“The vierendeels form a catalog: each one is different, from the regular and closely spaced to a logarithmic sequence of ever-increasing intervals and structural dimensions.” Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mao, S,M,L,XL, (New York, 1995), 429.
Cecil Balmond and the informal
Cecil Balmond’s informal architecture seeks to free structure from “compulsive repetition”(79) and to embody a new ontology founded on chaos theory. Balmond’s design method often begins with multiple local improvisational interventions, seeds around which crystallize logics. These logics spread, and, upon meeting, overlap to create an ambiguous and multiplicitous order. “The informal is opportunistic, an approach to design that seizes a local moment and makes something of it.... Ideas are not based on principles of rigid hierarchy but on an intense exploration of the immediate. It is not ad-hocism, which is collage, but a methodology of evolving start points that, by emergence, creates its own series of orders... What is an improvisation is in fact a kernel of stability, which in turn sets sequences that reach equilibrium.”(80) Balmond’s design method is bottom up, the local informs the global. “Answers begin on a small and intimate scale, these local actions multiply, spreading outwards to inform the whole.”(81) His understanding of the crystallization of order derives from the logic of cellular automata: “A single move, a local action, is all that is needed to get started. Surprisingly the haphazard begins to ‘shake-down’ into pattern and, the open and unconfined leads to network and coherence.”(82)
Figure 26. Vierendeel study for Tres Grande Bibliotheque, C. Balmond for R. Koolhaas
“Playing with the make-up of the columns to increase/vary stiffness leads to endless variation. Thus the make up of a Vierendeel girder becomes an excursion into the science of material, proportion and aesthetics. The efficiency tag of a truss becomes distant, an industrial echo.” Cecil Balmond, Last Apples, in Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mao, S,M,L,XL, (New York, 1995), 680.
Balmond’s description of a design process (and precipitation of order) initiated at several discrete, arbitrarily chosen points of intervention, as opposed to a design process which is initiated by exposing a multiplicitous body to gradient intensities, marks his understanding of emergent systems as more heavily influenced by chaos theory than Deleuzian materialist philosophy. Balmond’s understanding of the hybrid as “one action overlapping the other, a co-sharing of separate natures”(83) shares with Lynn’s smooth mixture a definition as a coexistence of disparate elements which allows for both a shared identity and an appreciation of their distinctness or difference, though intrication implies a synthesis that overlap does not. Balmond’s concept of the juxtaposition: “Two actions, side by side, clashing and influencing each other to give a new entity by virtue of adjacency. The close relation of one event to another. Agitation by proximity...”(84) shares with Deleuze’s body without organs an understanding of a composite entity which is created via the interaction and adjacency of multiple individual elements. But whereas Balmond’s composite entity is formed via the clashing of various elements, Delueuze’s entity is formed via less oppositional transactions between elements. While Deleuze and Lynn, forming their positions and strategies as alternatives to post-modern collage and deconstructivist collisions, were careful to avoid such terms as “clash” and “overlap”, Balmond, writing in 2002, felt no compunction to define his methods in relation to post-modern and deconstructivist practice. There is a violence and apparent legibility of Balmond’s transactions between elements, but these transactions are clearly not deconstructivist collisions, occurring always within a framework of interdependence. On the other hand, these transactions are not purely affirmatory, nor are they immediately legible, but rather serve to cast doubt upon participating systems.
Figure 23, 24. Horizontal arched truss, Kunsthal, Cecil Balmond and Rem Koolhaas
Central to Balmond’s aim is the production of ambiguity, disbelief and surprise. Relationships between systems are not immediately comprehensible and explicit. Structure at moments appears to be non-structural, relations between elements and systems appear irrational. To some extent, the production of ambiguity is reflective of contemporary ontology: “In the past beauty was conditioned by aspects of purity, fixed symmetries and pared minimal structure being accepted as norms... Now that the world is being accepted as not simple, the complex and oblique and intertwining of logic strands gain favor.”(85) However it is also an invitation to inspect and reflect upon the work, resisting the production of immediately assimilable affect.
Figure 27. Cecil Balmond
Balmond’s definition of the informal fluctuates between polyphony and chaos: at times, the informal is described as the seeding of a regular structural field with expanding alternative logics or patterns, at other times, it is described as the creation of skips and upsets within a generic structural logic. The former is a more compelling model for design, seeking to understand irregularity as a result of the layering of logics and inviting the creation a protocol of interaction for multiple adjacent patterns, while the latter understands irregularity as a deficiency of logic.
Figure 28. Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke
The inclusion of an out-of-scale element in a regular packing system creates a defect which is propagated throughout the system (above). Defects caused by non-ideal boundary conditions and influenced by origin point of the pattern (in the case of the heptagonal boundary, the pattern originates along each side of the boundary simultaneously), (below).
Frei Otto and the Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke’s analytical studies of diatom shell geometry(86) explore the mechanisms of pattern generation and phase shifting between patterns. Otto’s research shares with catastrophe theory the recognition that all form is the result of strife and conflict. Of particular interest are moments when pattern generating areas regulated by a local singularity (hexagonal packing logic) encounter a disturbance in the form of a tensile force, edge condition, partial obstruction, or global curvature change, and must shift to an entirely new behavior which radically changes the pattern generated. These local pattern changes are called net defects, a term borrowed from crystallography. The use of the word ‘defect’ is interesting because, while clearly these local changes are not so much understood simply as malfunctions of the original logic so much as the result of the interaction between initial logic and external force, at the same time the initial logic is clearly conflicted and confounded. The result is not a blend, but a violent eruption of change resulting from force and logic, each offering resistance to one another.
Figure 32. Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke
A packing pattern created by bubbles in a curved dish. Imperfections in the form of Frenkel patterns (pairs of pentagons and heptagons), marked in the photo, are created both my the introduction of the large bubble and the curvature of the dish.
Figure 35. The effect of changing degree of shell curvature on cell pattern, given even distribution of stresses throughout the shell. Increasing the slope of a gridshell requires the use of a less and less regular pattern of hexagons to maintain equal distribution of stresses.
Figure 30, 31. Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke
The effect on diatom shell patterns of compressive stress along concentric lines. The effect on diatom shell patterns of tensile stress along radial lines.
79 Cecil Balmond, Informal, (Munich, 2002), 75.
80 Balmond, Informal, Manifesto.
81 Balmond, Informal, 115.
82 Balmond, Informal, 120.
83 Balmond, Informal, 117.
84 Balmond, Informal, 120.
85 Balmond, Informal, Introduction.
86 see Klaus Bach and Berthold Burkhardt, ed. Diatomeen I: Schalen in Natur und Technik. IL. Universität Stuttgart. Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke. 28. (1984).