Klaus Bollinger defies gravity and admires artisans
The digital design laboratory ADDLAB in Aalto University launched a series of lectures last fall. Klaus Bollinger, one of the most renowned structural designers in the world, gave an ADDTHOUGHT lecture 26 April. His office Bollinger + Grohmann, co-founded with colleague Manfred Grohmann, has since the 1990s used digital design tools to create buildings that reach beyond the limits of imagination and craftsmanship.
– Bollinger has worked with nearly every significant contemporary architect, with Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelb(l)au and Kazuyo Sejima to name a few. He really embodies the magic of engineering and delivers it, describes Kivi Sotamaa, the director of ADDLAB, Bollinger.
The digital paradigm shift manifests itself in architecture and in structural design as increasingly complex structures, which would be impossible to design and manufacture as manual and cerebral labour. For instance the trend of continuous surfaces has become possible precisely thanks to digital design tools. Our built environment is definitely about to change.
Dr Ban Columns – or how to learn to put up with gravity and denounce it
While Bollinger is presenting his work from the turn of the millennium onwards, his distaste for columns as load bearing structures becomes clear soon enough. His relationship with gravity is torn: it must be defied and stretched to its limits, but its existence must also be acknowledged.
– With computer modelling and simulation the forces between different elements can be translated into structures, explains Bollinger his ethos.
Many of Bollinger + Grohmann’s designs do not fall short of being optical illusions. The Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne or the BMW Welt in Munich both seem all the more incredible the longer you keep looking at them and bending your mind around them. For Bollinger continuous surfaces and pushing the boundaries of gravity seem to be quite commonplace ideas though.
– My colleagues often wonder if I’m crazy. They particularly fear that the costs will get too high. Usually the scariest structures and forms still turn out to be most affordable choices.
Digital design tools also make it possible to go back in time hundreds of years. Bollinger is infatuated with the concept of detailed and precise handcraft.
– Design programmes enable us to return to artisanal structures: we can sketch complex structures that give the impression of randomness. With digital optimisation we can become certain of their properties and endurance in advance rather than through trial and error.
The revolution of the professional culture of design
The cooperation of architects and structural design engineers will change as well as a result of digital design. When all the actors have the same software tools in use, it becomes easier to find a common language.
– Architects need not to fear for their professional identity, but to embrace the design software tools as a possibility. The people using them in the development teams in our office, for instance, are mainly architects, not engineers or mathematicians, encourages Bollinger.
Bollinger + Grohmann have also developed an open source software for parametric modelling of their own, called Karamba 3D. It manages the entire arch of structural design: geometrical and structural models can be edited back and forth, and their behaviour can be monitored in real time. This saves several work phases, and the testing of virtual prototypes is safe and affordable.
– A completely novel strand of architecture has now become economically and technically possible. Architects, who know how to use digital technology or parametric design, also gain control of the whole design process. New tools do not trump the need tor creativity, quite the opposite. Here lies the heart of ADDLAB as well, concurs Kivi Sotamaa with Bollinger’s forward-pushing words.
Browse the works of Bollinger + Grohmann: http://www.bollinger-grohmann.de/
Karamba 3D available for download here: http://www.karamba3d.com
ADDLAB at Aalto University: http://addlab.aalto.fi
Text: Tapio Reinekoski