Famed architect Cecil Balmond sees algorithms as more than a way to torture students on problem sets.
The Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor of Architectural Design, Balmond gave a lecture Monday night before a full house at the Yale School of Architecture’s Hastings Hall. Listeners sat on stairs and squeezed into doorways in order to hear the accomplished architect and engineer speak.
The lecture concerned some of Balmond’s most recent projects as they relate to originality of design.
“He breaks down the barriers between engineering and architecture,” said Robert Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “He is one of the great structural engineers and we are delighted to have him here with us.”
Balmond, who has visited Yale before, will be teaching at the Architecture School beginning in the fall of 2003.
“Its really nice to be back at Yale,” Balmond said.
One focus of Balmond’s lecture was his recent creation of a pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Hyde Park, which features contemporary and avant-garde styles. The pavilion was on display this summer.
“It was received extremely well,” Balmond said. “The poor thing was packed.”
Balmond creates his works through the use of algorithms to create a controlled randomness. During his lecture, he showed slides demonstrating how an algorithm using the division of squares helped him to design the roof of the pavilion. Balmond explained that this idea was not a new one.
“That’s a legacy we’ve had since ancient times,” he said.
The algorithms he uses create patterns that may appear symmetrical in places but are truly unique in every section. The roof of the pavilion is also structurally lighter than a normal grid pattern would be.
Balmond then demonstrated with slides how to use the algorithm with many other shapes.
“Its really eye-opening,” said Jennifer Newsom ARC ’05. “Who says that you need to start with the square? It really makes you think outside the box, so to speak.”
Balmond encouraged spectators to use their originality and to be daring in their work.
“Set up your own rules, test them, challenge notions,” he said.
Balmond demonstrated his use of originality with his work on the V&A spiral in London, a white, geometrical building without windows. He also described the criticism he received for the building. The project took two years to accumulate funding for its original Liverpool shopping center setting, only to face a change in location.
“[People thought] that it was too fanfare for Liverpool,” Balmond said.
He explained that he believes there are two ways to design — the customary way, and the more daring approach that he follows.
“When you’re dealing with new territory, you need to make rules as you go in,” he said. “You need discipline.”
Educated in London and in his native Sri Lanka, Balmond is now the chairman of the Europe and Building Division of Arup, a firm of designers and engineers.