Ben Van Berkel: Mobile forces (March 6, 1996)



Michael Rotondi introduces Ben van Berkel of UN Studio, beginning with a review of van Berkel’s professional accomplishments as well as personal history. Rotondi characterizes van Berkel’s work as solitary objects with strong connections to the context of the city: objects that take context as surrounding space rather than surrounding buildings. This, Rotondi suggests, makes van Berkel’s work spatial first, formal second, and entirely contemporary.

Ben van Berkel states his overall agenda as one of “redefining the typology of organization” through diagramming and informational techniques where information density is equivalent to a metropolis. His hope is to create “dissipative structures” which hybridize urban and internal organizational systems that incorporate social, cultural, and political implications. Van Berkel also touches on the emerging negotiation between digital and physical modeling techniques in his office.

Van Berkel goes on to describe his Yokohama terminal proposal as exemplary of his interest in “mobile forces” and a redefinition of the typology of organization. He describes his process as one of projecting the movements and intensities of the city of Yokohama – a mixture of solidity and fluidity – into a single tube as a method of organizing the pier. The organizational strategy allows the program of the pier to shrink and grow, a concept that van Berkel has carried forward into later projects.

Van Berkel continues his lecture by addressing the role of the diagram as the most important tool in his work. He describes re-purposing a WWII era German bunker diagram in the design of a home by establishing clear infrastructural moments which generate fluid movement. The resulting architecture is one of introversion in direct relationship to the site context. He goes on to discuss the role of Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault in his understanding of diagramming in architecture and the impact of Deleuze’s writing about “smooth space” on his own work.

Van Berkel concludes his lecture by presenting the Erasmus Bridge project in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He stresses the importance of the project to the surrounding context, beyond its role as infrastructure. He additionally discusses the form, geometry and structure used to relate areas of the city as well as to achieve the intended organization of form within the project.

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