Landform Building by Terence Gower

Terence Gower opens the gray flannel cover of Stan Allen and Marc McQuade’s Landform Building, an architectural manifesto that rethinks “organic” as “geologic.”

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 118 Winter 2012
Cover 118
Landform Building 01

Tsunehisa Kimura, from Visual Scandals

Organic forms and processes, blobs, “growing” buildings, etcetera have dominated architectural discourse for the past decade. But the sophisticated design technology that uses organic models has never found its correlative in the construction process. You can “grow” a building in a digital 3-D environment, but building technology still isn’t up to growing a building in the real world.

In their new book Landform Building, architects Stan Allen and Marc McQuade leapfrog this challenge and rethink the idea of organic on the level of larger, “geologic” processes. In this much broader view, the question of process is shifted from the design phase to “the long life of a building, city or landscape over time, enmeshed in complex social and cultural formations.”

Not every project in the book perfectly illustrates this thesis, but who’s complaining when the documentation is so great? All the projects are page-turners. Notable examples are the Teshima Art Museum designed by Ryue Nishizawa for artist Rei Naito, a low concrete shell that discreetly completes the hill it sits on, featured in the volume’s Atmosphere section; or Giancarlo Mazzanti’s Biblioteca España, crowning a Medellín, Colombia, hilltop like a ridge of basalt cliffs, in the Artificial Mountains section.

The Rolex Learning Centre at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, completed in 2010, is perhaps the main article of curiosity here. Designed by SANAA, the school’s gravity-defying, undulating floor slab (described by its engineer as “shell, arch, and deformed slab”) is a virtuoso work of construction. Realizing where the real story lies, McQuade interviews the building’s fabricator rather than its architects. It’s a fascinating drama about the uncomfortable interface between the pristine digital realm and the obstinately clunky realm of concrete, rebar, and formwork.

The book is an exquisite object, elegantly dressed in what looks like gray flannel. Each of its five sections is prefaced by several grainy, full-bleed pages of spectacular structures, randomly ordered, like the free association that warms up a psychoanalytic session. Though these series sometimes push the envelope thematically, putting the great pyramids of Giza next to a Berlin bomb shelter loosens up our cognitive senses and prepares us for the work to follow.

Art projects by Tacita Dean and Walter Niedermayr form tangential intermissions between the architectural documentation, and a short contribution by Chris Taylor, an educator who left the seminar room for a direct encounter with the landscape (he conducts study tours of land-art projects in the American Southwest), inserts land art—Michael Heizer’s Double Negative—into the conversation in Landform Building.

Terence Gower is a NYC-based artist, currently at work on a public sculpture derived from Noguchi’s early forms.

Stan Allen by Nader Tehrani
Stan Allen 1 Body

Stan Allen’s seminal essay, “Field Conditions,” written almost 15 years ago, still resonates among architects. He confers with Nader Tehrani on landscape urbanism as well as building and teaching “from a position of uncertainty.”

James Timberlake by Deven Golden
Timberlake 01 Body

“People define iconic buildings as being these singular things that transform everything else around them.” James Timberlake 

Beautiful, Hard, Elemental: Diane Cook Interviewed by Kathryn Savage
Cover of The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

On why all novels should be nature novels.

Originally published in

BOMB 118, Winter 2012

Featuring interviews with Jimmie Durham, John Miller, Suzanne McClelland and Barry Schwabsky, Paul La Farge and Peter Orner, Yang Fudong, and Radiohole.

Read the issue
Cover 118