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Book – Animate Form – Topology, Time, and Parameters

The famous book ‘Animate Form’ on digital architecture by Greg Lynn is out as a reprint. Its twelve years and a lot of development, both technically as part of the software, application, platform and architecture has happende since.

The publication was originally published in 1999 as one of the very first comprehensive books on digital architecture and has no been reprinted as a 2011 version by Princeton Architectural Press, the original publisher. The new print has no changes and runs as the same book.

Etienne Jules Morey Motion Capture
Image taken from facstaff / Motion Studies produced by Etienne Jules Marey (late 1800s).

Interesting enough, even though it is twelve years old the content of the book is still relevant, hence the republication. A lot has changed on the technical side with software, but the heart of the publication which is on the nature of digital architecture is very relevant today. The fundamentals Lynn points out in his text ‘Animate Form‘ still has not sunken in with everyday practice today. As he writes: “There are three fundamental properties of organization in a computer that are very different from the characteristics of inert mediums such as paper and pencil: topology, time, and parameters.”

The temporal aspect is the one that still is underused and only peripheral implemented. The main focus is still on the end product but not on the process. However as for example Kas Oosterhuis also points out in his recent book ‘Towards a New Kind of Building‘ the process is beginning to play a more important role.

To understand Lynn’s work however this temporal aspect is essential. Somehow it could be put as the source as the biomorphic character of most of the shapes. As Lynn points out in the text, one of the original insirations and references is the work by Étienne-Jules Marey in the late 1800s. Marey was interested in motion photography just like Eadweard Muybridge, however Marey used tags to direct the focus of the image as well as trigger the camera. The tags, usually attached to the joints of the subject, paint the motion line, by Marey termed ‘phase portraits’.

Lynn is also focusing on this aspect with his work implementing a range of states for each design element.

Etienne Jules Morey Pigeon Harness
Image taken from University of Houston / Etienne-Jules Marey used pneumatic triggers, attached to the joints of animals, to trigger camera exposures in rhythmic sequences. In this way, the rhythm of photographic instances were sequenced to the movements of the animal. “Device for harnessing the pigeon to the revolving frame,” from Marey, “Le Vol des oiseaux,” as appears in Frangois Dagognet, Etienne Jules Morey: A Passion for the Trace (New York: Zone Books, I 992), 85

The second part of the book is dedicated to seven Form projects playing with the digitalisation of architecture from design, development to fabrication. One of the projects is for example Lynn’s contribution to the competition for the Cardiff Opera House, which was won by Zaha Hadid but was never built.

Cardiff Opera House Greg Lynn Form
Image taken from basilik / Redering of the proposed Cardiff Opera House by Greg Lynn Form.

Another project is a Greg Lynn Form contribution to the Yokohama Terminal competition, eventually won and built by FOA. The two projects FOA and Greg Lynn Form have formal similarities probably because there are similarities in the process structure. The main ide is a merge of function and dynamic programming of usage.

The book is definitely laying out the fundamental of digital architecture and has set the standard pretty high. In the mean time a number of publications have followed from professionals across disciplines and interests, extending and confirming what Greg Lynn has proposed in the 1999 original publication.

Animate Form
Image taken from fapyd / Book cover.

Lynn, G., 2011. Animate Form, New York, N.Y: Princeton Architectural Press.