Christian Long

Greg Lynn: Calculus in Architecture

In TED Talks on April 25, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Reflection by HAGEN F.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Greg Lynn: Calculus in Architecture

Now even though that the title of this video has calculus in it, do not be afraid of it. Greg Lynn does not ramble on about calculus on a grand scale, but he simply names simple aspects of calculus and how they relate to organic, architectural design concepts. He never ‘dives’ into formulas or limits in calculus, but simply shows the parallels between the use of calculus and that of architecture.

Greg Lynn starts off talking about how nature is the example for good architecture and how the paragon of a building design is how close it can be modeled to nature’s principles. Proportions were first based on the proportions of the human body; nose to face or head to body. Architects used ‘nature’ to determine the optimum ratio to compare their building designs to. By using ratios and proportions that people already saw as a sort of beauty, the lines of nature and architectural design were brought closer together. Now natural form is now defined as calculus based.

A parabola is a rather simple and well-known conic in calculus that resembles that of an archway. Churches, like those created during the romantic era, used archways to bring beauty and sophistication to their Churches. As well as being beautiful, arches are efficient at supporting a structure because they displace the force exerted down on them, and leave a nice, open walkway underneath. Yet, parabolas and arches are seen as ideal forms of architecture for the reasons above, but Greg Lynn is not concerned with these. He wants to use shapes and structures that are not uniform, and their shape varies.

Symmetry has always been defined to me as being able to split something with a straight line and the objects on either side of the line will match. Greg Lynn defines it, with the help of Bateson’s Rule, as if information is lost, then the ‘system’ reverts back to symmetry, or rather reverts back to the information that it has already been used. Since the ‘system’ cannot complete the final product, it must use information that it already has and thus, two identical parts of the product are produced. So that means that through ‘chaos,’ symmetry is created because everything is less chaotic when all the information is known and there is no reason to doubt. If you do not know anything, then you begin to ‘lose face’ and become worried as to what the answer will be when you know the last part of the information. Once you know the last part, then you will become placated. So symmetry, or almost complete order, is built out of loss of information and, in a sense, ‘chaos.’

What Greg Lynn and the architects that he works for are trying to do is, create repetitive structures that have only slight modifications. Their modifications are only slight so you can detect the similarities of the two objects. The changes in the shapes are only slightly different, yet the shapes are the same if one is to use a calculus definition. Having not taken calculus, or have any understanding of the modulation Lynn is talking about, I cannot help to explain this. All I can say is that the changes that calculus causes for similar objects produces magnificent and beautiful buildings and designs. With the apartment structure in Holland, Lynn and his fellow architects designed a way to house the escalators and elevators that lead to the different levels by using this technique. By doing this, he will create something spectacular and it will not be a ‘boring’ addition. The parts that hold up the escalators will all be similar in shape, but will not be identical. This way, the viewer gets drawn in to each individual piece, each time focusing on the little differences.

Lynn also focuses on the center of a design, or designs aspects of buildings to make the viewer focus on the central point. This can be done with lighting and the use of angles to cut-off lights form various points. In the Korean Church, Lynn used light in order to highlight the altar so that peoples’ main focus would be in the pastor giving the sermon. Focus, in my opinion, is the main component for almost everything that we produce on a large-scale. If the consumer covets something, than the producer must make the object so as to highlight the main component that the consumer wants.


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