Smooth Matter

FR, 19.04.2013–SA, 10.08.2013


Smooth Matter

New fabrication technologies, such as rapid prototyping or rapid fabricating not only allow for the quick (and theoretically precise) realization of new shapes and geometries, they also enable one to re-conceptualize the way we use material in architecture. Small-scale changes within the distribution of matter can gradually alter the material quality of a structure. In a passage from their book A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari articulate various models and metaphors that define space either as smooth or striated. “Smooth Space“ is “amorphous and  heterogenious“ and “connected by processes of frequency“. It is haptic. “Striated Space“ is optical, metrical, and rather discrete. Although these types of spaces may operate as binaries, they usually work in tandem, as coordinated chaos, or alternatively, as wild logics.

In the early 90’s, the geometric concept of the continuous surface entered the architectural discourse, an idea that did not completely originate from the Modernist principle of force flow and construction. One of the most remarkable and most consequent proponents of this design idea has been Neil M. Denari. His use of 2-dimensionally uniform NURBS surfaces ( a graphic surface) can be aligned with spaces of topological transformations. These topological qualities of the smooth can now be translated into matter vis a vis CNC operations. Indeed, the 2-dimensional space of NURBS surfaces ( i.e. 3D surfaces that have no depth) can be given life as deep, volumetric matter.

For this exercise in the disciplining of geometry, Neil Denari and NMDA have provided a surface that relates to Delueze and Guattari’s Oceanic Model of space: a surface at once continuous, yet discrete. Using only developable geometry, a general constraint placed on most work by NMDA, the surface is an accumulation of self similar events and intensities.

Translation – Geometry as a resource

Starting from a NURBS surface, the mean curvature at specific points is analyzed. The bigger the radius the smaller the curvature. Further, the geometry is influenced by the inclination of the surface normals. This data is then used to densify the distribution, but also to intensify the order of matter within a skin fragment. The less the curvature of the initial surface, the more chaotic, but also the thinner is the material structure. The result shows the zoom-in of a gradient transition from densified to less densified areas superimposed by a transition from a metrically ordered geometry to a chaotic geometric noise. The 2-dimensional geometry of the initial surface thus becomes a resource that rules the 3-dimensional quality of an architectural skin.

institute of architecture, angewandte

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About bernhardsommer

EXIKON arc & dev is an architecture office in Vienna, dedicated to the application of cutting-edge planning and building technology. Its aim is the integration of scientific findings into the design process.