Dogs, FrisbeesTM and vector mathematics

The architect Greg Lynn, along with others such as Peter Eisenman, can be said to have an interest in the primacy of form. In this node we will take a brief look at some of the theory behind his work; using an analogy involving dogs and FrisbeesTM to help us on the way.

Greg Lynn worked in the Eisenman office before starting his own practice, and the influence of his former teacher is evident in Lynn's work on vectors. However, whereas Eisenman believes in the power of architecture's autonomous ideology or 'interiority', Lynn explores form as a result of external forces. Forces that were impossible to calculate or represent before the use of computers. A second important difference between Eisenman and Lynn's usage of computers is the way that Lynn continues to use the machine until the final form is complete, instead of just the initial abstracted diagram. There is commonality, however, in their interest in the vector and also the importance of the influences of Deleuze and Foucault.(1)

Lynn's book 'Animate Form' demonstrates a usage of words often misunderstood by his peers (2). When questioned whether the result of the forces he maps should result in an animate architecture that actually moves, Lynn often attempts to explain the difference between the idea of the static and the stable. Two analogies are employed by Lynn, firstly the topology of the design of a boat hull and secondly the vector drawn by a dog chasing a FrisbeeTM.

The surface of a boat hull is the stable result of the force and motion it is designed to perform under. Rather than being conceived in the abstract space of Cartesian coordinates, the hull topology stores the multiple possibilities of its environment in its surface.

"A boat hull does not change its shape when it changes its direction, obviously, but variable points of sail are incorporated into its surface. In this way, topology allows for not just the incorporation of a single moment but rather a multiplicity of vectors, and therefore, a multiplicity of times, in a single continuous surface." (3)

An animate surface or form, then, is a type of Deleuzian diagram which retains the 'supple set of relationships between forces'. The second analogy helps us to understand the information contained within the vectors that construct such forms, once again defining the difference between a static model and a stable 'system of dynamic organizations' (4). A FrisbeeTM, when thrown, has a direction and speed. The chasing dog also has a direction and speed and, if the wind is blowing, so does the environment. In order to intersect with the FrisbeeTM the dog must continually recalculate the results of all these vectors and successfully predict the point at which he and the FrisbeeTM will meet. If you were to chart the path of the dog, then any point along it would be a representation of the magnitude of all the forces at that moment, or a dynamic stability inextricably linked to all other points on the path.

Lynn sees the ability of computers to create form in this method by working with three 'properties of organization - time, topology, and parameters' as central to his work. Time is a factor allowed by animation software which permits the possibility of key-framing and it allows 'objects to interact dynamically with one another'. Topology is the area that allows surfaces to be formed using splines instead of points and lines. Splines are formed by the continuous sequence of vectors that define their shape, exhibiting,

"...both collective qualities of continuity and local qualities of heterogeneity." (5)

Finally parameters provide the rules under which the subject will deal with the passing of time and its changing topology. Parameters can be used to introduce a field with certain qualities to influence the form and generate an emergent new result.

As the study of motion, Lynn sees no other way forward than through the use of computer technology, it's environment providing 'a new medium for design'. (6) His work also investigates the use of computers to manufacture the complex results of his process, such as his utilisation of computer controlled milling techniques to produce the work developed with students at the Venice Biennale. (7)

Although Lynn uses external forces to shape his topographical architecture, his work can still be drawn alongside Eisenman's autonomy since it is ultimately critiqued through the quality of its form.

"The Embryologic Houses can be described as ... most importantly, an unapologetic investment in the contemporary beauty and voluptuous aesthetics of undulating surfaces rendered vividly in iridescent and opalescent colours." (8)


1. 'Geometry in Time', Greg Lynn in Anyhow, 1998. Anyone Corporation.
2. see the discussion during the 1995 Anywise sited by Speaks in 'It's Out There...The Formal Limits of the American Avant-Garde' Michael Speaks in Hypersurface Architecture A.D Profile 133, Academy Group. 1998.
3. Animate Form, Greg Lynn, 1998. Princeton Architectural Press.
4. ibid.
5. 'Geometry in Time', Greg Lynn in Anyhow, 1998. Anyone Corporation.
6. 'An Advanced Form of Movement' Greg Lynn, Architecture After Geometry, A.D Profile 127, 1997. Academy Group.
7. 'Architecture's Claim on the Future' Herbert Muschamp, New York Times, Sunday, July 23 2000.
8. 'Embryologic Houses' Greg Lynn, Architectural Design', Profile 145, 2000. Academy Group.