Digital Capabilities and My Twenty Five Year Quest for the Personalization Market

by Greg Lynn

Architecture is one of the few industrial professions where tools are employed to make generic components but the actual construction of industrialized buildings is one off. So architects are the first to believe they can apply this knowledge of one-of-a-kind industrial processes to commercial products like fashion, jewelry, housewares, vehicles, furniture and athletic apparel. I vividly remember being invited by Volvo, along with Sanford Kwinter and Lindy Roy, to discuss how to place architects between car dealerships and factories to leverage exactly this model of mass produced diversity. I have been preaching this vision for more than 25 years.

Since the early 1990s, when architecture adopted both procedural modelling design tools and the ability to speak to manufacturing machines from 3D printers to CNC controlled lathes and mills, there has been an attack on the modular and a desire for the digital bespoke. In architecture, the field has moved more towards mass production of editions and signatures with these new approaches. At the ANY Conference at the NY Guggenheim when I first showed the Embryological House the first question was by Peter Eisenman: “Greg, please tell me which one is the best and what is your criteria for discrimination?” These questions and responses have moved the architectural debate over the last three decades perhaps more than anything else.

There remains one important unanswered question regarding these now familiar developments. The question is not if it technically, financially or logistically feasible. The question is also not how to develop a signature or aesthetic for this new regime of design and production. These questions have all been worked on by the most intelligent and talented people in our field. The question that has not been worked on outside of gallery and haute couture is: are mass produced bespoke consumer products culturally desirable? If yes, then how can architects position themselves in the ecology commercial products. If no, then we have reinvented our field which is not so bad.

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