Lecture Review: Winka Dubbeldam

Last night I attended the Winka Dubbeldam lecture at Tulane University. Dubbeldam is the founder and principal of Archi-tectonics, a firm that considers itself as much research laboratory as design studio, and relies heavily on computers as generators of form.

Unfortunately, what I found to be some of the most compelling ideas presented were not discussed in much detail. For example, an unbuilt proposal rethinking the urban scheme for a medieval city in The Netherlands. In an effort to preserve what little nature is left in the Netherlands, these cities are no longer permitted to grow outward, so they must grow from within. A compelling idea when one considers the possible urbanistic implications. The scheme she briefly showed was no less than a complete rethinking of the spaces that make up a city, but she never discussed the concept or design process. Another urban project that she did present in detail was their post 9/11 scheme for lower Manhattan. Commisioned solely for exhibition purposes, the firm designed an interactive “game,” instead of presenting a building scheme. Users adjust political, social, and economic factors, and watch a 3D model of a proposed Lower Manhattan scheme react according to the user input and parameters established by the architects.

The buildings she presented were designed around basic programmatic elements. Walls and ceilings were “wrapped” around the program and folded inward or outward reacting to the presence of specific elements. I think it’s a great technique, but sometimes the resulting spaces weren’t exactly appealing. In particular, there was a private residence where the folded, angular walls created a space that just seemed to aggressive for a vacation house.

The project whose form generation I found to be the most interesting was an installation in a New York Gallery. The pavillion-type space was composed of organic concrete forms derived from a designed sound frequency spectrum.

Overall, the presentation was pretty good. Computer animations helped show the development of their projects and the design concepts behind them. I’m not yet sure how I feel about relying so heavily on the computer as a design tool. I’m a sucker for the Human Touch, and I know it’s a cliche to say so, but I really think the comptuer representations made the projects look lifeless and overly analytical. Although I suppose that’s appropriate for a firm whose name literally means “the science of architecture.”

Archi-tectonics’ Web Environment