Benjamin Aranda of New York-based multidisciplinary practice Aranda\Lasch discusses their critically-acclaimed work; a innovative mix that fuses the disciplines of architecture, art and science.
The experimental studio of architects Benjamin Aranda and Chris Lasch have, since 2003, been breaking new ground – not only in terms of architectural projects. From charting the city through bird flight, to creating mathematically inspired design art, their projects have won them high praise, including Winners of the Young Architects Award from the Architecture League and United States Artists Fellowship in 2007, as well as impressive commissions around the world, from their collaborative art installation at the 11th Biennale di Venezia, to the 4,000m2 main exhibition space of the contemporary art fair Design Miami last December. The duo are no strangers to the event, last year their scene stealing prototype of the Quasi table - a geometric masterpiece – sold for an undisclosed amount. This December Aranda/Lasch will present their new console as part of a continuation of the celebrated Quasi series.
Benjamin Aranda’s definition of luxury :
That which is just beyond my grasp.
If Luxury were…
A table for talking to ghosts, I heard King Ludwig II had one.
The honest answer to that question is that she knows who she is to me.
That moment on an airplane, window seat, ten minutes before landing. Cabin lights are off, all devices are stored and you can't do anything but marvel at the world slowly approaching you.
How did Aranda/Lasch begin?
Initially the idea for our practice was to basically rent a van and travel the country—this was back when wireless technologies had just begun to open up a lot of possibilities to learn on the go. It never happened - no funding. But we’ve always remained interested in the tools used in architecture and have always tried to be critical of these tools. At a certain point we began making our own computational tools and realized that we could make structures that organize space and put forth a way to practice architecture. Then we got some work, wrote a book, and things started to fall into place.
You are known for applying mathematics and algorithms to architecture, art and design, which has, historically, created impressive results, from the pyramids to Le Corbusier’s Grid system. How does it inform your work ?
We've been working with an idea that all designed objects and spaces are basically aggregations. If you look at a lot of our projects, they can simply look like a bunch of units stuck together, which is to say that all our work, whether its small-scale like furniture and installations or large-scale like a building, is always conceived as an aggregation of small parts. These parts have a kind of built-in intelligence and modularity that enables them to grow into larger assemblies. These larger structures can then be as useful as a table, for instance, or they can serve to even organize space and then that space can be occupied in unexpected ways.
In order to build from small parts we believe that you have to learn how to break things down and we like to use the analogy of sand piles to illustrate this. Architecture can be understood today, with the new concepts and tools being developed, as a pile of many disparate elements, all congealing together to form a whole.
The radical infusion of computation into the field means that these piles can also be reformed; that every grain of sand has the knowledge to reform itself into a new pile. There is something very optimistic to us about this trait, it has a recuperative quality that is forward-looking and elegant. And as designers that like to use computation, we have found there to be a tremendous amount of room for play and intuition with this way of working. We've made it a real emphasis of our practice to find ways of being intuitive and playful with these computational systems. For us, designing is like playing with sand.
Since the 1990s Frank Gehry has been using the CATIA system, a program which allows the architect to “build” each project virtually before commencing construction, do you work with such technology? What is your view on this system of creating architecture?
We tend to align ourselves with the way artists talk about their work as something that brings difference into the world. There is an implication in our discipline that architecture is needed. And to some extent that’s true. But advanced architecture is not needed, computation in architecture is not needed, nor are algorithms. Instead what is needed is to consider how computation undermines our stable view of the world. We don’t see it as an advancement, or moving forward, but rather as a disruption.
We are not interested in a future of architecture that is technologically reinforced and stable, but rather a future that breaks things down into endless possibilities. Architecture is an inherently destructive act. It’s the very physical breakdown of materials into smaller components that are standardized in order to recompose into new stable structures, like a brick for a house or a pipe for your new bathroom. Computation is also destructive, it breaks things down into language, an abstract and codified system to build and rebuild from the smallest components - ones and zeroes. Combine these two and you get somethings powerful: re-composition becomes automated.
How do you see architecture evolving in the future ?
I'm going to continue talking about sand. Imagine a sandcastle dissolved by the waves on a shore and let's call this castle architecture. Previously, as early as last century, this castle would have no future incarnation without the help of a child to build it up again. The moment architecture finds itself in now is fundamentally different. Computation makes the grains speak. Herein lies its promise: as the castle crumbles, each grain is informed. Imaginable now is an equally easy reconstitution of these bits of information into new and vital structures – new kinds of organizations that undermine our previous conception of what a thing should be. Sand castles growing back on the shore, different every time. This is the future: destruction with the promise of renewal.
You also create pieces of design art furniture. How does the process compare to your architecture?
Our pursuit in furniture points to a "mineral" architecture. We believe the process of making architecture is a rehearsal for how any matter in the universe assembles itself. At the smallest known scale, assembly is controlled by crystals – the structure of molecular lattices in solid state materials. The energy storage potential in crystals (periodic, aperiodic, and chaotic) is vast and differentiated. Computation itself is siphoned through the crystals of silicon chips to give us information. Architecture too is best organized from the crystal and its key logic, modularity. The productive symmetries of modularity and subsequent crystallographic structure are a vital organizing force for architecture at large. Our furniture objects are reflective of this mineral approach to architecture.
With the evolution of industry and technology and the invention of new materials, the challenge for designers, such as Aranda/Lasch, is to work with scientists and complex scientific findings, and to translate them into something creative, useable and understandable. How do you achieve this ?
We may be a little old-fashioned but we like to talk about intuition. Intuition is our guide through the endlessly forking paths of research and design. Especially in this area of computational design. It is not that intuition is the inverse of computation, like some final romantic battle of mind over matter. Rather, intuition is the thinning agent in the mixture, allowing for further crystallization of potentials and a prolonged amplification of computation's effects.
You have been involved in creating art installations with artist Matthew Ritchie, how did you find this experience and do have any more projects in the pipeline ?
Our experience working with Matthew Ritchie has been profoundly rewarding and continues to recast our ideas about architecture. We've produced installations in Venice, Seville, Reykjavik, New York and Washington and we'll continue to collaborate as long as possible. It’s funny, there seems to be an expectation of friction between an artist and architect and that somehow that friction becomes the source of energy in a project. It was a little different with us, early on we all agreed on an integrated approach, where every single one of Matthew Ritchie’s lines would be structural. It was a simple strategy: every piece is a drawing in three dimensions where the lines themselves are the structure and the space. The challenge was to develop a system to carry this out so it worked not just for one line, but the thousands of lines that exist in every new installation.
Who inspires you ?
We once made some baskets with a Native American basket weaver Terrol Johnson and he inspired us deeply. He taught us that when you're making something, that object being formed has much to do with everything that's around it. He spoke of basket-making as a process that brings people together, both those around him and the ancestors through which he continues a tradition. He spoke of many voices in that object, as if each basket is, in essence, a conversation. Architecture has a lot to learn from basket-weaving.