Beyond Buildings


Brian Cantley: Kudzitecture

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Despite the etherization of everything, mechanomorphism still lives, at least in the hands of a few practitioners such as Brian Cantley.


Cantley, a Professor of Design Theory at California State University Fullerton in the middle of suburban Orange County, this month published Mechudzu: New Rhetorics for Architecture, giving us a chance to see high architecture’s answer to the Transformer series (full disclosure: I wrote one of the essays in the book).




For about a decade Cantley, operating as Form:uLA, originally with his former partner Kevin O’Donnell, has been creating drawings of models of what is a kind of mechanical kudzu: screen, tentacles, bull-nosed protuberances, and snaking conduits that attach themselves to structures in order to–well, that part is not exactly clear. To grow, luxuriate, and delight in their ability to express the plumbing that hides behind the planes of politeness all around us, I suppose. Above all else, these fragments take apart the very coherence and tendency towards monumental form that seems innate in architecture.


Cantley’s earliest work bears more than a passing resemblance to the projects Neil Denari produced in the late 1980s and early 1980s, and that Wes Jones has been designing for the last few decades. Those twin heroes of a mythic struggle against the clean, controlled form into which architecture always threatens to retreat produced what Jones called a “Boss Architecture: ”meant to amaze and overwhelm, while integrating the world of things that move and work, from robots to helicopters, into the static domain of buildings. Models such as the Enantiomorphistic Inversions could have been produced by Denari if he had not veered towards computer-aided continuities.




As Cantley progressed, he dropped some of the overt reliance on their formal inventions, while keeping especially Denari’s fascination with architecture that is essentialy parasitic and not too troubled by program. Several years ago, he started experimenting with “digital paper,” creating forms that relied less on mechanical parts and more on the grids and pointers that hide behind the computer programs that produce buildings. Out of these points, lines, and planes, he created whirlpools that threatened to skid off the page. It is a promising idea: that it is not what Form Z or any of the programs produce that is of interest, but the framework through and in which they produce.


I remain enamored of his 3A Models and his Wallmaker, which retain the sense that this kind of architectural experimentation attaches itself to the body of architecture to bring out its full potential for either cancerous weirdness or productive unveiling. The Seedmakers become full-blown monsters inseminating buildings with corrupting form, while the Hybrid Drawings are maps to the reality that MapQuest doesn’t want you to know.


The work, in other words, is useless and deliberately strange. It is a shame that Cantley ultimately succumbs in this slender volume to the tired idea that an architect is only worth his salt if he builds by showing a few built projects—which are inevitably leeched of experimentation by function, structural concerns, and budgets.




There is a place for these kinds of nightmares, and it is in drawings, models, or projections. Only in that manner is their challenge to what we think we know about our physical world effective, and only there do they plant the seeds for another architecture. I hope that Cantley and others will keep planting their particular knd of kudzitecture.


Liquid Paper


Mobile Gatheringspace



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Fabio Pradarelli | Time: 4:27 PM Saturday, September 24, 2011

    this kind of architectural experimentation attaches itself to the body of architecture to bring out its full potential for either cancerous weirdness or productive unveiling. This is exactly the feeling I had when in early 80s I entered in Kunst+architektur art gallery in Hamburg, getting in contact with Coop Himmelblau work. Theory that became a way of designing of this group of architects during the following years...also with very interesting realizations. A tipe of architecture mixed with a sort of very central Europe "mechanismus"....sometimes al little bit too "expressiven" but surely different.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.