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Folding and “folding”: Implications on architecture

smoothie collage

Lynn, Greg. “Architectural Curvilinearity: The Folded, The Pliant and The Supple.” Constructing a New Agenda: Architectural Theory 1993-2009. By Krista Sykes. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2010. 32-61.

Greg Lynn is an architect who draws much of his inspiration from mathemathics, philosophy, and postmodern theory notably from the work of Deleuze, Kwinter, and more. He is also a philosopher and a science-fiction author.

In this article, Lynn discusses the prevalent architectural thinking since the mid-1960s which hinged on contradictions and conflicts. Then, dissimilar elements were deployed to establish a diagonal dialogue between building and its context, giving rise to architecture bent on highlighting difference in violent formal conflict. A countering force that advocates unity consequently emerged. This group attempted to recover unified architectural languages that can withstand heterogeneity.

The heterogeneity perspective is based on fragmentation, conflicts, and contradictions. Its proponents regarded the world as a site of differences and sought to represent these contradictions in form. The homogeneity perspective meanwhile is based on unification and reconstruction. Unification strategies were twofold – reconstructing a continuous architectural language through historical analyses and local consistencies stemming from regionalism.

However, neither perspective can serve as an adequate model for contemporary architecture and urbanism and both may cause architecture to break under the stress of heterogeneity or homogeneity. Furthermore, advocating either inevitably results in a failure to mine possible connections between discrete elements that are abundantly present in an urban context. Hence, the need to view context through a different lens.

The premise of this article is that a smooth mixture as an alternative to existing architectural theory and practice. A smooth mixture comprises of the intensive integration of discrete elements within a heterogeneous, yet continuous system. The elements maintain their integrity in spite of being mixed. In addition, complexity is achieved, meaning the resulting mixture is neither unity nor contradiction. It is flexible; it can be homogeneous, and it can be heterogeneous. This flexibility allows for the formation of alliances between discrete elements, fostering flexible, unpredicted local connections.

Folding is the ability to integrate unrelated elements within a new, continuous mixture. Mutability is the ability to change in response to a situation that occurs by chance. A meeting of particular influences at a point in time makes the outcome of an event possible. As such, the nature of the event changes when any participating element is altered. The logic of mutability hinges on both an intrication of local intensities and external forces.

Both local intensities and external forces shape the identity developed through mutability, and therefore the mutable mixture becomes cohesive through a logic of viscosity. In viscous fluid, internal stability is in direct proportion to external pressures. Internal stability is achieved through internal cohesion between various elements of the mixture. On the other hand, external adhesion is formed in reaction to external pressures. Viscous fluids therefore benefit from the ability to withstand stress without shearing.

Logic of curvilinearity implies an active involvement with external forces in the folding, bending, and curving of form. Deformation arises from intensive curvilinear logic which aims to internalise cultural and contextual forces within form. Events are hence closely related to the particular form. This logic therefore becomes a tool to discover new possibilities for organisation.

Gehry Residence in Santa Monica, California is an example of a smooth mixture and curvature in Deconstructivist architecture. The mixture of the original Dutch colonial home, the additional spaces, and of suburban Southern California landscape creates new possible points of connections. Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio explicitly displays the collisions between the city’s street grid, the campus grounds of the University of Ohio, and the masonry towers while achieving curvilinear network of connections.


Gehry Residence, axonometric from McGill University


wexner center

WExner Center for the Arts, axonometric by Eisenman


In smooth forms, immersion in context in the presence of discrete elements and external forces is key. Discrete elements form a system of provisional, intensive, local connections. The term “intensive” refers to the ability to internalise and incorporate external forces into a pliant system. Folded, pliant, and supple architectural forms receive external influence within their internal limits and in so doing, deformation follows. Through deformation comes affiliations with discrete elements, and through affiliations, the extension of the influence follows.

Urban context allows for connections to be made from discrete elements, resulting in anexact geometries specific to the context. Anexact geometries then engenders curvature and in turn creates a pliant, urban mixture. As is typical of smooth forms, anexact geometries are irreducible, and rigorous; in other words, replication of anexact geometries without reference to their specific context is meaningless.

Eisenman’s Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio reconciles the collision between the city along with its highly diverse urban programmes with the highway network and establishes connections between the conflicting elements.

Columbus Convention Center

Columbus Convention Center, photo from Wikimedia


Deleuze’s Le Pli refers to the proliferation of possible connections between free entities. It also refers to the relationship between the folding in of external forces and network complexity arising from the assemblage of the possible connections between free entities. Complication refers to the folding in of external forces which result in an intricate assembly of extrinsic forces into a complex network.

A pliant system is easily bent with other elements and in so doing results in multiplication. Its multiplicity means that it is both one and many; it appears to be singular, and yet is replete with finer programmatic elements fostered through connections and affiliations with other elements.

Variable deformation in the case of discontinuous morphological development depends on a dynamic and fluid set of geometric relations implicating co-present internal and external forces. One form of variable deformation is physical morphing in which the resulting form is neither an assembly of discrete fragments nor a whole. Interstitial figures are formed out of fixed figures. Multiple states are possible; in other words, it’s a flexible system.

An example is found in Peter Lewis House by Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson which is borne out of various pliant forms capable of adapting to programmatic, structural, and environmental factors.

Another type of transformation is evident in the geometric modelling of a multiplicity of possible co-present events at any given moment. It is based on Rene Thom’s catastrophe diagrams in which given the impossibility to predict the outcome of events, disparate forces are organised in order to describe various possible types of connections and outcomes. topological geometries, along with catastrophe diagrams, create a flexible system for a smooth mixture.

In Rebstock Park in Frankfurt, Germany, Eisenman mixes three distinct elements – a grid based on catastrophe theory, a grid created out of the site’s boundaries, and local building height zoning. Subsequently, a smooth three-dimensional grid is created and forms the basis of development.

Rebstock Park, site plan from Eisenman Architects

Rebstock Park, site plan from Eisenman Architects


Cobb introduced folding as pertinent method for the dematerialisation and differentiation of commercial architecture so that commercial architecture may be better aligned to the majority of urban conditions where scales are smaller and conditions more heterogeneous. John Hancock Tower’s facade appears to vanish into its context through the reflection of its continuous and smooth glass facade. Mixture of conflicting elements – the context and the tower – are mixed through the deployment of a pliant surface.

By folding structure, Hoberman conceives of a pliant continuous system capable of transforming in size as dictated by use and structure. His “transformable structures” maintains the shape of the structure while his patented tiling patterns alter the shape of the surfaces.

To summarise, the concept of a smooth mixture is pertinent to contemporary architecture and urbanism in that for a given context, co-present internal and external forces may be harnessed to form flexible and unpredicted local connections. Through smooth mixing, the discrete elements are integrated into a heterogeneous, yet continuous system.

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