Book List of the Week

Greg Lynn’s Book List: Digital Dialogue

By Steve Kroeter October 21, 2013
Greg Lynn, Architect: Greg Lynn FORM (Los Angeles)
View Greg Lynn’s Book List

Named by Forbes magazine as one of the ten most influential living architects, Greg Lynn has shaped the way in which architects and other designers use computers as a medium. The author of eight books, Lynn has most recently edited Archaeology of the Digital (2013),which accompanies an exhibition he curated at the Centre for Canadian Architecture (on view through October 27). The exhibition and book investigate four projects from the 1980s and ’90s—by Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Chuck Hoberman, and Shoei Yoh— that “established distinct directions in architecture’s use of digital tools, highlighting the dialogue between computer sciences, architecture and engineering.” Lynn talked to Designers & Books about the exhibition and about how his reading has informed his architecture, a short story he wrote, and his collection of vintage Godzilla figures.

Expanding geodesic dome designed by Chuck Hoberman, 1991. Gelatin silver prints collaged on paper board with graphite notations. Chuck Hoberman fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture © Hoberman Associates. (From Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture and Sternberg Press)

Designers & Books: One of the first pieces that we published on Designers & Books was an essay by Maryanne Wolf titled “You Are What You Read.” From certain comments you’ve made, it sounds like you are sympathetic to the notion implied by the title. What did you learn about yourself as you put together your book list for us?
Greg Lynn:
I hadn’t realized how interested in specific time periods I was while reading both literature and nonfiction. The period from the 1870s to the beginning of the 20th century and again the period from the 1970s until the beginning of the 21st century hold great curiosity for me in the sciences as well as in the accompanying science fiction literature. It is ridiculous to refer to Herman Melville or David Foster Wallace as science fiction writers but their novels were embedded in the technical and scientific culture of their days.

D&B: You say that A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and Moby Dick are the only books you can read “cover to cover and over and over.” What do they have in common?
GL: They are both epic and nonlinear; they reference multiple disparate sources and attempt to capture culture in the most ambitious way possible. Both writers drift from reportage to florid prose almost seamlessly, which is a quality I have always tried to achieve in anything that I write. Whenever I go back to these books I am always struck by how familiar they still seem and I always discover something new in them. In this way, these books are like old friends.

Galaxy Toyama, Gymnasium, Imizu, Toyama, Japan, designed by Shoei Yoh between 1990 and 1992. Perspective view. Electrostatic print on paper. Canadian Centre for Architecture, Shoei Yoh fonds ARCH265917 © Shoei Yoh + Architects (From Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture and Sternberg Press)

D&B: Your list includes a number of fiction titles you read when you were young. What role does fiction occupy in your reading life now?
GL: As you asked me to list the books “important” to me, I suppose that it must take me some time to realize when a work of fiction becomes personally influential. I hadn’t considered the importance of Kōbō Abe’s Ark Sakura or Inter Ice Age 4 to me until I was editing the Rizzoli book on my work and was reading the text of my short story “A New Style of Life”* again. I then realized that in both my writing experiments with fiction from a few years ago were provoked by Abe, Ballard, and others, but in a very indirect way. I also realize that my passion for collecting historic Kaijus (Godzilla vintage figures) was spurred by reading Abe.

Shred, Embryological House designed by Greg Lynn. Computer rendering, 1999 Photo; Courtesy of Greg Lynn

D&B: You are the curator for the exhibition “Archaeology of the Digital” at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. How did the idea for the exhibition originate and how did you get involved?
GL: The CCA acquired my Embryological House a long time ago and I innocently volunteered the digital files associated with it for the Centre’s archive. This raised many questions about how to access and preserve a variety of digital file types, from static geometry, to modeling with parameters using Excel™ spreadsheets, to animated geometry using entertainment software, to early parametric modeling using expression editors, to files in formats for early 3D printers and laser cutters, to tool path data used to run the Computer Numerically Controlled routers and even a website. The CCA organized a research project called “Devices of Design” that eventually led to the realization that in order for scholars and curators to understand the work from the 1980s forward it was necessary to address digital materials in the Centre’s archive. Together we identified 25 projects whose digital materials should be archived and “Archaeology of the Digital” is the first of three exhibitions to bring four of the eventual 25 projects into the digital archive.

Excerpts from a working session with Greg Lynn and CCA curator Howard Shubert recorded in Lynn’s Venice, California, studio  on October 29–30 2007. Greg Lynn discusses his use of software, the genesis of the Embryological House, and demonstrates his working method on the computer.
© Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal

D&B: You are clearly a fan of the digital. What’s your view of paper books versus digital books?
GL: I like to make notes in margins and fold over pages and I haven’t found a satisfying way to do this with e-books, but my back is certainly happy not to be carrying the weight through airports. This is to say, I’m ambivalent.

Design concept for Biozentrum,  Biology Center for J.W. Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, designed by Eisenman/Robertson Architects, 1987. Graphic appliqué film on photoreproduction. Peter Eisenman fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal
© CCA (From Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture and Sternberg Press)

D&B: In your comment about House X, you describe Delirious New York, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, and A Pattern Language as being representative of an approach to architecture books that is now extinct. In the contemporary world of architecture book publishing, which titles do you see as having replaced those iconic books?
GL: Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas are still writing these kinds of books—those intended to circulate in the world of ideas in both the larger intellectual culture and within the discipline of architecture. In my estimation, the field is currently allergic to “Starchitects” and sadly this includes an aversion to intellectuals who engage broader cultural questions and address an audience beyond the service professionals and clients within the building trade.  In addition, the conferences, newspapers, and periodicals that used to discuss, review, critique, and engage intellectual books like these have disappeared or been so denuded by this reactionary impulse as to be intellectually irrelevant. During an academic lecture at an Ivy League university, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect received applause when he derided the need for so-called “theory” and instead asked to be celebrated for his vocational prowess. It was an attack on, and perhaps an apology for, not having written his own equivalent of books like Delirious New York. I think the need for iconic books is never over and I lament the current anti-intellectualism and the vacuum is producing where new books like Delirious New York should be emerging. The books you mention are works of genius and it is clear that there is a moratorium on the cultivation of acts of intelligence, let alone genius, in our field right now.

Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. Lewis Residence, Lyndhurst, Ohio, 1989–95. Elevation rendering from Catia 3D model. © Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Inc. From Archaeology of the Digital (2013), Canadian Centre for Architecture and Sternberg Press

D&B: Setting aside the question of content, of all the books you own, which one is your favorite as an object—the one that you think is most interestingly designed?
GL: Without question, the Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale designed by Andrew Hoyem with wood engravings by Barry Moser.

* Greg Lynn, “A New Style of Life” was published in Assemblage 41 (The MIT Press), 2000.

View Greg Lynn’s book list and all architects’ book lists on Designers & Books.

comments powered by Disqus