The proponent of "BLOB architecture" is no square.
Architecture is probably unique among professions in that you can be a pretty big deal without having executed all that much work. So like a fair number of celebrated architects, Greg Lynn isn’t what you would call prolific. He’s more well known—at least so far—for his intellectual and academic contributions than for his portfolio of built work.
“Greg’s emblematic of history,” says Joseph Rosa of the Art Institute’s Department of Architecture and Design. “Progressive thinkers don’t necessarily build while they’re young. Louis Kahn didn’t blossom until he was 50.” Rosa thinks this makes Lynn, 42, the ideal figure to deliver the first lecture sponsored by the Richard Solomon Lectureship for Young Architects and Architectural Criticism. It honors the late Chicago architect and cultural leader by providing a forum for progressive ideas from emerging talents—ideas similar to those Solomon championed while he was executive director of the Graham Foundation, which awards project-based grants to individuals and firms.
Which is not to say that Lynn’s output isn’t impressive. Like his Chicago colleague Douglas Garofalo (with whom he got a lot of attention while collaborating on the 1999 Korean Presbyterian Church in Long Island City), he’s closely associated with the BLOB phenomenon, a design approach often involving organic and biomorphic forms, most of which would have been impossible to conceive—no less build—before the advent of sophisticated digital modeling technologies. The term came from an acronym (for binary large object), and even though it incorrectly suggested, as Lynn explains, “a big lumpy, unarticulated thing,” the term stuck.
Lynn worked for the influential modernist Peter Eisenman after attending graduate school at Princeton, but left in 1992 to establish his own practice in Hoboken before decamping for Venice, California, where Greg Lynn Form has been gainfully ensconced since 1998. “I sensed a shift of gravity in the architectural world from the East Coast to the West and I wanted to be part of it,” he says.
Lynn is nothing if not modern. Although he says he loved to draw with ink on Mylar when he was a student, he’s absorbed digital design and has not looked back, which has helped make him a hero to a new generation of designers. In addition to appointments at UCLA and Yale, he also teaches at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts. And while he hasn’t completed many buildings, you only have to look at his website (www.glform.com) to see his substantial accomplishments in product, exhibition and interior design.
Many observers complain that the digital revolution has made young architects discount the significance of fundamental skills like drawing. But what concerns Lynn most is a deceptive sense young architects acquire from dependence on advanced design software; they think they can just plug data into a computer and expect a finished product to come out. In fact, you still need human input and thought processes. “The computer isn’t simply an analytic tool,” he says. “It’s a medium.”—Philip Berger
Greg Lynn will speak at AIC’s Fullerton Hall at 6pm Wednesday 28. Admission is free; call 312-857-7166.