Departmental Papers (City and Regional Planning)

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Book Chapter

Date of this Version



Reproduced by permission of Thames & Hudson.
Reprinted from NOX: machining architecture, edited by Lars Spuybroek (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004, pages 360-369.


On meeting the German structural engineer Frei Otto in 1998, Lars Spuybroek was struck by the extent to which Otto's approach to the design of light structures resonated with his own interest in the generation of complex and dynamic curvatures. Having designed the Freshwater Pavilion (1994-97) using geometric and topological procedures, which were then materialized through the exigency of a steel structure and flexible metal sheeting, Spuybroek found in Otto a reservoir of experiments in developing curved surfaces of even greater complexity by means of a process that was already material- that was, in fact. simultaneously material, structural and geometric. Moreover. Otto's concem with flexible surfaces not only blurred the classic distinctions between surface and support, vault and beam (suggesting a non-elemental conception of structural functions) but also made construction and structure a function of movement or, more precisely, a function of the rigidification of soft, dynamic entities into calcified structures such as bones and shells. Philosophically inclined towards a dynamic conception of the universe - a Bergsonian and Deleuzian ontology of movement, time and duration - Spuybroek embarked on an intensive study of Otto's work and took up his analogical design method. A materialist of the first order, Spuybroek now developed his own experiments following those of Otto with soap bubbles, chain nets and other materials as a way to discover how complex structural behaviours find forms of their own accord, which can then be reiterated on a larger scale using tensile, cable or shell constructions.



Date Posted: 14 November 2007