THIS PROJECT EXPLORES HOW DESIGN HAS BEEN SHAPED BY GRID BASED SYSTEMS. Through a formal investigation of systems of order which occur by nature and those constructed by humans—a variety of spatial situations, operations, and possibilities are realized. In this exploration properties of the grid which display tendencies from order to disorder, desiccation over time, and opportunities for development within the constraints of the grid are uncovered through a visual language.
Little did I know when starting this project I was entering a conversation carrying tremendous weight across many fields of expertise. With my design education highly influenced by Swiss Modernism, my fascination with order in natural systems, and experience working in publishing, architecture, and urban planning—I found myself drawn towards the notion of the grid and its role in design. Because of the temporal constraints of this thesis, I could not possibly address the extensive historical and social implications of how linear systems have defined how we visually construct the world around us. But, I could not ignore the temptation to peer into the many ways the grid has manifested itself in society through cities, social relations, art, and design.
I am a maker. And though many of my thoughts reveal themselves in my making, I am not attempting to prove or solve a problem—but offer a way of looking at properties I have discovered through an exploration of linear patterns in nature, and how they may inform applied systems in design.
“IF IT MOVES IT IS ALIVE”
For the city is nothing if not an autonomous adaptive organism, a vital ecology with a rich life of its own, one not amenable to mechanistic overmapping”techniques of intervention and analysis. 1
Sanford Kwinter writes about the city becoming autonomous through the shaping of forces that cannot be developed artificially, resulting in a complexity born out of rationality.
This project blurs, pushes, and erodes the boundaries that constrain, allowing systems emerge and unexpected relationships to form in collectivity.
Whether it be a non-sensical logic appearing in our dreams, or the rational logic of the modernist grid, there is logic embedded into our thoughts and actions. It seeps into social structures, physical environment, and controls experiences. But often this logic morphs with another logic, a logic not controllable by the designers who create it.
Systems of order defined civilizations long before René Descartes (in his treatise Geometry in 1637) defined the abstraction of space. As an example one only need look at the pyramids of ancient Egypt, relief on Mayan temples, or the interior layout of Japanese houses.
PEOPLE LIKE PATTERNS.
Patterns hold the unknown at bay because they help us anticipate how things not only are, but how things will be. This has become the function of the grid in twentieth-century modernism, a means of flattening and neutralizing content for universal application. Modes of efficiency and control are applied to our transportation systems, our work environments, and how we deal with forces of nature. We have developed systems for everything from our housing to how we produce and buy eggs.
This work explores the logic of the grid through examination of organizational systems in nature and society. It enters an age-old conversation about how we perceive the world around us, beginning with the Socratic dialogues, and continuing with modern thinkers such as Sanford Kwinter and Giles Deleuze.
I am interested in what happens when natural forces are allowed to interfere with constructed order. No matter how carefully we grid or construct reality, snowstorms still bring our highway traffic to a halt, hurricane winds bash and toss around buildings, and surging seas from tsunamis erase landscapes and structures as massive as nuclear power plants. These events disrupt our carefully constructed routines—closing schools, cutting us off from the power grid, and breaking our lines of communication.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the mantra,
LESS IS MORE,
arguing for designers to abandon ornament, allowing function to become the aura of the design—making the materials and structures the spiritual aspect of the work. Bauhaus designers offered a utility in design rooted in nature, yet they are often blamed for spearheading the shift to the bare glass and concrete boxes that overtook American cities. The Socialist worker housing imagined by Le Corbusier in his vision of the Radiant City, meant for a war devastated Europe, found its home in the intellectual American Institutions where the Bauhaus designers such as Walter Gropius, Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, and Mies van der Rohe took refuge after the Nazis took control of Germany.2 This notion of starting from zero contrasts Jane Jacob’s observation that cities mixed with old and new buildings thrive.
Paul Klee’s notebooks offer an artistic perspective on organic forms, all derived from the artist’s close observations of nature. His notion of modernism is less likely to pop to mind, although he was a contemporary of the Bauhaus designers. Designers latched on to this idea of standardization as the modern look. It became the model for teaching in design schools producing a workforce of designers fit to serve the post-WWII corporations who sought the efficiency and profitability uniformity brought to production. What is overlooked is many of these same designers found inspiration in natural patterns and structures—the beehive, snowflakes, plants. Paul Rand, Bruno Munari, and Alvin Lustig were all successful modernist designers who used the grid along with hand-drawn type, abstract photography, and forms created through expressionistic processes.