AE23: Aggregations

Aggregations, or modular elements assembled into a whole, are fairly recent in their articulation as architectural elements. These differ from traditional modular elements like brick, in that aggregations limit one object to a means of making space; they do not combine with adjacent assemblies. I'm prompted to write about this after two projects hitting my inbox exhibited this trend, but Aranda\Lasch's Grotto unbuilt proposal for MoMA PS1 immediately comes to mind as an earlier example, now six years old. As is the case with this AE series, I'm sure there are earlier examples of this "element," but the formation of space in this manner, with repetitive or parametric building blocks, seems to be a recent phenomenon.

[Grotto by Aranda\Lasch | image source]

Grotto uses four "modular boulders" of polystyrene to create intimate spaces in the museum's courtyard. The four shapes allow the eventual form to be somewhat unpredictable -- it looks as if it could be made up on site -- and very organic in appearance. The cave-like spaces would have shaded and cooled revelers in the summer of 2005. Aranda\Lasch certainly has a thing for aggregations, even having an exhibit of the same name take place in Miami in 2008.

[The Social Cave by Non Lineal Solutions Unit of Columbia GSAPP | image source]

One of the inbox projects is The Social Cave by Columbia GSAPP's Non Lineal Solutions Unit (NSU), their contribution to this year's Salone Milan Furniture Fair. It is "a parametric aggregation of 100% recycled and 100% recyclable foam cubes" that merge the physical and the virtual to ask, "how can design affect the changing vista of socialization?"

[Social Cave Milano by Non Lineal Solutions Unit of Columbia GSAPP | image source]

Two distinct spaces are found within the cave, each with a virtual "shadow" tracing movements of people in the other space, people otherwise unseen. So individuals interact via the digital projections, meeting virtually before they meet face to face. Here again the aggregation of units leads to a primordial reference; unlike something appearing contemporary, a cave-like construction is mute in the face of the digital aspects of the piece.

[Sound installation by Zimoun with Hannes Zweifel | image courtesy Zimoun]

The other inbox project is a sound installation by Zimoun with architect Hannes Zweifel, on display at the National Contemporary Art Museum MNAC in Bucharest, Romania until June 12. Here the aggregator, if you will, is cardboard; 2,000 pieces actually, notched together into something massive that belies the fact it is made from planar elements. It also comes close to being a cave-like space, yet open on top to allow the interior sounds (worth a listen via the video below) to carry.

[Zimoun + Hannes Zweifel : 200 prepared dc-motors, 2000 cardboard elements 70x70cm, 2011]


  1. Wonderful project, thanks for getting it on our radar.

  2. Since beginning my research on whether the grotto could be reinterpreted in contemporary design, I have always used Aranda/Lasch’s ‘Grotto,’ as a touchstone. Admittedly my bias arises from it being my first piece of evidence I found proving (in my eyes) that the grotto can be used to great success within the architectural profession. Yes, it is a pavilion and of a much smaller scale than I would ideally like, however for me it revealed a world of possibilities in the way grotto-like design can be generated.

    Further research revealed that Aranda/Lasch are not the only designers interested in the grotto, particularly when it comes to generating forms through the process of bio computation. This method is a natural progression to anyone trying to create a grotto-like environment. Indeed the traditional grotto’s charm lay in their seemingly organic formations. The only thing that seems to be missing from Aranda/Lasch’s grotto is the connection to water - a metaphor for life.
    Their space manages to capture the textured surface, and varied spatial conditions of a successful grotto-like installation. It is hard to determine the external conditions through the imagery of the installation, however the lighting used conveys a subdued and contemplative environment. The placement of illustrated Victorian characters seems to lend the images a certain romance.

    In comparison ‘The Social Cave’ appears a little too regimented and stark to be a successful grotto-like pavilion. The sound installation finds itself somewhere between ‘The Social Cave,’ and ‘Grotto,’ in successfully creating a grotto-like space, however the way it allows sound to carry could be compared to the way sounds echo within a cave.

    To follow my research on whether the grotto can be reinterpreted in contemporary design, please click the link below. Feel free to comment on my blog to help shape my future research, and point me towards other interesting examples.


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