any size, but… are small scale products for the body or for the home, such as those you’ve done for Swarovski or Alessi, as complicated as any residential or commercial project in terms of design development and production?

GL: No, the products are much simpler for so many reasons. First, the expectations are higher so you are more a partner than in the case of buildings where contractually and culturally the client, architect, builder, and financier are set into an antagonistic relationship in most cases. The assumption with a product is that something will be improved, invented, or re–imagined and there is a premium placed on originality and creativity. In a building, creativity is viewed with caution and suspicion. Second, the partners I have had with industrial products are intimate with their logistics, manufacturing, marketing, and customers and they bring knowledge and expertise to the design process. Even the best developers and clients are typically benchmarking projects by past performance of precedents because they do not understand their markets and are often looking at very short windows of time to define success as they need to flip or refinance their properties quickly. Ironically the building industry is more fickle than the product world I my experience. Finally, a chair or a ring is built of dozens rather than hundreds of thousands of parts and there is no getting around the fact that this may not be easy to do well, but is certainly easier to manage.


SC: Perhaps my favorite relationship in the science fiction genre is the relationship the characters have to products, objects, or architecture. I immediately think of the William Gibson novel Neuromancer, in which the character, Case, is confronted with a skyscraper being built with nanobots. The descriptions the character gives about the building are speculative and observational; he even seems paranoid of the building’s minor movements. The character is wrestling to understand the technology of the building, a referent that he struggles to define in language. Your projects, regardless of scale, seem to ask the viewer to participate in a similar dialog.

GL: What I do is not meant to be polite or in the background as I like to be in dialogue with a user, owner, passerby or occupant. I think that most of the built environment is a backdrop to daily life and I am all for that. I want people to feel comfortable and I want them to have an affection for being in, on, or around anything I design. In order to have an affection for something it has to be noticed. I find vernacular design a little creepy and obsequious. I prefer a direct greeting over a stalker.

SC: What methods do you use to resolve vernacular design in your projects vs. an occupant, passerby or user’s possible desire to feel servile to vernacular constraints of an object or architecture?

GL: I am frankly allergic to the vernacular for its own sake. I think that what we consider vernacular forms were arrived at because of logics of production in most cases and almost never for cultural reasons. To valorize the vernacular or everyday as a style I find very cynical and clever in the best case and insulting in the worst. I am not so clever so I don’t play with the vernacular ironically. Since I lack irony, I try and stay away from quoting vernacular forms.

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