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Rhizom, by The Fundamental Group (Photo: The Fundamental Group)

The Fundamental Group, an up and coming Berlin architecture and design studio started by Gunnar Rönsch and Stephen Molloy, was named after the concept from algebraic topology that describes complicated 3D surfaces.

The Fundamental Group’s mathematically inspired approach to design would appear to be in opposition to the way I work and paint. But there is a mysterious roundness operating in the world of ideas that can bind the two extreme ends of a spectrum into a continuum. The Fundamental Group has posted its precepts on its site, and this is just about the best manifesto I’ve ever read. So much of what they are describing maps to my own inner directed creed of how to see, conceive, invent, make.

THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP is a collective making mathematically inspired architecture, furniture and artefacts. We are motivated by a passionate belief that objects trancend the physical, that they reflect rules of geometry and space, and that they engage the mind. We play with scale and repetition to draw out the abstract qualities of well loved materials such as oak, and explore the possibilities of new materials like polystyrene and expanded steel mesh. At THE FUNDAMENTAL GROUP there are things we believe and principles we hold dear. These drive our output. Everything we make is an epistle. Now go ahead and read our manifesto.

Children look at things for a very long time, One never forgets the curtains in the playroom or the pattern on the tiles on the floor at church. Seeing part of a pattern one begins to subconsciously grasp the rules that lead to the arrangement of the whole. The pattern develops in the mind, growing beyond the unique. When information is arranged into a pattern, it opens up the source of its logic, allows the observer to plug in, gives access to the rules, and invites development beyond the static. It is through processes like these that we lean in close to nature, which is nothing if not a clamorous a symphony of growth patterns.

Do not attempt to overcome your animal instincts. When we shelter, we are building a nest. It is a sort of bricolage, you gather things that provide comfort, convenience, and that have a sentimental value. Things from your childhood, those teraccotta tiles that trigger memories of your first independent thoughts, are part of that. Accidents of personal history a very important. When it comes to giving form to the world around us, it is important to honour your mistakes. True beauty is when you can forever complete the incomplete, for yourself. Curate your mistakes, be proud of them, and arrange them for maximum effect. If you have a wooden leg, wave it.

Minimalists would have you believe that order is an absence of clutter. This is not the whole truth, it’s more like giving up half way. Order is a word that has very many meanings. When we design, we order elements. This means giving each element a role in a hierarchy, exploring and defining the relationship of the parts to each other and to the whole. Beauty is attained when the relationship of the parts to the whole is in harmony, but beauty without force is a bore. There is a theory that the nearness of chaos, but it’s avoidance, gives force. We subscribe to this, and we also propose the inverse – that it is the nearness to order, but it’s avoidance, that gives beauty.

Learning and growth occur in repetition. It is beacuse repetition is sometimes mindless that it is valuable. Every time you read a sonnet or play a sonata it is different. Small flaws occur which can change everything. When we compose our pieces, we are driven by rules. But it is important to pull back from a total expression of those rules. We believe that it is the role of the beholder to draw the principles of a piece to her own conclusion. While care is taken to balance elements, and we usually come very close to symmetry in our work, we leave room for active engagement, rewriting the ending, allowing for the integration of personal narratives. A valuable posession is more interesting the thousandth time you look at it than on the day you bought it.

You haven’t really owned anything until you have fixed it. Trans-form: Beyond the form. This does not mean change in the binary sense, left rather than right, but it means going beyond. The attainment of perfection, were it possible, would be a sort of death. We seek perfection, we are driven to excel, but it is the process through which perfection is sought that ennobles us and elevates our state. Escape the cycle of tiredness, ennui and dissillusion by embarking on a life long transformation.

This is powerful language, and it is also language that is poetic, clear, inspiring, scintillating. What a find.

You can see more of The Fundamental Group’s products here.

Thanks to my smart and savvy friends Rachel Levi and Jessica Bridger for bringing The Fundamental Group into my awareness.


Ab Ex at the MOMA

The works of Abstract Expressionists are on view on multiple floors at the MOMA right now. Worth the visit, but it wasn’t a heart stopper for me. It felt more like the obligatory pilgrimage devout Catholics make to the Vatican out of respect rather than passion. My MOMA moments of inspirational highs came elsewhere.

One was a small wall exhibit in the Design galleries that featured the work of Neri Oxman, a scientist at MIT. Originally derived as part of her research into natural forms and design, the artifacts on display were beguiling and visually startling. I was on my iphone immediately researching more about Oxman and her work. Wow, wow, wow.

Structures by Neri Oxman based on microscale models of a leaf section, a butterfly wing and a scorpion paw

On the left:
Cartesian wax, a project that explores the notion of “material organization as it is informed by structural and environmental performance: a continuous tiling system is differentiated across its entire surface area to accommodate for a range of conditions accommodating for light transmission, heat flux, and structural support. The surface is thickened locally where it is structurally required to support itself.”

On the right:
Raycounting, a method for originating form by “registering the intensity and orientation of light rays. 3-D surfaces of double curvature are the result of assigning light parameters to flat planes.”

Oxman’s work is fascinating and so is her persona: She is a winner of The Earth Awards and #43 on Fast Company’s list of Most Creative People in Business. Brilliant, gorgeous and only 33 years old, Oxman is a rock star for a new era of synthesis, innovation and breakthrough thinking.

From Oxman’s website, here is her description of what she calls “materialecology”:

An interdisciplinary research initiative that undertakes design research in the intersection between architecture, engineering, computation, biology and ecology. As such, this initiative is concerned with material organization and performance across all scales of design thought and practice. Material is interpreted merely as any physical entity which corresponds and reacts with its environment. As such, it seeks to promote and define a design research agenda which is ecological in nature, in ideology and in material practice; it aims at embracing the evolving elements of change in both (and indeed related) social constructs and environmental descriptions of the ever changing built environment.

Paola Antonelli, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, acquired some of Oxman’s pieces for inclusion in a recent design show and said that “what was amazing about this work is that it uses the computer to transform the secrets of nature into algorithms, and in a biomimetic way to try to use the same stratagems nature uses.” It is not surprising that her pieces are now showing up in museums and biennials all over the world.

Two quotes Oxman included on her site speak to her approach. (Keepers for sure, especially Thoreau’s line, “I milk the sky and the earth”):

“I make it my business to extract from Nature whatever nutriment she can furnish me, though at the risk of endless iteration. I milk the sky and the earth.” (Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1817-1862)

“The different branches of science combine to demonstrate that the universe in its entirety can be regarded as one gigantic process, a process of becoming, of attaining new levels of existence and organization, which can properly be called a genesis or an evolution” (Thomas H. Huxley, 1825 – 1895).

For more about Neri Oxman and Materialecology:

Lots of images can be viewed on Neri Oxman’s blog, Materialecology, and her website.

To watch Oxman’s presentation to Pop Tech! last year, go here.