Even in this hyper-connected present, the power of the timeless conditions of geography, proximity, and locality are undeniable. The evolutionary force that is innovation reveals this better than any, as new developments emerge almost unfailingly where there are concentrations of people – near each other, in open time, hands and minds engaged side by side. A fine example of this phenomenon lies today in and around the academic laboratories of Boston. There thinking folks are gathering, fueled by a density of thought-energy (and empowered with massive endowments & resources) that produces new things and ways like heat and pressure make popcorn1
In the realm of Architectural geometries, MIT’s School of Architecture seems to be at the center of this nexus, populated with thinkers who are among the true vanguard of this evolution. As evidence, here’s a charming, pretty, and sometimes stunning short they produced in 20122 that is well worth a watch:
So hello, new era. Of course, the progressive work is not confined solely to the academic laboratory. It is in fact through private practice that we actually begin to see real applications of these innovations. Nader Tehrani, the Head of MIT’s Architecture school, is doing such work through his own firm, NADAAA. Some choice examples are as follows3:
VOROMURO (installation), 2007.
Another heavy among the MIT cohort is Mark Goulthorpe, principal of dECOi Architects and the hero behind the Hyposurface (the rolling-rippling-do-whatever-you-like wall at the end of the above film). Among other things, his firm is responsible for this:
OneMain Street, 2010.
Last but not least, Radlab! Founded by MIT grad Matthew Trimble in 2008, Radlab is the design and fabrication firm responsible for actually fabricating the forms that make up OneMain Street and a whole lot more. We here at SuperFab take a healthy dose of inspiration from the way these guys are doing it. If you peeped the video above, you’ve seen the keenly seductive totems they did in collaboration with MIT’s William O’Brien, Jr4. Below is a piece they developed and fabricated for the International Craft Furniture Fair in 2011.
And here’s one last video of a smaller piece they recently did, packed with some great CNC Milling action.
So there you have it, the Boston School. While these last couple Radlab pieces have an air of approachability, I imagine there are many who consider much of the architecture work above and feel a tinge of lack in it…Certainly not a lack of inventiveness or commitment, but instead a more curious lack of grit, of spoil, of time. At least, after considering these works over the last several days, I do. Of course, it’s not an unfamiliar feeling – it’s evident in the great and overwhelming majority of made things (industrial things) that make up most people’s everyday world – but it is more teasing here. It’s as though while our techniques to physically/formally emulate the natural environment we’re born of improve, the incompleteness of our understanding of it also becomes more obvious. I don’t think this detracts from the work – the radical work! – however. Instead it suggests we appreciate the act, and the process, all the more. Far less about what these finished works are, this is really about where this (unfinished) work is reaching. To us designers, artists, thinkers and makers it invokes a retrenching; away from aspiring to be, and into aspiring towards (being). Let’s lean in, friends.
…and deep respect, Boston. Much love from Portland. Keep taking it easy and doing good work.