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by Lewis Martin
2007-02-22 08:29:51
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I might be stating the obvious to say that shapes are important in buildings, and Architects are always searching for new forms. Luckily for us Architects we are discovering new shapes all the time, in fact two Hungarian researchers recently discovered a new one they christened 'gomboc', which is Hungarian for ‘dumpling’. It has one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium, which for you and me means that it is very easy to push over but it will always right itself again.

The History of Building follows that of our mathematical ability pretty closely, so in the beginning we used simple Euclidean geometry to help us to build our shelters. Like circular houses that are quite easy to build, a mud wall with reeds or long grass locally found leaning against each other will make a basic house.

It’s great for sleeping in, but what if you want a really big party? Soon your circular house gets too wide and your roof will fall in before you have space for very many guests. The Vikings, who by all accounts knew how to party, built long houses that were like long boats, which were rectangular. The building can be as long as you like and the roof structure doesn't have to get any bigger.

ovi magazine - architecture The next most difficult shape to build is a pyramid. They are great for burying people under or getting up high so you can address many people. They point up to the sky, which gives your audience a good view of any ritualistic sacrifice you may want to make. You can also do neat stuff like align them with due north and the maths required for building one isn't that hard.

A note to all those who think that aliens built the pyramids and not the Egyptians, a pyramid is only third on my list of difficult shapes to build, now to mildly impress me an alien would have to build something much more difficult like a Klien bottle or mobeus strip which might make me think again.

Arches were next to be developed, with maybe the last new arch type being the Gateway arch in St.Louis by Eero Saarinen, which is an example of a more advanced caternary arch, mirrored, this type of arch is widely recognised as the MacDonalds sign across the world. Recently, because of the power of computers, Architects like Frank Gehry designing the Bilbao Guggenheim have been able to explore shapes and forms so their building become inhabited sculptures, the mobeus strip has been built already, and Architects can at last build any shape they can conceive.

However the Gomboc was discovered from looking at beetles shells, so we are still inspired by Mother Nature at every step whose imaginative power is so awesome that every snowflake is different from the other.

Me? Well, I'm off to design the worlds first equilibrically unstable self-righting mono-monostatic museum, just please don't lean on it.

Photo: Gabor Domokos, head of the department of Mechanics and Materials and Structures at Budapest's Technical University, shows his invention "Gomboc" mono-monostatic body.


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Sand2007-02-21 09:19:15
Since my personal architecture leans towards the geriatric direction I am rather prejudiced along the old lines that form follows function. This makes me very suspicious of Gehry whose buildings look as if they were designed by picking out crumpled discarded sheets of paper from a wastepaper basket. They may be entertainng but I am suspicious of their utility. That you can build something does not convince me you should.

Lewis Martin2007-02-21 12:15:17
yes I broadly sympathise but form follows function not just of the building, but the site, and other purposes that aren't just physical. I think for example Gehry's sculptural forms in the Guggenheim portray the function of a gallery very well, maybe better than a plain box, it is definetly the museums most valuable exhibit! It is good if Architects can experiment with forms, and if it doesn't work well maybe we shouldn't be so precious about all of them.

Sand2007-02-21 13:53:19
I have no argument against innovative form if it serves a purpose. The Wright Guggenheim is innovative and uses its form for a continuous ramp to display the art. The Bilbao Guggenheim is obviously a striking sculpture in itself and since I have not visited it I cannot assume its interior space is or is not suitable for exhibiting art. The Statue of Liberty is also a striking piece of architecture but I doubt its suitability as an art museum or an office building or a habitable structure. The alternatives of a super hunk of hollow sculpture or a collection of boxes is not a real choice. Nature is totally insensitive to esthetics yet it is almost impossible to discover a natural form created out of the necessities of dealing with impacting forces that is not both highly efficient and beautiful.

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