October 1, 2011
Digitally Enhanced | Giving Shape to the Shapeless
A “connoisseur of computer science” tackles the ultimate architectural challenge: finding easy ways to build complex structures.
Architecture has long veered between its formalist tendency (buildings as art) and its functional imperative (buildings that stand up). As a project architect for Zaha Hadid in the early 2000s, Marc Fornes experienced this tension firsthand. He spent three years on a library design that was ultimately killed, in part because its swooping carbon-fiber shell proved too expensive to build. From this fizzle, Fornes took away two things. “I got a fascination for surface,” he says. “And I got frustrated.”
Now, with his Brooklyn studio, TheVeryMany, Fornes is trying to bridge the gap between digital experimentation and real-world architecture. In a series of intricate installations—including new pieces for Art Basel Miami Beach, the Centre Pompidou, and a playground in St. Louis—Fornes is systematically investigating different “families” of design problems. One family, for instance, is “massive customization.” Here, Fornes is after surfaces that appear to contain thousands of discrete elements but that can, in fact, be assembled from a manageable number of parts. Other families mine a similar middle ground between fabulously inventive forms and the task of constructing those forms quickly on a small budget.
All of this work begins with code. Although Fornes is a self-taught programmer—“I consider myself a connoisseur of computer science,” he jokes—he and his small team write custom computational protocols based on several parameters, from form-finding to digital fabrication. The results look sculptural, but aesthetics aren’t the point. “I want people to understand that I’m not an artist,” Fornes says. “For us, it’s really starting from problems that we extract from architecture.” And Fornes hopes to take his investigations to a bigger scale. “I’m dreaming about doing a brownstone,” he says.