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The work of Chris Lasch and Benjamin Aranda — Aranda\Lasch cofounders and A+Award jurors — straddles the worlds of architecture and design, digital and physical, New York and Arizona. Together, the two cross-reference these fields to create hyper-geometric furniture lines, multi-faceted chairs and tables based on the patterns of the quasicrystal, an ordered atomic construction that never repeats itself. Their work has been shown at Gallery All and Johnson Trading Gallery, but their grandest projects are yet to come: two buildings currently under construction in Miami’s exponentially growing Design District. Through a tri-city email chain between our correspondent in L.A. and their offices in New York and Tucson, the two discussed the inner workings of their firm, one as multifaceted as their furniture.
Chris Lasch (left) and Benjamin Aranda in their Primitives installation for Fendi at Design Miami/ 2010 © Fendi
You have two buildings in Miami’s booming Design District slated for completion in early 2015: the Design District Event Space and the Art Deco. What can you tell us about these projects? Does your design approach on an architectural scale differ from your approach to furniture?
The Event Space is a flexible 5,000-square-foot building perched above the Palm Court development, with an open view of the surrounding district. We were able to accomplish two thin cantilevered slabs that are decorated with a relief pattern, so the underside of the structure becomes a prominent feature to the building’s experience as a piece of Tropical Modernism. The Art Deco project a short distance away is a commercial building that will have four luxury retail tenants including Tom Ford in its largest space. As its name suggests, its façade is defined by a single pleated Art Deco motif that wraps the entire building. We’re excited to see our research in geometry and materials finally realized as bigger projects that are very specific to a place. In other words, we’re enjoying an expanded engagement with the complexities of cultural significance, historical movements, and material traditions while still being able to be ourselves.
Art Deco via Aranda\Lasch
Design District Event Space via Aranda\Lasch
While you're best known for building multifaceted, crystalline forms, you have a new lighting series based on knots set to launch next year with Johnson Trading Gallery. Tell us about that leap from the very geometric and hard-edged to the soft and swooping.
While these two strategies may appear different, they’re united by a general approach that explores simple rules to generate complexity. With our quasi-crystalline structures, we look at the fundamental geometrical properties that allow these units to combine in rigorous and specific ways, while still leaving a lot of room for playful assembly. With the knots, we’re looking at intrinsic material constraints that produce complex sweeping surfaces from a sheet with a single curved fold. In both, the techniques that we start with lead to unanticipated and expressive behaviors. By designing intelligence into a system from the start we can explore a system’s full capacities and range of expressions. So the movement from crystals to knots is not so much of a leap and more like a shimmy.
Their Primitives seating installation at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale via Aranda\Lasch
Math, science, and architecture have always been inextricably linked, but the geometric patterns you utilize in your practice take that link to another level. Could you practice the way that you do today with the technologies of yore? Has current technology given greater prominence to research branches in architectural firms?
At Aranda\Lasch, experimental research is simply part and parcel of our process. We think it’s important to freely research experimental techniques on their own terms, with the optimism that they will have some architectural application. This research has greatly been enabled by tools for digital processes and fabrication. By working with the same materials, processes and sometimes the same machine that will make the final product we can make prototypes that closely align with both the original design intent and with the final project. We’re careful though not to use digital process as a stand-in for craft or concept, which has always been at the center of architectural thought. While of course tools and technology have changed over the decades, the ambition to make challenging buildings remains and continues to evolve.
While much can be said about the way that linking design and fabrication technologies has revolutionized how architects practice, for us the crucial advancements have actually come from communication technologies. Cheap, web-based communication along with online meeting platforms and cloud storage enable our offices to hang together and share ideas seamlessly. It also extends our reach, allowing us to work with more collaborators in more places. This kind of distributed effort and communication is something that definitely wasn’t available even in the past, especially to smaller firms.
There are dualities to your firm: design and architecture, New York and Tucson, Aranda and Lasch, digital and physical. How are these processes divided up and how do they work together?
The way our office is divided up makes it appear as if we think about the digital and physical as separate issues. Most of our fabrication resources and physical production are based in Tucson because of the constraints of space for equipment and assembly. In Tucson we’ve seen opportunities in less costly access to bigger spaces and fabrication resources, as well as expanding our work to the West and the West Coast, not to mention exposure to the cultural and artistic traditions of the American West, which are pretty interesting. Our Tucson office recently relocated to a space inside of the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art, and we are excited about having a closer connection to the local arts community.
Much of the production in New York is digital. But material properties are central to our design process and our projects are usually conceived of with an idea of how it will be made. So there is a lot of crossover since we are constantly working between digital and physical media — testing one inevitably informs the other. Teeing up dichotomies is often a good way to jump start the design process.
Through the A+Awards, Architizer recognizes and celebrates innovators. How do you define that term? What separates the truly innovative from the flashy and the ephemeral?
We have always been interested in exploring the tension between simple rules and their complex expression that can render a structure almost unbelievable. The ragged edge that defines much of our work makes us think about the limits of what it means to design anything from a chair to an enclosure. The crosspoint between this kind of material research and a cultural specificity is what we really aim for — being able to push the boundaries of familiarity with a system or thing while still recognizing its legacy.